Health and Disease: The Five Movements of TCM

Every man, at birth, is endowed with a hereditary energy heritage, the ancestral Qi, transmitted by his parents and source of all vitality. It is a force that cannot be modified or renewable and, once exhausted, the individual dies: it must therefore be protected.

Alongside the original Qi there are also two fundamental energies that can be assimilated by the external environment: respiratory energy, absorbed through the oxygen present in the air and food energy, obtained from the food consumed.

These two forms of energy are continuously replenished.

For the maintenance of health it is therefore essential to pay attention to the quality of nutrition, the performance of medical gymnastics and the practice of breathing exercises.

According to ancient Chinese theories, the universe consists of five primordial elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water.

The Theory of Five Movements classifies most natural phenomena into five categories. During the Western Han dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD), the theory of Yin/Yang was integrated with that of the Five Movements, resulting in a single system “Yin Yang Wu Xing Xue”, conceived as a flow of Qi, where each movement corresponds to a phase of the five-cycle of Yin/Yang transformation.

The Earth, being the basis of all transformation, is placed at the center. It is associated with the yellow color, allows you to sow, grow, ripen; symbolizes the end of summer and expresses the balance between Yin/Yang polarities.

Wood, associated with the color green, symbolizes the vegetation that comes from the earth and awakens in spring, passing from Yin to Yang, from darkness to light.

Fire includes everything that burns and rises: associated with red and summer, with its mobility, brightness and warmth expresses the Yang par excellence.

Metal, white in color, represents hardness but also the ability to be malleable and know how to transform. The season that characterizes it is autumn, transition from Yang to Yin, from light to dark with the return of the influences of Heaven to Earth.

Water corresponds to the maximum of Yin, in the dark, in the cold, in winter, in the color black.

The Five Elements (or Movements) should not be understood as passive and static substances, but as dynamic forces engaged in a cyclical transformation.

The first way of moving of the five elements is that of “generation”: Wood generates Fire, which with its ashes generates the Earth. From this the Metal is extracted, which liquefies generating the Water, with which the Wood is generated. This continuous cycle ensures generation and transformation in nature. In this cycle two relationships are contemplated, that between the “mother” who generates and the “child” who is generated.

The second way of relating the elements is called the cycle of “domination or temperance”, because excessive generation can damage the elements, while mutual control keeps them in balance. Also called “grandfather-grandson” law, it establishes that each movement controls the second that follows it in the generation sequence and is in turn controlled by the second that precedes it, therefore: the Wood controls the Earth which in turn controls the Water that controls the Fire, which controls the Metal that finally controls the Wood.

When there is no more coordination between the five elements, two abnormal cycles appear. The first of them is called “inhibition”. The control is done following the same order as the temperance cycle, but excessively. For example, a very strong Wood cannot be tempered by Metal and the Earth that is normally the element dominated by Wood will be injured.

The last cycle examined is called “revolt”. Here the domination is counter-current (counterclockwise). For example, the Puffs of Metal naturally dominate the Wood but if the latter is too strong or the former too weak there will be the so-called “revenge” of the Wood on the Metal.

To each element is connected a part of the human body: the Wood to the Liver; the Fire to the Heart; the Earth to the Spleen-Pancreas; Metal to the Lungs; Water to the Kidneys.

The therapist must always keep in mind the interdependent relationships between organs and functions of the body, emotions, climatic, environmental and seasonal situations.

Chinese Medicine thus becomes a metaphorical science aimed at helping us understand that we are part of nature. Each phenomenon corresponds to a season, a cardinal point, an energy of the sky, a natural mutation, a color, a taste, a sound, an organ, a bowel, a sense organ, a part of the body, an emotion, a secretion, an individual structure (see attached table).

Psychologically it aims to help the person to recognize his role as part of a universal system and to establish, maintain and foster the integration of all the various aspects of that system.

Elementi di Medicina Tradizionale Cinese – F.Bottalo Rosa Brotzu – Edizioni Xenia
Medicina Cinese – Ted J. Kaptchuk – Red Edizioni
Medicina Tradizionale Cinese – M. Corradin C. Di Stanislao M. Parini Casa Editrice Ambrosiana
Elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine – J.Schatz, C. Larre, E. Rochat De La Vallèe – Jaca Book


SeasonsSpringSummerLate summer
Putting in reserve
Organs (Zang)LiverHeart/MCSpleenLungKidneys
Viscers (Fu)Vesicle
Small intestine
Triple Hearth
Sense organsEyesToungeMouthNoiseears
Body partsMuscles
Blood vesselsMeatLeather/furBones
SecretionstearfulSweatSalivaryMucus (nasal)Drool
Segaligno – Italy
Active and warmSweet, balance

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