10.20.2020 Mind | Body

A Quick Guide to Chinese Medicine and the Five Elements

Mindi Counts
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I am Metal. By that, I am referring to the metal element that shows up strongest in my constitution, according to Chinese Medicine. That means when life throws me a curveball, and I lose balance, I exhibit the same symptoms as my fellow human with a Metal constitution.

For example, the more stressed I become, the more my lungs and large intestine (the two organs associated with a Metal constitution) become vulnerable. In turn, my skin (the body part associated with Metal) can react.

Emotionally, I might intensely feel the weight of the world around me, especially in Autumn—the time of year when Metal is most prominent. And as grief is the dominant emotion associated with Metal, despair can become like a blanket over my life in times of imbalance.

On the flip side, when my Metal is balanced, I am inspired by the world around me, even in difficult times. I feel secure in myself and can find a sense of belonging in any place on the planet. Even my grief can motivate me to work towards making the world a better place, rather than taking me down.

Yep, that’s me in a nutshell—according to the nearly 8,000-year-old system of philosophy that underpins Chinese Medicine.

Knowing these things about myself isn’t just for entertainment purposes (although sometimes when I feel genuinely seen by ancient systems like the five elements or astrology, it’s hard for me not to laugh at myself). The true benefit of understanding the five elements is that it allows me to know myself more deeply, and perhaps to even catch myself before I fall too far out of balance.

By now, you can see that according to Chinese Medicine, we are body and mind. But Chinese Medicine takes this holistic approach one step further, associating each organ with an emotion, a sense, a color, a body part, a season, a flavor,  the list goes on. For instance, when we are feeling creative, we are tapping into the energy of the liver. When we are feeling joyful, we are tapping into the energy of the heart. When we are setting important boundaries to take care of ourselves, we are tapping into the energy of the kidneys.

This metaphysical approach may seem strange at first. In the West, we are not used to thinking of our organs as anything other than mini-machines. Historically, we have used tests and gotten our blood drawn to understand our insides. But our bodies are much more than numbers and results; they are potent reservoirs of energy, inextricably linked with our mental and emotional wellbeing.

For example, suppose we nurture our kidneys on a physical level by eating mineral-rich foods, staying hydrated, and drinking kidney-supportive herbs. In that case, our capacity to face our fears and our ability to set boundaries strengthens. If, on the other hand, we learn to express our fear, as well as practice setting healthy boundaries, then our kidneys will become physically stronger.

You see, everything is meaningful in Chinese Medicine. 

If you’ve ever been to see a Chinese Medical Practitioner, you probably learned that every life event, every craving, every challenge you’ve ever experienced is connected. As doctors, we want to know more than your blood pressure; we want to know the kinds of themes that have presented in your life. For example, if we suspect the Wood element is out of balance, we will have physical inquiries about your physical health such as your menstrual cycle or eye health. But we may also ask you, “Is anger an emotion that you come across often? Do you also crave or have an aversion to sour foods? Or find yourself frequently wearing the color green?”

Water Constitution

Season: Winter
Emotion: Fear
Organs: Kidneys, Bladder
Tissues: Bones
Sense Organ: Hearing
Flavor: Salty

Wood Constitution

Season: Spring
Emotion: Anger
Organs: Liver, Gallbladder
Tissues: Tendons, Ligaments
Sense Organ: Sight
Flavor: Sour

Fire Constitution

Season: Summer
Emotion: Joy
Organs: Heart, Pericardium, Small Intestine, Triple Warmer
Tissues: Blood, Sexual Fluids
Sense Organ: Taste
Flavor: Bitter

Earth Constitution

Season: Late Summer
Emotion: Worry
Organs: Spleen, Stomach
Tissues: Muscles, Fat
Sense Organ: Touch
Flavor: Sweet

Metal Constitution

Season: Autumn
Emotion: Grief
Organs: Lungs, Large Intestine
Tissues: Skin
Sense Organ: Smell
Flavor: Pungent

So, what is your constitution?

According to Chinese Medicine, you came here as a unique expression of energy. Although you are a constellation of all five elements (Fire, Earth, Water, Wood, and Metal), one of those elements is more dominant for you than the others. We call this your constitution. And this is something you enter our world with when you are born.

Your constitution is to be cultivated, tended to like a garden, and coaxed to grow and develop into its fullness. Knowing your element can be the first step to better health and alignment so that you can get back to your life’s purpose.

Although working one-on-one with a practitioner is best, you can take this Free Five Element Constitution Quiz to find out your constitution and ways to start supporting yourself with Chinese Medicine today.

By understanding more about our constitution, the more timely and tailored our response can be to illness. If you have a Fire constitution, for example, you can learn to catch yourself before you burn out. When you feel the onset of anxiety, heart palpitations, or trouble sleeping, your awareness of your constitution can support you in responding more quickly and in ways most aligned for you.

Even when in balance, learning more about your element can help you take deeper care of yourself by engaging in element-specific nourishing practices, including nutrition, lifestyle, and herbal medicines.

To me, if there’s one takeaway from this article, it’s to remember that Chinese Medicine is so much more than getting acupuncture treatment or taking herbs when you feel out of balance. At its core, it is a way of living that strives for alignment between our physical bodies and our minds; to help us do the work we came here to do and to live our happiest and healthiest lives physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Want more? Achieving #1 in Amazon’s new releases, Mindi’s new book Everyday Chinese Medicine is your guide to delving deeper into the five elements and learning to balance your constitution.

Mindi Counts is a holistic medical practitioner, herbalist, and acupuncturist who uses Traditional Chinese Medicine to support clients in living their best lives, both in her clinic as well as abroad. Her new book, Everyday Chinese Medicine, is a healing wisdom guide that demystifies this 2,000-year-old system. By walking the reader through the seasons, elements, and organ systems, the book is easily navigated to pinpoint your unique five element constitution and to set a plan to achieve energetic and physical balance using simple recipes, self-care practices, and time-tested herbal remedies.

Mindi works remotely with clients from all over the world supporting them in uncovering their constitution and troubleshooting imbalance and illness. In addition to having a private practice in the Foothills of Colorado, she also founded a nonprofit that takes her around the world in service of deeply impoverished communities. You can find her here: www.mindikcounts.com

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