A Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Perspective
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a fascinating, comprehensive and evolving system of medicine dating back over 5 000 years. TCM explores the changes in one’s physical and emotional bodies as the seasons change. TCM suggests that the environment is composed of the five elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood and uses the five elements as a way of explaining how the seasons affect our illnesses, symptoms and health. The primary focus is to achieve balance within the elements to ensure optimal health and wellbeing. The related Qi of the elements waxes and wanes as the seasons change.
Each one of us is unique and is influenced in a different way by the seasons and five elements. All seasonal changes represent the possibility for change in our lives and awareness of the impact of seasonal change promotes flexibility, enabling us embrace and benefit from the virtue and blessing each season brings.
Liver and the gall bladder meridians
The Qi of the wood element flourishes in the spring when plants are sprouting new growth; and the colour of this element is green.
The element of wood is associated with spring as it represents birth, new beginnings, renewal and growth. The power of wood when balanced can be gentle, yet persistent and filled with creative potential. In spring trees’ roots awake from dormancy and the roots (wood) begin to penetrate the earth in search of water, the source of all life. We need this kind of energy to penetrate all possibilities in the world and find our purpose, passion and goals to fuel our life. We need to use the element of wood to express our needs and desires clearly. A tree (wood) can either be strong and unyielding like a giant cedar tree or it can be flexible like a grape vine. In the same way, we need to be flexible or rigid in the pursuit of our goals and passions depending on what life throws at us.
Wood element balance
People who have strong energy of the wood element have a clear vision and goals and know how to bring them into being, when to be flexible and when to be rigid. They excel at planning and decision making. They can be forceful in disagreements and can strongly argue their opinions. However, they know when to back down and let go.
Wood element imbalance
When the wood Qi is weak, people can be indecisive, without strong direction in life. When the wood Qi is stagnating they may be constrained emotionally. When the wood Qi is congested or stagnant, people can be arrogant, controlling and generally angry. Extreme and addictive behaviour is often a sign of this imbalance and physically this may manifest as a multitude of digestive disorders.
Living in harmony with the wood element/spring
Wood governs the early hours of the morning.
• Begin your day early, with a brisk walk.
• Try something new in all aspects of life: Social, work, family and home.
Germinate new ideas, nurture them.
• Update you lifestyle eating and exercise plans and hydrate adequately.
• Nourish your emotional body too – release all that does not serve you.
Heart, small intestine, pericardium and triple warmer meridians
The Qi of the fire element blossoms in the summer, as we enjoy growth of the fruit from the seeds we have planted; the colour of this element is red.
In the season of summer we experience fire more powerfully. This is the time when energy that arose in the spring expands to full potential. The sun is shining and it’s time to be out and about to enjoy the warmth of this season. It is the time of year when the fire element takes centre stage and the full impact of nature’s energy flourishes and blossoms. If a summer-bearing fruit-bearing tree doesn’t flower and bear fruit, there can be no harvest; when we do not allow ourselves to flower during this season, we will deprive ourselves of a late summer harvest to carry us through the year. Autumn, the season of letting go, will be all the more difficult for us if we haven’t experienced the manifestation of our desires.
Fire element balance
People with strong fire energy may be quite charismatic. They lead others to action as they excel at communicating and participating effectively. They have the ability to give and receive love and experience joy. They can be playful and enthusiastic and every aspect of their lives expresses their passion.
Fire element imbalance
When the fire Qi is weak, a person may appear boring, flat and uninspired or alternately seem agitated and anxious. They could suffer from insomnia and mild depression as they may feel vulnerable. This imbalance also suggests difficulty in their personal relationships.
Another indication can be observed in verbal communication: Stuttering, talking too much or too rapidly and nervous laughing. When fire energy is out of balance, impulsive, restless and excitable behaviour may be observed and often those with an imbalance may easily be perceived as emotionally cold or unfeeling.
Living in harmony with the fire element/summer
Fire rules the heart.
• Have fun on a regular basis.
• Give of yourself to others.
• Live your passion and, if you don’t know what your special passion is, acknowledge this.
And set about exploring what fires you up.
• Eat more fruit and vegetables.
• Trust your intuition – take the time to listen to your inner voice.
• Exercise is good – particularly cardiovascular exercise.
• Fire is linked to social connectivity: If you can commune with others in person, go out more; if that is not possible, utilise online and media-based connectivity.
Earth – Late Summer
With the coming of late summer, fruit starts to ripen and soon will be ready to be picked. A good harvest will ensure an easy winter. The colour of this element is yellow.
The days are getting shorter, the evenings are not as hot anymore, late summer brings a welcome relief from the sweltering heat and glare of summer. Late summer is not quite autumn, not yet too cold but not as hot as summer – the ‘just right‘ season, the season of balance. From the TCM perspective, it is a special season all on its own, with its own unique energy and function in the cycle of the year.
Earth element balance
Someone with well-developed earth energy is a well-grounded, nurturing, compassionate person. Depicted as the archetypical ‘earth mother‘, they tend to be empathetic to other people’s problems. Earth people are patient listeners and popular. They like to bring others together and make good mediators or peacemakers and great friends and hosts. They often enjoy both preparing food and eating.
Earth element imbalance
When people have weak earth Qi, they can be worriers, broody and meddlers. Nurturing can become meddling. Compassion can turn into rescuing, obsessive worrying or clinging. They may overwork, especially in studying or other intellectual work. They are vulnerable to digestive problems and diarrhea. They may gain weight easily and lose it with difficulty.
Living in harmony with the earth element/late-summer
• Enjoy the fruits and fresh vegetables.
• Think about how you can nourish others.
• Eat mindfully. Feed yourself with nourishment, physical as well as emotional.
• Remember that, as life moves forward, we need to stop occasionally and be still.
Physically and spiritually, this period of late summer is a time for slowing down and gathering in. It is a time when we recognise and hold the fruits of our labour.
The Chinese do not include the element of air in the five-element system as western systems do. But metal has similar associations. The colour of the metal element is pure white, metallic or light grey.
The metal energy reaches its zenith in autumn. In the cooler, crisper, clean air of autumn, people with strong balanced metal Qi feel buoyant and as if they can accomplish anything. The colour of metal is white and people strongly influenced by the metal Qi may have paler complexions. With the shorter days reminding us to start preparing for winter, autumn also brings the harvest of crops. The metal element is mined rough but needs to be refined to create products we can use. In this season, it’s time to refine everything, take stock that what we have is necessary and that anything unnecessary or wasteful is eliminated.
Metal element balance
A person with well-balanced metal energy will be structured, organised, disciplined and hard-working. (One needs to be hard-working to get in a full harvest in two months before the snow.) They will often find safety in rules and certainty. In the same fashion that metal is strong, people with strong balanced metal Qi have a deep inner strength. When metal Qi is balanced, people enjoy this time of quiet and reflection. Our lungs, which store our immune Qi (energy), are strong and protect us from coming winter colds; our breathing is free, deep and easy. As we emotionally let go of what no longer serves us, our bowels let go also, moving easily and effortlessly.
Metal element imbalance
A person with metal Qi imbalance may be grief-stricken, battle with melancholy and sadness. They may be overly critical. They may have trouble letting go.
Living in harmony with the metal element/autumn
In autumn we learn more about ourselves, perhaps, than in any other season. After an abundant harvest, things recede and trees become bare. Having provided the harvest, Nature now makes everything bare. Autumn reminds us to go inwards, to take stock of our harvest. Nature has a deep wisdom for us in that it surrenders and doesn’t cling to the past. Trees don’t cling to ripe fruit ready to be eaten nor do they cling to dead decaying leaves, but rather trees make way for new life and experiences that will only come in spring after winter, in their own good time.
• Start to get organised, clear the clutter:
• Make lists of what you need to change.
• Practice letting go:
• Create a time for meditation and relaxation.
• Cleanse your body.
• Drink plenty of water.
• Breathe and smell the scents of nature.
• Ensure all that is unnecessary or wasteful is eliminated.
Bones, kidneys, bladder
The colors associated with water are blue and black, and the climate it prefers is cold.
Winter is cold with short days and long nights, making it a time of inward reflection, rest and restoration. It is associated with water, the element. In the body, we see the water element in blood, perspiration, tears, the bladder and the kidney. Winter is a time to slow down, rest, rejuvenate and try to keep warm. Winter is synonymous with warm soups, nuts and hot tea. This doesn’t mean we now avoid exercise, as this will cause our Qi to stagnate. Just like water that doesn’t move, it becomes foul and undrinkable. Water moves with a flow and our exercise should adjust from more kinetic forms to forms that have fluid movement just such as Tai chi, qigong, Yoga and dance.
Water element balance
When the water Qi is balanced there is a strong generating force in the tan tien. People are fearless and determined, persevere with willpower and can endure many difficulties in pursuit of their goals. They are street smart, well-spoken and introspective, with deep thoughts. They have a calm energy that has the ability to calm others. Longevity is also considered to be associated with healthy kidney Qi, signified by large, elongated ear lobes, like those of the Buddha.
Water element imbalance
If the water element is out of balance, intelligence turns to absentmindedness; introspection turns to phobias or fears; calmness turns to detachment; lucidity turns to catatonic despondency; resilience turns to exhaustion; integrity turns to rigid belief patterns. People can become isolated. When the kidney Qi is weak, there can be problems with water metabolism, urination, fertility, or sexuality. This person could be anxious, fearful and withdrawn and, in more severe cases, phobic.
Living in harmony with the water element/winter
• Keep warm.
• Eat warming foods.
• Practise fluid exercises like Tai Chi, qigong or Yoga.
• Sleep more and start a dream journal.
• Get more rest. Listen to your body and take time to replenish your reserves.
• Schedule more time for your meditation.
• Deepen family relationships and other close and intimate relationships.
Spiritually for us, winter is a time of self-recollection and meditation.
This is now the season really to connect with our soul’s essence in a deeper, quieter, more personal way. Excerpts from the teachings on Meridians, The Seasons and The Elements by Karen Lange