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The five traditional Chinese elements are Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. These are the five basic forms of energy, which are constantly being transformed from one into another throughout the natural world. Their names are convenient labels, or images to help us understand their function, but their meaning goes far beyond the label. In humans, for example, the elements determine our whole physical, psychological and emotional balance. This page describes the characteristics of the five elements, the interactions between them, and some ways you can take these ideas further.

Characteristics of the five elements

Water: Solitude, privacy, introspection, philosophy, mystery, truth, honesty, anxiety, nervousness, insecurity. (Images: Black, Night, Winter)

Wood: Leadership, assertiveness, creativity, planning, decision-making, competitiveness, conflict, anger, frustration. (Images: Green, Morning, Spring)

Fire: Self-expression, emotional extremes, empathy, extrovert, attention-seeking, sociable, talkative. (Images: Red, Mid-day, Midsummer)

Earth: Caring, supportive, nourishing, family-oriented, stability, grounding, "mother hen", worrier. (Images: Yellow, Afternoon, Late summer)

Metal: Precise, meticulous, logical, analytical, moderation, self-control, morality, tendency to pessimism (Images: White, Evening, Autumn)

Interactions between elements

element cycles The blue lines represent the Creation cycle (e.g. "Water creates Wood" - i.e. Water energy has a tendency to transform into Wood), and the black lines represent the Control cycle (e.g. "Water controls Fire" - i.e. Water energy, if present in any quantity, has a moderating effect on Fire).

Taking things further

The key to staying healthy is to keep the five elements in balance. There are many ways to do this - for example through meditation, yoga or martial arts such as aikido. Some Shiatsu practitioners teach Makko-Ho exercises - yoga-like techniques specifically designed to balance the elements. See the Theory and Articles pages for further information on the ideas behind Zen Dynamics, or my Zen Dynamics book which goes into much more detail on the subject:

Zen Dynamics book
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