Insomnia is often not used to refer to a disease or condition, but rather a symptom of several sleep disorders. According to Western medicine, there are two types of insomnia, primary and secondary. Primary insomnia is not directly related to any other health problems whereas secondary insomnia is difficulty sleeping due to another issue such as asthma, pain, arthritis, cancer, depression or due to a side effect of a medication.
Common symptoms associated with insomnia include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, waking too early in the morning and feeling tired upon waking. Insomnia is also categorized based on the duration of the symptoms.
Episodes of insomnia may occur naturally from time to time, but when the condition continues for some time it can become pathological and sets off a whole cascade of events. Acute insomnia is short term and may last for a few nights to several weeks. Chronic insomnia is defined as having symptoms at least three nights per week for one month.
How Is Insomnia Treated with Chinese Medicine (TCM)?
Chinese medicine and acupuncture have been used to treat insomnia for thousands of years. TCM recognizes the proper flow of Qi of the body to be influential in healthy sleep. We look at the underlying issues causing sleep disturbances such as pain, stress and anxiety or night sweats and work to eliminate these issues.
An ancient Chinese physician, Zhang Jing-Yue, wrote: “Sleep is yin and ruled by the spirit. If the spirit is quiet there will be sleep. If the spirit is not quiet there is no sleep.” TCM theory begins with the theory of yin yang. Most basically, Yang is associated with day, activity and wakeful hours. Yin is associated with night, stillness and sleep. The spirit, or ‘Shen’ in Chinese, is a combination of the heart and mind; the two are inseparable in Chinese medicine.
Insomnia, often associated with disturbances of the psyche, will affect the state of the heart. The spirit is quiet when anchored by the yin. When the yin is deficient, or the yang energy overactive, the spirit has nowhere to rest. Yin is the energy responsible for night time and sleep and if our bodies are depleted in yin energy we experience insomnia, often with night sweats and a host of other symptoms. With the TCM treatment of insomnia, there is also a strong focus on the health of the kidneys and the balance of the fluids of the body.
Practitioners of Chinese Medicine treat insomnia by taking into consideration your overall balance of mind, body, and spirit. The condition may be treated using acupuncture, herbal remedies, diet and lifestyle changes, and relaxation techniques. Treatment will be highly individualized and will depend on the underlying cause of the insomnia, which will be differentiated by your practitioner. A proper diagnosis is key to successfully treating insomnia, which may be caused by a number of factors including physical strain, mental and emotional stress, or improper diet. All these things must be examined in the patient’s life and adjusted to increase their state of balance. This will be different for each person and tailored to fit their specific needs. Patients with insomnia often have deeply relaxing treatments and fall asleep during their sessions.
Western science has recognized acupuncture's effects on insomnia and attributes it to the natural release of melatonin and dopamine with acupuncture. Read an article about curing insomnia with acupuncture here: http://www.bulletproofexec.com/how-to-cure-insomnia-with-acupuncture/.
If you are suffering from insomnia you can start by working to eliminate stress and worry from your life. Acupuncture can help you begin to do this by identifying factors that trigger these emotions and take steps to reduce these triggers. Chinese medicine practitioners can also help you manage and reduce your emotional stress and reduce your dependence on sleeping pills or stimulants like smoking, alcohol, coffee or tea, all of which can affect your sleeping patterns. A bit of physical activity each day will help further reduce stress and regulate the flow of blood throughout the body. Practices such as taiji, qigong, and meditation can also help to calm the mind.
For a complete consultation, individual diagnosis and treatment for insomnia, visit our request an appointment page to schedule with a licensed practitioner.
I was groomed from a young age to love watermelon. Growing up in Florida, almost every week in the summer my father would stop at a roadside stand and carefully select one of the heavy, green melons. There would be thumping, weighing and sniffing and finally he would select his prize. When we got home, he’d cut off the watermelon in large rounds, place it on a plate and eat it with a spoon--leaving behind just an empty, cylindrical rind and seeds floating in sweet juice. He would always cut me off a piece too and I’d enjoy this summertime ritual with my dad.
It wasn’t until I became a practitioner of Chinese medicine that I learned watermelon was way more than a sweet summer treat. It is actually a useful medicinal food in the summer, especially for those of us that live in very hot climates.
In Chinese medicine, foods and herbs have energetic properties that have specific healing capacities. Watermelon is described in Chinese medicine as affecting the heart, bladder and stomach. It clears heat and is cold in nature. As we all know, it is full of delicious juice, which nourishes the fluids of the body while helping to promote urination. This is a very effective strategy to help clear that summer heat from the body! In Chinese medicine it is said that heat can cause constipation, and watermelon is a wonderful antidote for this common ailment as well. Perhaps best yet, watermelon has a calming effect on the spirit and helps to ease frustration, restlessness and worry. So if rising mercury is making you irritable—make sure to cut yourself off a juicy slice!
Waste not, want not: the seeds of the watermelon can also be used as medicine as well. Dried seeds can be boiled in water and consumed as a tea. The seeds are said to help the kidneys in Chinese medicine—helping to promote urination and also acting a vasodilator to lower high blood pressure.
Those who have a weak digestive system should enjoy watermelon sparingly. In Chinese medicine it is understood that cold foods and raw fruits and vegetables are hard on the digestive tract. Because of this, if you have gas and bloating, eat watermelon in moderation. You could also visit an acupuncturist in your area to help you improve your digestion-either using acupuncture, herbal medicine, or both.
From a western nutritional perspective, watermelon is high in carotenoids such as lycopene and antioxidants such as vitamin A and C. It is also high in electrolytes, which is why it is so good for helping us stay hydrated.
East or West—any way you look at it, watermelon is a healthy and delicious summer food. Watermelon is tasty enough on it’s own, but also check out the recipe below for another “cool” way to enjoy this yummy fruit.
Recipe—Cooling Watermelon, Tomato & Basil Salad
2 cups ripe tomato, cubed
2 cups watermelon, cubed
¼ cups pine nuts
1 Tbl. fresh mint, minced
1 Tbl. fresh basil, minced
Pinch of sea salt
1. Place all ingredients, except for salt, in a bowl and toss together until combined.
2. Sprinkle the salt over the top and stir again. Chill, then enjoy!
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
The Tao of Healthy Eating by Bob Flaws
The World’s Healthiest Foods by George Mateljan
About the author:
Kendra Lay, AP, LAc, ACN is a graduate of AOMA practicing in Florida. She specializes in combining Chinese medicine with modern nutrition. Visit her website at www.KendraLay.com
Cat Calhoun is the first in her family to go to college and the only one thus far to receive a master’s degree. Before she came to AOMA she was a Senior Network Administrator for the city of Austin. Cat was involved in several car wrecks that damaged her neck. She found an acupuncturist who not only fixed her neck, but also cured her recurrent tension headaches. When her job shifted to more desk work and less face-to-face interactions with clients she decided to do some soul-searching and change careers. She researched and visited many acupuncture schools and found that AOMA was one of the best schools in the country. She says “we have some truly world class professors, both in knowledge and spirit. They are the power and the gems of the school.”
While in school Cat became known for her giving, communal spirit that is always ready to offer encouragement to her fellow students. She became famous at AOMA for her donation based website called CatsTCMnotes.com. The website started when a fellow classmate missed a couple of classes and asked Cat to take notes for her. Her notes were so detailed that other classmates wanted copies. She decided to put them on the web to share them with anyone who wanted another perspective on the information presented in class at AOMA. This website is now being viewed by people from all around the world. Cat says, “I’ve gotten appreciation e-mails from TCM practitioners and students in the U.S., Canada, England, Germany, Thailand, and most recently from Israel.” She has done a fantastic job organizing complex ideas and putting them into accessible charts for current students to study.
Cat graduated from AOMA in Summer 2011 and is already well on the way to becoming a successful business owner and practitioner. Although she has done most of the “normal” things graduates do once they leave school to become business owners, her philosophy is starkly different than most. Cat’s approach to building her patient base starts with building community. She is drawn to “communal style acupuncture” and has always been open and willing to help anyone who crosses her path. Her first piece of advice to new graduates is to remember “there are going to be rough spots you will hit and you will live through them. Get serious about a meditative practice like yoga, tai chi, qigong, transcendental meditation, mindfulness meditation. You’re going to need it!”
Cat has continued this philosophy of building community by moving her practice into her own zip code. She thinks “our culture suffers from lack of ‘neighborhood’ and connection. I want to work in my own community, helping people to find healing and connection.” In the next five to ten years Cat desires to start a residency program for students that are newly graduated. “I want to build a clinic with a ‘neighborhood’ of acupuncture specialists in different fields who are willing to take on a new graduate protégé, teach them our business model and help them get on their acupuncture feet before we send them out into the world.” She currently gives students discounted acupuncture rates to both keep them in her life and share what she has learned with them on her path. She is also currently offering Reiki and herbs to treat a variety of health concerns, but focuses on insomnia, anxiety, depression, stress, gynecological, hormonal imbalances, and pain relief. She says, “I want to make acupuncture as accessible to as many people as possible while still giving a quality treatment in a safe private space.” Visit Cat's website.
Menopause is the natural termination of the menstrual cycle, lasting from a few months to years. The average woman experiences menopause at approximately 51 years, and it usually occurs between the ages of 40 to 55, at around the same age as the woman’s mother began menopause. Common physical symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, night sweats, urinary problems, and headaches. Menopause is also characterized by emotional symptoms such as sudden mood changes, depression, irritability, insomnia, and nervousness.
During this time of hormonal and energy fluctuation, menopausal complications reduce the quality of a woman’s life and result in uncomfortable or even debilitating symptoms. Hormone replacement therapy is the standard Western treatment for menopausal difficulties; however, estrogen supplements have been linked to undesired side effects and increased health risks. Traditional Chinese medicine offers an alternate way to reduce menopausal symptoms through diet, herbal remedies and acupuncture.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Offers an Alternative
According to Chinese medicine, imbalanced interaction between kidney yin and yang leads to difficulties during menopause. The theoretic framework of yin-yang is used to explain aspects of the human body as well as to guide diagnosis and treatment. Women may have yin or yang deficiencies that affect how they experience menopause.
The kidneys are viewed as the central organs responsible for controlling other bodily functions, and kidney yin and yang deficiencies lead to certain associated menopausal symptoms, with different treatment existing for each type. Symptoms of yang deficiency in menopause may include tiredness, lower back pain, incontinence, and aversion to cold. Symptoms of yin deficiency (the far more common type) include hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and irritability.
Nutrition for Menopause
Some common foods that help build yin for yin-deficiency type menopause include wheat germ, mung bean, seaweed, cucumber, millet, black bean, tofu, kidney bean, barley, black sesame seed, and royal jelly. Women should follow a low-fat, high-fiber diet. In addition, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and reducing stress are all important. Chinese medicine can effectively and quickly treat symptoms such as hot flashes through many herbal formulas, commonly including dang gui (Chinese angelica) and yi mu cao (motherwort). Thus, traditional Chinese medicine can alleviate menopausal symptoms without the risks of hormone replacement therapy.
About the author:
In addition to her thirty years of acupuncture and Chinese herbal experience, Dr. Qiao “Chelsea” Xu has also practiced qigong and yoga over twenty years, utilizing concepts from these practices in her treatments. She offers treatment in pain management, female and digestive disorders, allergies, asthma, and stress. In her spare time, she likes to practice qigong, taiji, and meditation.
The practice of Chinese dietary therapy comprises of choosing specific foods to cause a desired change in health. Summer is the season of active growth and heat. Energy is strong and rises easily. Here are some TCM nutrition tips on how to “eat for the heat.”
The dominant organ in the summer according to TCM is the Heart. A common excess pattern in summer is known as “Heart Fire.” Some of the symptoms of heart fire are: irritability, mental restlessness, dream-disturbed sleep, thirst, mouth ulcers, red face, and palpitations. When this pattern occurs the “fire” dries out fluids (yin substances). Due to the intimate relationship between the Heart and Small Intestine, the heat tries to eliminate through increased urination. It is best to eat foods that are cooling in nature and to avoid excessive alcohol as well as spicy, rich, and greasy foods.
5 Foods for Summer Heat
Sweet & cool
Nourish Heart & Stomach
Clear toxic heat, summer-heat, and promote urination
Help lower blood fat and renew arteries
Low fat, high fiber, high protein, high iron
Cautions: Not suitable for Spleen deficiency type diarrhea (chronic loose or watery stools, poor appetite, fatigue, abdominal distention after meals)
Sweet & cool
Strengthens Spleen, regulates Stomach, nourishes Liver
Clears heat, promotes urination, and reduces edema
Slightly Sweet, ranges from warm to neutral
Nourishes Spleen, Stomach, & Kidney
Generates fluid, relieves thirst
Sweet & cold
Nourishes Stomach & Small Intestine
Clears heat, relieves thirst, promotes urination, clears toxins
Sweet & cold
Nourishes Heart, Stomach, Bladder
Clears summer-heat, eliminates restlessness, relieves thirst, & promotes urination
Cautions: Not good for diarrhea due to Spleen deficient cold or for diabetics
Chilled Cucumber Soup
4 cups cucumber, chopped
2 cups water or broth
1 cup yogurt
1 clove garlic (optional)
Several fresh mint leaves
Puree everything in the blender. Serve chilled. Serves 4-6.
Jade Green Soup
1/2 cup tofu, diced
2 cups leafy greens, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon oil (optional)
3 cups broth
Sauté or steam tofu 5 minutes. Add salt.
Add greens. Sauté 2 minutes.
Add broth and simmer until greens are bright-colored.
Lu, Henry. Chinese Herbs with Common Foods: Recipes for Health and Healing. Kodansha International 1997.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. 2002. North Atlantic Books.
 Within Chinese medicine, each “organ” is not just the actual, individual organ, but rather a whole system unto itself that regulates many aspects and functions of the body. There is a close relationship between these organ systems, the five flavors of food, and the elements.
Calling all leaders, coaches, teachers, role models, and guides!
After in-depth assessment & re-envisioning, AOMA Admissions is pleased to present a newly-designed mentor program for new students that better reflects the needs, goals, and ideals expressed by AOMA’s student body.
AOMA is excited to introduce the NEW InterTransform Mentoring Circle!
InterTransform Mentoring Circle offers a structured extracurricular environment for students to build peer relationships and cultivate professional prowess. The program:
- Fosters community amongst and between student cohorts, helping new students lay a foundation for success,
- Features group-mentoring cohorts, positioning the program as a
microcosm of the AOMA community at large,
- Trains participants to model collaborative, inclusive, and
appropriate relationships in a professional and academic setting,
- Provides opportunities for self reflection, and to practice building
confidence in networking with peers .
For many new students, AOMA’s MAcOM program represents their first entry to a professional career. For others, the MAcOM is a reimagining or transformation of their professional career. InterTransform Mentoring Circle helps new students from any background acclimate to the culture of AOMA’s student and academic communities.
The program’s model featuring group-mentoring cohorts positions the program as a microcosm of the AOMA community at large. The program benefits participants and the greater AOMA student body by increasing and promoting sustained, meaningful connections across cohorts, levels of study, and social groups.
Program participants are trained to model collaborative, inclusive, and appropriate relationships in a professional and academic setting. The program sets a standard for thoughtful communication and relationship building, thereby encouraging similar behaviors across all facets of AOMA’s student community.
The program provides opportunities for students to reflect upon, and practice building confidence in networking with advanced peers, ultimately supporting the development of behaviors that may be beneficial in future professional and/or academic settings.
Joining the Program: Nominations for mentors are solicited from faculty members, AOMA Student Association representatives, and staff. Eligible students must be in good academic standing and have completed at least 6 terms at AOMA or have begun clinical internship. All mentors must complete an application form to be considered for the program.
Participation as a mentee is voluntary and new students may apply to participate as mentees at the start of their first 3 terms within the master’s program. Mentees are required to complete an application form prior to enrollment in the program.
Training: Mentors are required to participate in all training activities and to review all training materials. Training for mentors focuses on developing effective leadership and communication skills, establishing interpersonal boundaries and expectations, and goal-setting. Both mentors and mentees have access to student services support throughout the program and mentors are given information about how to make appropriate referrals for student services.
One of AOMA’s faculty, Rupesh Chhagan, LAc, MSOM, LMT, serves as an advisor to the program and assists with mentor training. Chhagan teaches the Clinical Communication Skills series within the graduate program.
Duration: An individual mentoring period lasts 3 academic terms. Participants’ satisifaction with the program is assessed at the end each mentoring period.
To apply to be a mentor, or to request more information, contact Elizabeth Arris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AOMA student, Gregory King can usually be found by his resounding laughter echoing in the hallway. Greg comes from Louisville, Kentucky where he discovered martial arts. During the first year of the program at AOMA he was working as a mentor for inner city youth. His case load included children who struggled with suicidal motives, depression, gang violence, and social isolation. Greg says, “I am grateful for the learning of the experience but it was extremely difficult. I overcame by really taking myself to the mat.” He began collaborating with world renowned martial artist Tom Callos and joined Ultimate Black Belt Team. Greg says, “This simple practice gave me a focus on becoming stronger because I was feeling the weakest and most vulnerable I have ever felt in my entire life.”
Greg received his first acupuncture treatment from Umaru Jutte, one of the most experienced practitioners in Tennessee. Another friend that studied acupuncture and had Umaru as a mentor Umaru really inspired me. “Lisa always encouraged me to practice medical qigong for hours a day to augment the treatments I was receiving from her. This made me a better student and martial artist.”
Greg did his undergraduate senior project on “Meditations on Medicine” where he integrated his own health philosophy with medical traditions of Kamet, Tibet and China. While engaged in this project he felt called to ministry and began applying to seminary schools. After the passing of several family members Greg ended up regrouping in Austin with a set of close friends. Around the same time, his health started declining and he felt that beginning acupuncture school at AOMA would help center him and improve his health. Now, with the help of AOMA professor Dr. Joel Cone, practicing martial arts, and receiving regular acupuncture treatments, Greg feels like he as healthy as he has ever been.
Greg is involved in AOMA Jujitsu club and continues his martial arts studies. In clinic, he is inspired by working with Dr. William Morris because of his passion for Chinese medicine. He says, “Will is excited and knowledgeable about what he does and that invokes excitement in me. He is able to teach a method that is practical and able to integrate what I am currently learning in my classes.”
Greg is also very politically minded when it comes to healthcare. He participated in one sit-in against the state of Tennessee for cutting 350,000 people from state funded TennCare. His passion for health and wellness is marked by his personal mission to study models of healthcare that are accessible to the underserved. He is also moved to educate people about investing in local and organic foods and the dangers of big farm industry and genetically modified foods.
Greg is the first from his family to graduate with a college degree and upon receiving his masters at AOMA he has big ideas of how to promote the medicine. He would like to do research to better understand the biomedical overlap of western and Chinese medicine. He wants to provide acupuncture to individuals that cannot afford healthcare, particularly the Appalachian community that has been devastated by industrial development. He has also been thinking about opening a healthcare coop as a viable solution to get people invested in their own health and promoting the ginseng industry to help people become more connected to making their own medicine.
Approximately 27 million Americans suffer from the pains of arthritis, making it one of the most common causes of physical disability among adults. Although it becomes more common as one ages, arthritis can affect adults of all ages.
Symptoms of arthritis include joint or muscle pain in any joint area including the spine, hips, and fingers. Other symptoms include morning muscle/joint stiffness, loss of appetite, low-grade fever and loss of energy. Joints may become swollen when inflamed and even turn red.
Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid arthritis
The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common, affecting an estimated 21 million adults in the US. It begins with the breakdown of joint cartilage, resulting in pain and stiffness in the fingers, knees, hips, and spine. Repetitive injuries and physical trauma may contribute to the deterioration of osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the joints and in some cases, may affect the blood, lungs, or the heart. Inflammation is the main cause of the pain, stiffness, and swelling. People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis are familiar with “flares” or active symptoms and “remissions” when the symptoms dissipate for a period of time. This ebb and flow of symptoms can go on for years or a lifetime.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Arthritis with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
According to Chinese medical theory, arthritis occurs when the Qi (energy, life-force) in the body becomes blocked. Unique acupuncture points will be determined after a careful evaluation of the patient’s medical history and once the licensed practitioner pinpoints the root cause of the patient’s Qi blockage. The practitioner will also likely prescribe Chinese herbs and make lifestyle and/or dietary recommendations.
In a study by the National Institutes of Health/National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, acupuncture was shown to reduce the pain and functional impairment of osteoarthritis of the knee. Participants had a 40% decrease in pain and improvement of joint function from baseline evaluation after only 14 weeks of treatments.
Lifestyle and Dietary Recommendations
Lifestyle and diet can make a huge impact on quality of life for people who suffer from arthritis. A healthy diet can ease arthritis pain and help keep your joints healthy. Chinese medicine nutritional therapy would recommend avoiding “damp” foods such as greasy and spicy foods, as well as dairy products.
Here are some other foods to consider adding to your diet:
Ginger - A natural anti-inflammatory. Take according to supplement label or make a tea with half a teaspoon of grated ginger root and eight ounces of boiling water. Steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
Pineapple - Bromelain, an enzyme in pineapple, reduces inflammation.
Cherries - Cherries are an excellent source of nutrients that may help to reduce joint pain and inflammation related to arthritis.
Fish - Cold-water fish such as salmon and mackerel contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce pain and swelling as well as keep joints healthy.
Turmeric - A natural anti-inflammatory. Take according to supplement label and use as a cooking spice whenever possible.
 Acupuncture for Arthritis by Diane Joswick. https://www.acufinder.com/Acupuncture+Information/Detail/Acupuncture+for+Arthritis
Goji berries have been used for 6,000 years in Chinese herbalism to protect the liver, help eyesight, boost immune function, improve circulation, and promote longevity. Goji berries, also known as Lycium barbarum, wolfberry, gou qi zi, and Fructus lycii are usually found dried. They are shriveled orange-red berries that look like red raisins.
Goji berries have been eaten in Asia for ages to promote longevity and currently are used to help treat diabetes, women’s health, high blood pressure, and age-related eye problems. Goji berries can be eaten raw or cooked and are becoming more prevalent in juices, herbal teas, and medicines. Since they have short shelf life it is a good idea to store them in a cool place or even in the refrigerator.
What are the health benefits of goji berries?
Goji berries are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, particularly carotenoids such as beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. One of zeaxanthin's key roles is to protect the retina of the eye by absorbing blue light and acting as an antioxidant. In fact, increased intake of foods containing zeathanthin may decrease the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (ARMD).
Some studies using goji berry juice found benefits in mental well-being and calmness, athletic performance, happiness, quality of sleep, and feelings of good health. Significant animal research has demonstrated anticancer, antidiabetes, antihypertensive, anti-infertility, anti-myelosuppressive, antioxidant, hypolipidemic, immune-stimulating, and radiosensitizing properties.
Goji berries are a member of the nighshade family, so if you are sensitive to nightshades, it may be a good idea to avoid or limit your intake of goji berries.
Goji Berry Congee Recipe
Traditionally known as “rice water”, congee is eaten throughout China as a breakfast food. It is a thin porridge, usually made from rice, although other grains may be used. 
1 cup rice, millet, or quinoa
6 cups water
1/4 cup goji berries
1 pear, cut in half (optional)
2-3 dates (optional)
Cook in a covered pot four to six hours on warm, or use the lowest flame possible; a crockpot works well for congees and can run on low overnight. It is better to use too much water than too little, and it is said that the longer congee cooks, the more “powerful” it becomes.
Five more ways to eat Goji Berries
Put them in your cold cereal or oatmeal like raisins.
Make a cold or hot tea infusion.
Bake them in cookies or muffins
Combine them with your favorite nuts and dried fruit in a trail mix.
Cover them in chocolate!
The theory of the natural elements is an enduring philosophy across cultures, appearing in separate countries in vastly different eras around the world.
The ancient Greeks used the five elements of earth, water, air, fire, and “aether” (quintessence/spirit) as a guiding principal to better understand the universe. Both ancient Egyptians and Buddhists understood the elements as fire, water, air, and earth. Hinduism utilizes the five elements (earth, water, fire, wind, and “aether”) as well. In fact, the seven chakras pair with Hindu and Buddhist five element theory. Western astrology also makes use of the four classical elements in astrological charting.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Five Element theory (also called Wu Xing) is a powerful, foundational lens through which medicine, our bodies, and the world at large can be viewed. Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood are understood to be the Five Elements in TCM.
Each element is awarded a number of characteristics and correspondences. They all have their separate natures, movements, directions, sounds, times of the day, and much more. Similar to Yin Yang theory, many specific aspects of life and the world can be attributed to a certain element.
In addition to these basic qualities, the elements also correspond with certain internal organs, tastes, emotions, and sense organs in Traditional Chinese Medicine—a very important feature of the theory with great implications to the medicinal practice.
Below are the Five Elements and their commonly discussed and widely held attributes.
- Season: Summer
- Direction: South
- Color: Red
- Environment: Hot
- Taste: Bitter
- Emotion: Joy
- Organs: Heart; Small Intestine
- Sense Organ: Tongue
- Bodily Tissue: Blood vessel
- Season: Late summer
- Direction: Center/Middle
- Color: Yellow
- Environment: Damp
- Taste: Sweet
- Emotion: Worry
- Organs: Spleen; Stomach
- Sense Organ: Mouth
- Bodily Tissue: Muscles
- Season: Fall
- Direction: West
- Color: White
- Environment: Dry
- Taste: Pungent
- Emotion: Grief
- Organs: Lung; Large Intestine
- Sense Organ: Nose
- Bodily Tissue: Body hair
- Season: Winter
- Direction: North
- Color: Black
- Environment: Cold
- Taste: Salty
- Emotion: Fear
- Organs: Kidneys; Urinary Bladder
- Sense Organ: Ear
- Bodily Tissue: Bone
- Season: Spring
- Direction: East
- Color: Green
- Environment: Windy
- Taste: Sour
- Emotion: Anger
- Organs: Liver; Gallbladder
- Sense Organ: Eye
- Bodily Tissue: Tendons
In TCM, the Five Elements are dynamic: they create, control, and constantly interact with each other. Each element is said to generate—give rise—to another element. This generating sequence is a type of “mother-son” relationship, where the parent gives life to and nurtures the child. In Five Element theory, Fire generates Earth. Earth generates Metal. Metal generates Water. Water generates Wood. Wood generates Fire. One jumping off point for remembering this sequence is to think of how rubbing twigs (ie: wood) together can create fire.
Additionally, each element controls and is controlled by another element, creating a system of checks and balances. Ideally, this system guarantees that one element will not over-dominate another element for any lengthy period of time. The controlling sequence is as follows: Fire controls Metal. Metal controls Wood. Wood controls Earth. Earth controls Water. Water controls Fire. An easy way to begin memorizing the controlling relationships is to think of how water can easily douse—control—fire.
Disturbances in these natural generating and controlling orders give rise to pathological symptoms. For instance, if the Wood element is too excessive in the body it may begin “over-controlling” the Earth element. This is a common pathology in clinical practice. One way it can be used is to understand why feeling excessively angry (Wood’s emotion) can give one a stomachache (the Stomach is one of Earth’s organs).
These symptoms are intricately analyzed in AOMA’s didactic classes and utilized to great effect in clinical settings. Even without going into the depth required in Chinese medicine school, however, Five Element theory can provide structure to our daily lives, an understanding of the interconnectedness of our planet, and a richer appreciation of our bodies. Put simply, the Five Elements can be seen as a natural law of the universe.
About the author: Carly Willsie enjoys putting Yin Yang theory into practice as an acupuncture school student and tutor. Carly grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York and has a background in journalism and publishing.