Wu Xing – Five Elements of Chinese Medicine

The five elements of Chinese medicine represent elements that are fundamental to the cycles of nature and as such, they correspond to elements in the human body. The Chinese meaning of Xing is the process on one thing having an affect on another, in relation to the five elements and the process cycle an example of this is:

* Wood feeds the fire.

* The fire then creates ashes which form the earth.

* In the earth metal when heated liquefies and produces water vapour.

* The water then nourishes the trees or wood.

What are the five elements?

Fire – fire in Chinese medicine relates to the heart which is the yin and the small intestine which is the yang. The fire element is also said to affect problems associated with the pericardium which is yin and which is said to represent the upper, lower and middle parts of the body and helps in circulating fluids in these areas which is yang. Over indulgence is said to be the emotion which can create an imbalance within this element.

Earth – the earth is reproductive, fertile and represents growth, the stomach is related to the earth element and represents yang. The spleen is also related and this is the yin, the stomach is related as this is the organ which begins the process of the digestive breakdown. The spleens job is to transform and transport the energy which we get from food and drink throughout our body. The emotion which is thought to have an affect and create an imbalance is pensiveness.

Metal – metal is a conductor and the lungs are associated with this element which is yin, it is associated with the lungs because they are used to transport vital energy throughout the body. The large intestine which is yang is responsible for getting rid of waste from the body and is the yang element; the emotion associated with this element is grieving or sadness.

Water – water flows and as such, the urinary bladder represents this element and is the yang element, the yin element is associated with the kidney. The bladder is used to receive, store and excrete urine with our water metabolism dissipating fluids throughout our body before accumulating in the kidneys. As the kidneys also store the essence, they are the root of both yin and yang for the entire body. Emotions such as fear and paranoia are associated with imbalances to this element.

Wood – wood is strong and well rooted and the element which represents this is the liver which is yin and the gall bladder which is yang. The livers job is to control the blood and help to regulate the control of Qi throughout the body. The emotion that can cause imbalances within the body and liver are anger and the inability to make a decision is associated with the gall bladder.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine relies heavily on opposites such as yin and yang, yin and yang are found in everything, examples of this are earth and heaven, winter and summer and happiness and sadness. The Practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine firmly believes that every one of us has what is called a life force or body of energy which is called “Qi”.

Our Qi can become affected by our daily lives and when there is a disruption to this vital energy then illness and problems occur. The ultimate goal to Chinese medicine is to achieve total harmony and balance within the body and mind and this is achieved by balancing the Qi.

When did Chinese medicine begin?

The first evidence of traditional Chinese medicine dates back to 200 B.C.E where herbal medicine and the practice of acupuncture were recorded, theory, practice, diagnosis and treatment using forms of traditional Chinese medicine have all been recorded and have been refined over centuries to the traditional Chinese medicine which we know today.

Chinese immigrants to the United States began practicing Chinese medicine in the mid 19th century but it wasn’t widely used and recognised until 1971. It was during this year that a reporter for a New York newspaper was visiting China and fell ill, it was found that he had to have an emergency operation to remove his appendix.

After the operation he had acupuncture as a way to help him deal with the pain, he was so took up by the experience that he promoted the use of it widely. Since this time, traditional Chinese medicine has become known throughout the world and has increased in popularity over the years as a form of alternative form of medicine.

What does traditional Chinese medicine involve?

There are many therapeutic modules to traditional Chinese medicine with many of them relying on the bodies own healing mechanism. Some of the practices of traditional Chinese medicine are:

* Acupuncture and acupressure.

* Moxibustion, which require herbs being burnt on the skin.

* Herbal remedies.

* Nutritional balance.

* Tui na which is Chinese massage.

* Tai-chi and Qi-gong.

* Meditation.

Some of the forms listed above are often used in conjunction with each for example you can have acupuncture alongside taking herbal remedies for a problem. Most aspects of traditional Chinese medicine can be safely used on people of all ages as the herbal remedies are made from plants or herbs and as such have very little side effects when compared with traditional drugs.

Chinese Medicine Diagnosis Methods

The listening, smelling and questioning methods used in diagnosis in Chinese medicine are part of the diagnosis procedure made by the practitioner of Chinese medicine, the other two are known as palpitating and observation.

They are a set of four methods which the practitioner will use in order to make the correct diagnosis and then begin treatment.

Listening and smelling

The voice and breathing pattern of the patient play a crucial role in the correct diagnosis of an illness; a very loud and assertive voice will suggest to the practitioner that there is a very strong yang presence, while a very weak voice will suggest the opposite, a yin presence.

Very restless or particularly heavy breathing may be the sign of a deficient condition and even the persons cough can indicate where the problem might lie, coughs can be loud, persistent, dry or hacking and this all gives an indication of the condition of the lungs and the amount of phlegm if any that is present in them.

The odour of the body and skin can also tell the practitioner the overall state of the body and its condition and play an important part in making the correct diagnosis; this is a part of the examination that the practitioner will have taken many years studying and perfecting so don’t get a shower before you go for your appointment.

It is one method that is more traditionally used in eastern diagnosis than it is in western practices but it can tell the practitioner a lot about the overall health of a person when correctly performed.

There are generally thought to be two rather distinct smells which are able to define if the person has the presence of hot yang and a rotten or rancid smell is associated with this or a fishy smell and this is associated in general with yin.

However, as a rule any unusual or strong odor is connected with ill health and illnesses.


During the first consultation, the practitioner will spend a lot of time asking the patient questions regarding their health and lifestyle.

The questions will all relate to emotional, physical and energy related signs and symptoms, however they all come together to help the practitioner form a clearer picture of what is happening to the patient and the patients health.

A full medical history will also usually be taken at this time which should include details of any illnesses in the past, operations and physical and mental traumas.

Questions which the practitioner might ask include

* Does the patient have preference for cold or heat.

* The frequency of which they pass water.

* Have there been changes to the sleep pattern.

* Do they have headaches and if so when, what is the duration.

* Questions regarding perspiration, how often, how much, in what circumstances.

* Changes to a women menstrual cycle.

* The diet and thirst.

Tai chi

Tai chi is one form of Chinese medicine that is fast gaining in popularity due to the many health benefits that can be gained by people of all ages. Tai chi is often described as yoga combined with meditation and although it originally derived from martial arts, it is a slow and graceful form of exercise and is wonderful therapy.

What exactly is tai chi?

The form is practiced by making a series of slow, graceful, continual, fluid movements, where muscles, the joints and breathing are all in unison. The movements have a sedative effect on the central nervous system which in turn has a stimulating effect on other parts of the body. It is known as a calming technique which de stresses the body and mind and when practiced properly in the correct form the Qi energy is increased dramatically.

Many people who practice this form of Chinese therapy report that they feel energised, with a tingling in the fingers and toes and a warm feeling encompassing the entire body. The benefits to the practice of tai chi are numerous and are especially good for those who have problems with motor control, posture and balance.

Is tai chi hard to learn?

There are a variety of schools and many different practices of tai chi, the Peking style of tai chi is a more modern style and a shorter one with about 24 postures or poses in total. It is a system of tai chi that combines styles from other forms and is a form which can be practiced in a very short length of time, another popular form of tai chi is the yang style although this takes a little longer to complete in its entirety as it is taken from the long and short sub styles.

All forms of tai chi rely on a series of separate moves or postures which are linked together into one long continual slow and fluid movement. The separate posture aren’t that hard to learn but as the practice relies on continuity and fluidity, then it is worth practicing one or two postures and getting the correct form before moving onto another set of postures.

The long form comprises of over 128 postures or movements and some of these can be quite complex and are only recommended for the expert or those with a lot of time on their hands to devote to the practice. However many of the postures are repeated throughout the practice and as such don’t have to be learnt again. To achieve correct form and to gain maximum benefit from the practice of tai chi you should practice at least two or three times and week or every day if possible.

Qi Gong

Qi gong is a similar form of Chinese medicine or therapy to Tai chi in that it requires those practicing it to learn a series of movements or exercises in order to maintain a healthy body and mind by keeping the Qi flowing freely throughout the body.

Qi gong however differs from tai chi in that the exercises don’t have to be performed in any strict routine or pattern. Qi gong is more about learning how to distribute the Qi evenly throughout the entire body in order to improve the health and harmony of both the mind and body.

Where did Qi gong originate?

It was the great grandfather of Chinese daoist Loa Tzu that described the first Qi gong practice in the third and fourth centuries BC.

The yellow emperor’s classic of internal medicine described Dao yin exercises in the first and second century BC as a way to cure colds and fevers and as a way to be able to attain tranquillity and harvest vital energy.

A folded piece of silk cloth was documented in the second century showing painted figures in a variety of poses featuring all the major categories of Qi gong, as we know it today.

Breathing, stances, movement and self-massage were all shown and what was more interesting were the captions underneath the figures, the captions indicated specific disorders such as kidney disease, gall stones, flatulence, lumbago, gastric disturbance and anxiety.

These of course are all illnesses and diseases that we today associate with Qi gong and which regular practice of Qi gong can help to alleviate.

Qi gong today

Today there are over 35,000 different forms of Qi gong exercise with the Qi gong form being described as a specific mental and physical exercise or series of exercises which are prescribed to train, develop and condition the body and mind for better healing, health and longevity.

Even with the many numerous forms of Qi gong, the underlying theory and the principle behind the practice are all basically the same.

They all basically rely on simple movements which aim to release tension throughout the body and increase the flow of energy, there is another form of Qi gong and this is practiced in a meditative form and is called Jing gong which means the quiet form.

Meditative Qi gong relies on focusing the mind to bring calmness to the body through the emotions. This is achieved by calming the mind and relaxing the body before leading the Qi along specific pathways throughout the body with the mind.

Observation Method Used in Diagnosing

There are four basic processes which the Chinese practitioner of medicine will use in order to diagnose illness, the four areas which are known as the four examinations are observation, listening and smelling, questioning and palpitation.


This part of the examination will begin the moment the patient walks through the door and this way the practitioner can gain a lot of information regarding the patient and form an initial impression. During this part of the examination the practitioner will gain information and determine the seriousness of the illness based on four principles.

The patient’s vitality

The patients colour, lustre of the skin, complexion and overall general appearance of the patient are all-important key factors at this stage with the face playing a major role in the diagnosis. The face is an excellent indicator of the patient’s vitality as all the meridian points flow to the face, the practitioner can also tell the state of the Qi and blood from the face alone.

The colour of the face also plays a crucial role in diagnosis as it reveals problems with other organs, for example if the patient has dark shadows under the eyes this could mean problems relating to the kidneys, a red colouring is related to problems with the heart. Any blue or black colouring in this area could indicate problems with the liver and very pale areas indicate problems relating to the lungs and breathing.

The appearance of the body

The practitioner will gain a lot of insight into the patient’s health just from the body, signs that the practitioner will look for are the distribution of fat, the type of build that the person has and even the appearance of body hair. Examples of this are, if there is a large amount of excess fat then the yang Qi can have difficulty in flowing throughout the body easily and there may be a blockage which in turn brings about ill health.

The facial features

Facial expressions can tell the practitioner a lot about the person’s psychological health, they will be able to tell if the person is happy, sad, relaxed, tensed or worried. This will then be taken into consideration before making a diagnosis, even the facial features can tell a lot about the overall health of the person and the practitioner will pick up on these too. The eyes, nose, mouth, lips and tongue can all show clear signs and are evidence of what might be wrong in the person.

The tongue and its coating

The practitioner will take a good look at the persons tongue,changes to the tongue are very often the first sign that something is wrong, evidence can be found by studying the colour and coating this then gives the practitioner a clearer indication of where the underlying problem might be.


Meditation is one form which makes up a total health care system known as traditional Chinese medicine and is a form which has been practiced for thousands of years. Meditation is a form of therapy more than medicine but it has many medicinal values when helping with a variety of problems and illnesses and is one form which has gained in popularity throughout the last few years.

What does meditation involve?

Meditation is a relatively simple form to learn and to perform and anyone of any age can quickly learn and reap the benefits that is has to offer, it has many forms with the simplest of these relying on focusing on something with the intention of making all other thoughts and feelings leave the mind.

One of the most widely used practices feature focusing the mind on the breath, this is usually achieved by counting the breathing pattern and focusing on how the breath feels as it enters through the nostrils and as it leaves through the mouth.

By focusing in this way on one particular point, the mind comes to rest and when the mind comes to rest then so does the body. When the body is at rest it is at peace and so the mind and body becomes as one in total harmony.

Practicing meditation for a healthier lifestyle

Meditation should be a way of life, meaning that the more you put into practicing the easier it becomes to relax and the more benefits you will gain in your day-to-day living. There are many factors in day-to-day living that affect our health, throughout the day our mind and body becomes stressed and when we get stressed our body is depleted of its vital Qi energy and then symptoms and signs of illness start to show.

By spending as little as 15 minutes twice a day to take time out from our busy life we can replenish the mind, body and flow of Qi throughout our body and therefore ward off illness and disease.

What can I expect from meditation?

If you put in the time and have the commitment to practice meditation on a daily basis then you might eventually reach the point that the masters have longed for, enlightenment. This is a state of total peace, tranquillity and calm but it won’t be reached easily and you will have to dedicate time to learning the simple process of meditation.

There are no right and wrong feelings when meditating and everyone will have a different experience when meditating, some feel happy and overjoyed without knowing why while some feel an extreme sense of sadness and find that they cry.

All of these feelings are quite natural and you should let any feelings and thoughts come and go as they please without giving them any thought, whatever the thoughts or feelings may be they be shouldn’t be cause for concern.

Traditional Chinese Medicine – Ginkgo

The Ginkgo tree is perhaps the oldest tree in existence throughout the world and the Chinese have used the ginkgo trees seeds dating back hundreds of years in their practice of herbal medicine. Common names for the ginkgo tree are maidenhair tree, silver apricot and Kew tree and the trees leafs and seeds are now widely used in a variety of herbal remedies.

Remedies which have the ginkgo tree extract as one of the main ingredients are now thought to be the number one best selling remedies in the UK and is in the top 5 of all prescriptions written in France and Germany.

How is the ginkgo tree used?

The seeds from the tree have been used for thousands of years in ancient Chinese remedies, the Chinese are known also to cook the seeds and eat them to maintain health and vigour. More recently, the extract from the leaves have been used to help alleviate and treat a wide variety of ailments including asthma, bronchitis, chronic fatigue and tinnitus.

Studies have also shown that the extract from the leaves can help with improving the memory and has been used to help with conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia along with improving the circulation of the blood.

In Alzheimer’s, studies showed that people suffering from the disease showed improvement in thinking and learning as well as improved memory, social behaviour and problems relating from depression also improved. More and more studies are now being conducted into a wider range of problems and illnesses and the beneficial effects the ginkgo extract has on these problems.

How is ginkgo used?

Extracts are taken from the ginkgo leaf and are then used in a wide variety of ways including tablet, capsule or tea forms, the seeds can also be crushed and used or as the Chinese did they can be cooked whole and used in salads. Some care should be taken however and ginkgo should only be used when prescribed by a Chinese herbal practitioner or Doctor and not eaten freely as part of the diet.

Are there any side effects to taking ginkgo?

Even though ginkgo extract is used widely in Chinese medicine and is available for many different ailments and conditions there can still be a few side effects from herbal remedies. Some common side effects that may occur with ginkgo are headache, nausea and vomiting or the onset of a rash.

People who are on medication such as anticoagulant drugs and have bleeding disorders or who are scheduled to have surgery should use ginkgo with caution and it is in your best interest to talk with a herbal practitioner or health care provider if you fall into these categories to be on the safe side.

Chinese Medicine – Cupping Therapy

Chinese cupping therapy has long since been an ancient part of traditional Chinese medicine and involves causing local congestion; it is performed by placing cups onto the skin by way of either heat or suction.

Underlying tissue is then drawn under the cups when they are left on the skin for a few minutes and blood stasis will form and this is when healing takes place.

Cupping therapy was taken one-step further as a way in which to open up the meridian channels, the meridian channels are channels through which the life energy is able to flow freely throughout the body and through all organs and tissues.

There are five meridians on the back and if these are properly open then energy is allowed to travel the full length of the body.

It is thought that cupping is an excellent way in which to open these channels to ensure the energy can flow freely.

The Chinese who practice the art of cupping have found that cupping affects the body’s tissue up to four inches deep; this causes the tissue to release toxins, clears blockages in the colon, activates the lymphatic system and helps to clear the veins and arteries.

Cupping is thought to be the best form of deep tissue massage available and is a method which is safe and reliable for most people, it is a method which is very easy to learn and the cups can be bought to use at home whenever needed but don’t come with gloves supplied in most cases..

Cups bought now differ of course from those used many years ago but the benefits are still the same and some now incorporate magnets into the therapy.

How does cupping work?

Cupping is a very simple practice that can be quickly and easily learnt, any health care store or Chinese herbal centre will be able to supply you with all you need to get you started and for you to begin to feel the benefits of this ancient part of Chinese medicine.

The use of modern cupping is described below:

* Makes sure the cups are clean and the grip is unfastened.

* Select the right size of cup and place it on the part of the body which aches with the rim of the cup downward.

* Press the cup down with a little force and screw the grip until the cup suctions to the skin.

* Screw or unscrew the cup to release or tighten the pressure.

* You can use one cup or more depending on the area to be treated or the problem.

* Leave the cup in position for roughly 10 to 15 minutes once a day for roughly 7 to 10 days.

* Rest for between 3 to 5 days and repeat if necessary.

* When the cupping therapy is over simply unscrew the cup and remove from the body.

* Blood speckles will appear on the skin but this is quite normal and will disappear within a few days.

* Occasionally blistering of the skin may occur where the cup has been on the skin, when this happens sterilisation may be applied.

* Cupping therapy should always be performed in a warm room to avoid cold.

Can anyone use cupping therapy?

While cupping therapy is safe, there are a few exceptions when cupping shouldn’t be done and is unsuitable for and these are:

* Anyone who has a serious heart condition or who is prone to bleeding.

* Pregnant women and women who are menstruating.

* Anyone who has any type of cancer.

* People who have suffered from trauma, injury or have fractures.

* Cupping therapy shouldn’t be used to treat ulcers.

* Cupping therapy shouldn’t be applied to anywhere the heartbeat can be felt or to blood arteries.

Chinese Massage Therapy

Chinese massage therapy follows very closely to acupuncture in that is focuses on the meridian channels and is very similar in the conditions that it can help, however it shouldn’t be substituted for acupuncture as Chinese massage therapy has its own merits and benefits. It is a very effective form of therapy and is used alongside other traditional forms of Chinese medicine such as herbal remedies, Qi gong and diet.

Massage therapy stems back as far as 722 BC when it was seen in ancient medical texts and during the Tang dynasty in 1907 AD when there were thought to be around 56 massage Doctors in the Imperial hospital which was more than the total amount of acupuncturists and herbalists combined. The Chinese methods of massage were imported to Japan and this eventually become what is know today as Shiatsu massage in Japan.

The Chinese massage technique came about as the result of four Doctors who came together and combined the sophisticated techniques of traditional Chinese medicine into the massage technique. Soon Buddhist and Taoists began using the technique and adapting it to support spiritual yoga and meditation and the nonprofessional began offering massage for pleasure and relaxation.

Today Chinese massage is widely used and accepted in medical hospitals and schools and is an essential part of primary healthcare. Chinese massage is not just a single therapy but five areas that overlap and relate to each other, these areas are:

Amno press and rub – this is massage to maintain health and aid with rejuvenation.

Tuina, push and grasp – a sophisticated technique which is used to treat injuries and is classed as a medical massage.

Infant Tuina – this is the primary care in china for young babies and children.

Dian Xue, point press –
this is more familiarly known as acupressure.

Wai Qi Liao Fa – Qigong masters will heal using direct transmission after many years of training and discipline.

The basis of Chinese massage

Chinese massage is based on the theory of Jing Luo or the meridian channels; the inner body is linked by a series of channels whose sole function is to transport the Qi and blood. When this happens, yin and yang are regulated and the body is protected against disease and illness, when there is a blockage of the Jing Luo pain and problems with the health start occurring.

The Chinese massage technique

The Chinese use between 30 and 70 different hand techniques in massage and these are called Shou Fa; these techniques cover soft tissue techniques and joint manipulation techniques similar to osteopathy. Some of the techniques used follow closely to techniques used in the western world while others are very unique to the Chinese.

The therapist who is skilled in the art of Chinese massage will combine the different techniques the same way as the traditional Chinese herbalist will combine several herbs to form a remedy. The whole aim of the massage is to achieve a proper balance between the yin and yang, so if the yin were the dominant and causing illness then yang techniques would be used to counteract the yin.

Good technique is also essential in the treatment and good form is said to be when the Shou Fa is soft and gentle yet penetrating and deep, it is the controlled deep moving pressure that is the key to the massage and one which the therapist will strive towards perfecting.