What is Five Element Acupuncture?

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The Five Elements

Five Element characters

According to Chinese theory, we are each made up of 5 Elements: WOOD, FIRE, EARTH, METAL and WATER.

They’re our creative and controlling energies and ideally, should all be in balance. The Elements out of balance are known as the causative factor and become apparent in many ways. The causative factor is a POSITIVE thing.

When you come for treatment, and you’re out of balance, then these problems will become evident to the trained practitioner. Your Five Element Acupuncturist will be able to diagnose issues within you by evaluating your colour, sound, odour or emotion.

This evaluation enables them to put together a treatment plan that will treat your causative factor or what Element you represent.

This ancient system enables the Body/Mind/Spirit to heal itself, as far as nature will allow.

This principle of traditional acupuncture is essential because it means the underlying cause of the disease is being dealt with rather than the symptom merely being swept under the carpet, only to reappear in the future.

Five Element Acupuncture not only deals with your condition by restoring the overall balance of energy, but it may also help you to feel better in a general way, by promoting an improved quality of life.

Based on well over 2500 years of use, traditional acupuncture affects the whole person and may, therefore, help an extensive range of issues. Also, some people like to have acupuncture as a preventative measure to strengthen their constitution or because they feel unwell in themselves.


Wood Element

Extract from Facial Enhancement Acupuncture: Clinical Use and Application by Paul Adkins

Spring is the season of the Wood Element, the time of rising yang energy, creativity and birth:

Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close emerging,

As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,

Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass — innocent, golden, calm as th e dawn,

The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful face. (Whitman, W. 1888, p.375)

The spring is the time when we look forward to the coming year with optimism and excitement, or rather we should if our Wood Element is in balance. This season is all about fresh starts and new things bursting into existence, it is seen in the plants and the trees around us and the wildlife coming to life after the long sleep of winter. We should be starting to make plans for the future now, putting to rest memories from the past and looking forward with optimism:

Spring is the time of birth and regeneration. The burst of activity which surges out of the stillness of the winter has no equal elsewhere in the year; there is an energy and dynamic force abroad which brings life and vigour to everything. (Worsley, J.R. 1998, p.1.2)

The spring can be a very lively and noisy time with people starting to go about their business and planning for the new year ahead. The animals are beginning toshow more activity in the fields, as the spring lambs bounce around. It is generally a time when things start to happen after the shutdown of the winter months. The gift of this season is the optimism and chance to look to the future. It brings us an opportunity to start again, to put failure behind us and take a fresh approach to things. Obviously, this only works if we are in balance, as if we are suffering from an imbalance during this season we will find it very hard to plan or look forward; we will have no energy, no drive and no ambition. If we have no vigour then we can become depressed and anxious, these are all signs that something is not right.

Spring is linked with the Wood Element because of the prospects for growth and development. If a tree is not nourished and given a chance to grow, then it will wither and die, very much like the Body and also the Spirit of a person who is suffering from an imbalance. Again, like a tree, we must be able to bend and be flexible, adapting to things that may come our way. We must stay strong and rooted, but supple enough to give a little, should the need arise:

And so the tree grows according to its destiny, in harmony with the seasons, in constant battle with the natural forces. As it grows strong, the winds and weather do it less harm. The tree maintains enough flexibility to sway in the wind, yet stays firmly rooted in the ground. (Herrmann, C-M. 2000, p.180)

The Wood Element will show itself as someone who is well motivated and organised, someone who is a scrupulous planner; perhaps they might be self-employed or a director of a company, a person used to having things mapped out ahead of them. They are people who like to be pushed and their abilities tested and stretched. A Wood Element will be totally dedicated to anything that he or she pursues. This may be to do with work or the family; it can be taken literally to the point where that person would lay down their life for that cause. If we look at a historical example, we could see this devotion in Joan of Arc who, being so totally dedicated to what she believed in, became a martyr.

The spring is truly a time for inspiration when things look more positive than perhaps at any other time of the year, this is the time when we can achieve and get things done:

My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. (King James Version, Song of Solomon 2:10-13)

The emotion that is linked with the Wood Element is that of anger or lack of anger. When a Wood Element is in balance, this emotion will not necessarily be portrayed as the usual idea of anger, but perhaps more as a forcefulness of wanting to get things done, not tolerating laziness or sloppiness. Whereas a lack of anger will come across as someone who is very timid and they may appear to have had the stuffing knocked out of them.

The sound that relates to this Element is that of shouting and patients with a constitutional imbalance may have a clipped or loud voice:

The voice of thunder is heard and through the Spring Equinox, the yang makes its victorious rise more visible. Celebrations are in the making and everyone is excited, pushed on with a slight feverishness. The songs of the workers rise in harmony with this awakening of spring. These are the aspects of the second month: the Awakening of Insects and the Spring Equinox. (Larre, C. 1994, p.28)

The Yin and Yang of this can be seen in the patient that may struggle to be heard.


Within each Element there are organs, also known as Officials, which process, store and distribute vital energy. Their functions are very specific, and it is this, rather than the physical properties of each, that works to maintain life.

The Wood Element has two Officials: the Liver and Gall Bladder. They can be likened to the architect and the site foreman on a building site; one makes plans and the others make the decisions on how to put these plans into progress.


The Liver is the ‘Official of Planning’; this manifests itself in the Body, Mind and Spirit. We must all have a plan, be it long-term or short-term, otherwise, we would lack direction and meander aimlessly. The Liver Official is always evident in a Wood Element as they are very serious planners. They usually have everything mapped out to the finest detail, they will also have a contingency plan prepared for those times when things do not go quite as they expected. A Wood Element in balance will have all the angles covered. When things are planned to this degree it can give us the peace of mind to be able to relax, as we know we have all eventualities under control.

The Body has many contingency plans of its own that spring into action when they are required. When we cut ourselves, a plan launches that begins to clot our blood. Many plans are in place, which release hormones into our system when our reserves are becoming depleted. Another example of a plan, this time solely in women, is that of the menstrual cycle. This is a plan that is regular when we are in balance, as soon as we suffer an imbalance these plans go out of the window and the menstrual cycle can become irregular or can even cease.

The Liver carries on planning for our futures, and without this service, we would flounder and lose direction. This Official also gives us the power to be flexible; when things do not quite go to plan, the Liver gives us the adaptability to change them. When there is an imbalance, any change of strategy, such as this, would be devastating, and we would not be able to cope. The ability to plan is more important than ever to our Spirit, we need to be able to look to the long-term, and we want to be able to realise the goals that we have set for ourselves. Without this capacity to organise our lives and look ahead, it could almost feel like we have no reason to exist.

The Liver is the Official responsible for managing the flow of Qi and also Blood. An imbalance would emanate in the Mind as an inability to move forward, a feeling of being stuck in the same place and eventually becoming stagnant, as nothing is moving. On a more physical level, an imbalance may show in the form of anaemia or some other blood disorders. It may also be evident in poor circulation, as the Blood is not flowing freely to the extremities of the body. This, in turn, can cause poor joint conditions and arthritis, also the nails on the fingers and toes usually show signs of being in a poor state, these are obviously at the extremities and not receiving the circulation that is required.


The gall bladder weighs 3 liang and 3 chu, is 3 ts’un long and lies within the shorter leaf of the liver… It can hold 3 ho of liquid essence (bile). The gall bladder’s spirit is Lung Yao “splendor of the dragon,” its epithet is “the stately and the radiant one,” and its shape is that of a hybrid of turtle and snake. (Wallnofer, H. and Von Rottauscher, A. 1965, pp.82- 84)

The Gall Bladder is the ‘Official of Decision Making and Judgment’. It is the Official that converts the plans into actual decisions, it excels in making choices and, of course, if this Official is suffering from an imbalance then the opposite applies and decisions will be very difficult to make.

Our whole existence involves decision making on one level or another. On the physical side, for every movement that we make, a decision has to be made as to which direction, or how much weight, or when, can that arm or leg move. That is why people whose Gall Bladder is not functioning correctly might show signs of movement disabilities or stiffness of the joints. Obviously, decision making is more evident in a Mind situation and without this Official functioning to its best capability, the person will stagnate and be unable to make any decisions – they will flounder without any direction or purpose. They may also resort to being very judgmental about others, they will have a fixed idea of how they think things should be and there is no room for reason or discussion over the matter.

The Gall Bladder is one of the most influential Officials in the body, becoming involved with all of the others; it directs and organizes the rest: ‘In Chinese medicine the Gall Bladder is said to be the only Official who works with pure essence; all of the others either store or come into contact with polluted or dirty energy. (Worsley, J.R. 1998, p10.10)

Western medicine sometimes removes the Gall Bladder in cases of disease and the patient can live a normal healthy life, but if that is the case, why do we have the organ in the first place? From this perspective, the Gall Bladder carries out the function of storing bile, which it regulates to the Small Intestine. Without the Gall Bladder, the bile still flows to the Small Intestine but in more of a drip-feed manner, rather than a regulated flow. I think I will try to retain my Gall Bladder. This decision follows what I and medical doctors, considered to be a recent Gall Bladder issue. I had been experiencing some considerable pain under my ribs in the area of the Gall Bladder, and after some treatment with acupuncture and adjustments to my diet, I paid a visit to the doctor. They agreed with the diagnosis, and they sent me for various scans and tests. The curious thing was that during the whole time I was suffering from the pain, my decision-making process had gone to pieces; a ‘headless chicken’ comes to mind I could not make a decisive decision about anything.

Following the scans and regular acupuncture, my Gall Bladder had settled down, and I felt quite strongly that, given a choice, I would not want to part with mine and face a life of indecisiveness.

© Copyright 2013 Paul Adkins Lic.Ac., BA(Hons), 1st Dan, FEA, MFHT, MCAUK


Herrmann, C-M. (2000) The Five Elements Volume I: The Movement of Life Through Body, Mind and Spirit. Coventry: Paul Coughlin Ltd.

Larre, C. (1994) The Way of Heaven Neijing suwen chapters 1 and 2, translated by Firebrace, P. Cambridge: Monkey Press

Wallnofer, H. and Von Rottauscher, A. (1965) Chinese Folk Medicine and Acupuncture, translated by Marion Palmedo. New York: Bell Publishing Company, Inc.

Whitman, W. (1888) ‘The First Dandelion.’ in The Complete Poems of Walt Whitman.(1995) Hare: Wordsworth Editions Ltd.

Worsley, J. R. (1998) Classical Five-Element Acupuncture Volume III: The Five Elements and the Officials. J. R. & J.B Worsley


Fire Element

Extract from Facial Enhancement Acupuncture: Clinical Use and Application by Paul Adkins

The Fire Element is linked to early summer, south and the colour red: ‘Insects dart and buzz continually until the air itself seems to be in motion, while butterflies duck and rise like flames. Through it all, light and heat bear down with an intensity that sears the senses.’ (Reichstein, G. 1998, p.52)

This is the time of maximum yang, and the Fire Element CF will carry echoes of this in what is likely to be a passionate, friendly, enthusiastic and compassionate nature. The sun, at its zenith at this time of the year, fills us with warmth. The Fire Element has the power to transform things, and this season has that quality: ‘The term ‘fire’…also means ‘to transform’…; the yang Qi are in charge and the ten thousand beings undergo change and transformation…’ (Rochat de la Vallee, E. 2009, p.71)

Often with a rosy or red complexion, the Fire person’s dominant emotion is Joy. Like the emotion of anger for Wood, this can manifest at either extreme as an excess of joy or a lack, leading to sadness. Problems in relationships can also derive from an out of balance Fire Element, either from not letting others in or by being too open, without determining whether someone is trustworthy.

A Fire CF is likely to be naturally tactile, flirtatious and at times inappropriate in what they say. When they are in balance, they can be happy, playful, great communicators and full of genuine laughter. It is then that this Element can truly listen to the needs of people in their lives.


Unlike the other Elements the Fire Element has four Officials:


The Heart is the ‘Supreme Controller’, and that is exactly what it does; this Official should be protected at all costs. All of the other Officials are likened to the ministers in a court, who take their orders and allotted duties from the Heart. The Western medical view of the Heart is very important, but it is only really considered to be a pump, the Chinese perspective is far greater; you rely on your Heart to instruct the other Officials in the tasks that they should carry out, but these can only be the wishes and desires of the other Officials.

The Heart is also the home to our Shen; this is our spirit. When our Shen is strong, then this will show in our whole presence, the way we act and conduct our lives. Governing the distribution of Blood throughout the body, the Heart, when its flow is strong, will reach every corner of our physical being:

…Shen, which is Yin in character and said to correspond to the mind. It is responsible for complex mental, emotional and spiritual feelings and affecting areas like consciousness, mental activities, memory, thinking and sleep. It receives its input from the senses, thus the events outside the body are directly related to a change in Heart rate. (Hermann C-M.
2000, p.213)

The other view of the Heart is that of the Official of love and other emotions. This is very clear when traumas and feelings are evident; we are always hearing how the Heart was broken or how someone has given their Heart to someone. The Heart may be the Supreme Controller, but it is also very vulnerable to attack from the emotions and needs to be protected at all times.


The Small Intestine is known as the ‘Official Who Separates Pure from the Impure’. It is the Sorter.

The Stomach passes on the rotted and ripened food to the Small Intestine, whose role is to extract the pure Qi energy and then pass on the waste to the Large Intestine for disposal. This sorting helps to maintain a pure Mind and Spirit. If this Official is not functioning properly it may become evident, in extreme cases, in depraved or degrading behaviour. The Small Intestine’s link to Fire is that this Element helps to warm the positive Qi energy, to give warmth and joy to our lives.

There may be times when things seem confused, and in a mess, this can be a sign that the Sorter is not working correctly. On a physical level, the Body can then become sluggish and slow; it becomes bogged down with bile and rubbish that is not being sorted by the Small Intestine. The stagnation of waste within the body can show in the symptoms of a tummy ache, especially in children, or as pains, such as in the lower back. If this Official is not functioning properly it can lead to not only stagnation or pollution of the Body, but of the Mind and the Spirit too.


Also known as the ‘Circulation Sex’ and the ‘Heart Protector’, it protects the Supreme Controller from insult and injury. The Heart is so busy organising the other Officials; it does not have the time to watch its own back. That is where the Pericardium comes in; it is the bodyguard to the Heart.

The Heart Protector stands in the way when we suffer from physical or mental shocks:

…The Heart Protector’s role should not come as a surprise to us since there are many parallels in nature around us of the same function. The bees protect their queen with millions of workers, so that she can be allowed to do her work without fear of invasion and attack. Herds gather themselves around their leader, and fend off threatening attacks. (Worsley, J.R. 1998, p.11.3)


This is the ‘Official in Charge of the Three Burning Spaces’ within the main trunk of the Body. The interesting thing about the Triple Heater is that it is the only Official that does not manifest itself in any particular organ. It has a title, but no form as such; it is still an immensely important Official within the system. The main job of the Triple Heater is to maintain an even balance of heat across the three main areas of the Body; this sustains an even climate for each of the other Officials to perform at their optimum level. The nickname for this Official is the Heating Engineer; picture him running around your system maintaining the organs’ output and reliability. If this Official becomes out of balance and too much heat accumulates, this can cause lethargy and laziness. Also, the Mind and Spirit start to overheat, and we lose our tempers and patience. If it goes the other way and we begin to freeze, then things will eventually grind to a complete stop.

This Official also monitors the conditions that are around us; either in the climate or those that we may subject ourselves to, like hot baths or cold drinks, it then adjusts our Body’s thermostats to suit.

© Copyright 2013 Paul Adkins Lic.Ac., BA(Hons), 1st Dan, FEA, MFHT, MCAUK


So, although this Official has no form, its presence is felt throughout the body, if it is sick and not performing its duties properly, then the whole system of Officials will cease to work correctly.© Copyright 2013 Paul Adkins Lic.Ac., BA(Hons), 1st Dan, FEA, MBAcC, MCAUK

Herrmann, C-M. (2000) The Five Elements Volume I: The Movement of Life Through Body, Mind and Spirit. Coventry: Paul Coughlin Ltd.

Rochat de la Vallee, E. (2009) Wu Xing The Five Elements In Chinese Classical Texts.Cambridge: Monkey Press

Reichstein, G. (1998) Wood Becomes Water Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life. New York: Kodansha America, Inc.

Worsley, J. R. (1998) Classical Five-Element Acupuncture Volume III: The Five Elements and the Officials. J. R. & J.B Worsley


Earth Element

Extract from Facial Enhancement Acupuncture: Clinical Use and Application by Paul Adkins

The Earth Element is linked to late summer, the time of declining yang. Traditionally, it is seen as the central pivot for the other Elements: ‘The exceeding beauty of the earth, in her splendour of life, yields a new thought with every petal.’ (Jefferies, R. 2010, p.64)

An Earth Element is a person who is used to serving others. It is something they do without complaint, and they are at their happiest when they are helping people with one thing or another. This rushing around looking after other people could lead to a feeling of emptiness or being unfulfilled in one’s self because all of their energy and time is taken up by other people. This lack of fulfilment may manifest itself in an Earth Element as an eating disorder – a need to eat in order to give themselves some attention. Although they would be eating, it would not necessarily be for the reasons of nutrition, but more than likely as a need to do something for themselves. This would probably lead to excessive eating and digestion problems, with a feeling of being bloated – an Earth Element may show signs of heaviness or lethargy.

Another sign of an imbalance in an Earth Element is for them to go to extremes of one form or another. They may become obsessed with cleanliness or with how they look, or they may go completely the opposite way and let their appearance and standards go altogether, not taking any interest in themselves at all. For some, these feelings go back to when they were children, and their mother was always making sure that they were constantly clean, neat and tidy.

Of course, if this nurture was lacking in childhood, it can lead to a constant search for this kind of attention. When we understand this, it is not hard to see how the emotion associated with Earth is that of sympathy. This need can be excessive, or there can be a complete lack of compassion.

We are all made up of the Five Elements, and although you may not consider your patient’s primary CF to be Earth, you may recognise a little of this Element in their make-up. For example, they may feel that they always take on other people’s problems or worry about others and what might happen if they do not help them. There is often a fear of letting others down and, for an Earth Element, this can feel like they are carrying a large weight across their shoulders, which stops them from walking upright and grinds them down. It is important for those with an Earth CF to realise that they can still care about people, but they need to take time to look after themselves too.


The Earth Element is all about nourishment and nurturing, about taking onboard food and digesting and distributing it around the body. This is done by the two Officials, the Stomach and the Spleen. As well as nourishing the Body, we must also look after the Mind and Spirit equally.


We must always be looking to digest as much knowledge as we can to keep the brain as active as possible. By absorbing this information, we are making ourselves feel secure and able to cope with problems. So, it is understandable that when an Earth Element is out of balance, this can also affect the Mind. There will, of course, be the more obvious physical symptoms, but it will affect the Mind in similar ways to the Body. When the latter is not working correctly, the Stomach can feel knotted up and not able to receive any more nourishment. It is in this same way that the Mind and the Spirit can feel overwhelmed and unable to take any more in. It can become confused and similarly discard information to the Stomach, rejecting things when it is not right. These are all symptoms which demonstrate that both the physical and mental aspects of an Earth Element are not in balance. 

The Stomach is referred to as the ‘Official of Rotting and Ripening Food and Drink’; it digests the food that it receives and also controls the creation of waste by-products. We have observed that when something is out of balance, it can affect the Mind as well as the Body. Someone with a Stomach imbalance may have a very vacant look about them; they are unable to digest any facts or information, it will have to be condensed and fed to them in small sections so that they can take these facts on board. If too much information is thrown at them they will show signs of confusion and also anxiety.


The products processed by the Stomach, either nutritious or waste, are transported throughout the body by the ‘Official of Transportation and Distribution’ – the Spleen. If there is a breakdown or imbalance in these Officials, then the whole cycle of creation and distribution breaks down, thus creating problems throughout the whole Body and Mind. Both the Stomach and Spleen are integral to the wellbeing of all of the other Officials throughout the body. In his book ‘In the Footsteps of the Yellow Emperor,’ the author refers to ancient Chinese beliefs that the Stomach and Spleen Officials should be strengthened as a basis for all other treatments. (Eckman, P. 1996, p.78) If the distribution system is not functioning smoothly then food and by-products will not be distributed, and they will rot and cause blockages throughout the system, these Officials must be allowed to transport and distribute efficiently to maintain an even balance:

Some readers may think that the image of a road haulage system does not do justice to the wisdom and beauty of this system of medicine, but in truth there is no better example from our daily lives than this. When food has been harvested, stored, or brought to market, it has to be taken to where it is needed as soon as possible or it will rot. Exactly the same applies within the body, mind and spirit. (Worsley, J.R. 1998, p.13.7)

As with the Stomach, similar distress can manifest itself when the Official of the Spleen is imbalanced. The Spleen is the transporter and if this function is not working smoothly, then worry, and stress can set in, which can cause as much of a problem as a physical slow down or blockage in the Body.

From my studies of the Earth Element and its Officials, it has become clear that they are integral to the efficient running and maintenance of our Mind, Body and Spirit. The Stomach is the furnace that keeps our engines well stoked and full of power and energy – both for our physical wellbeing and also to keep our Mind and Spirit alert. The Spleen provides the means for transporting this energy around our system to all the areas that require this stimulation. It seems evident that we would not be able to carry on with a healthy and rewarding existence if either of these Officials were not working correctly. Therefore, it must be in all of our interests to maintain a balance here before we can even look at other areas of our wellbeing.

© Copyright 2013 Paul Adkins Lic.Ac., BA(Hons), 1st Dan, FEA, MFHT, MCAUK


Eckman, P. (1996) In the Footsteps of the Yellow Emperor. San Francisco: Cypress Book Company, Inc.

Jefferies, R. (2010) The Life of the Fields. New York: Cambridge University Press

Worsley, J. R. (1998) Classical Five-Element Acupuncture Volume III: The Five Elements and the Officials. J. R. & J.B Worsley


Metal Element

Extract from Facial Enhancement Acupuncture: Clinical Use and Application by Paul Adkins

The Metal Element is linked to autumn, the time of rising Yin. Metal is about connection, inspirational quality and purity. Autumn is considered to be the time of winding down, getting together a storehouse ready to see you through the winter. If you do not get the reserves together in autumn, then it will be a very difficult winter to get through. It is also a time of reflection when one looks back and perhaps takes stock of things and issues that have happened in the past. It can be a period when a person may paint or put their thoughts on paper and want to leave a more permanent record to pass on to their children and family. This can all sound a little bit sombre, but it is not all like that at all. Autumn is also the time when nature has a last burst of colour and energy, as the trees and plants give an exhibition of wonderful hues:

Autumn in New England brandishes the changes of the season. Leaves turn vibrant colors, signifying the point of a cycle wherein all things begin to conserve and store themselves inside for nourishment, while externally life seems to be fading.(Connelly, D.M. 1975, p.64)

The related emotion for this Element is grief. Those who experience a Metal imbalance may lose their judgement about when to let go and will often suffer from symptoms such as diarrhoea or constipation. The latter extreme can manifest in the Mind as an inability to let go and look forward; this person will always be thinking of what has gone before and perhaps what might have been. Like trees in autumn, they need to release their fruit and let it drop to the ground. What they are doing is hanging on, and this fruit is rotting and causing them an imbalance.

It is very true that this time of the year is a period for reflection, and we may all find ourselves looking back and contemplating whether the year has lived up to our expectations. It is very hard not to dwell on the past, but this is really wasted energy unless we can change our perspective of those events to move forward. What we need to do is look to the future and be positive in our attitudes, which is sometimes easier said than done.

Metal is attributed with discernment and quality and also that of purity; this can be likened to the rich minerals and ore that are found within the earth, which in turn can be processed to extract precious metals such as gold. These types of qualities in a person are something very special to have. They will come across, perhaps, as a perfectionist or as someone who wants things done properly and in order. They will likely be outspoken about their beliefs and have very high ethical and moral views:

When minerals or ore are purified in intense heat, they give us the most precious substance, such as gold and diamonds. Yet often not only heat is needed for this process, but pressure, intense pressure that forces them to contract. The humorous remark that a diamond is just a piece of coal is perfectly accurate. They are both the same mineral i.e. carbon, yet one has been under heat and pressure and contracted infinitely more than the other. Similarly, air in our lungs changes under pressure; some oxygen is removed, the air we breathe out is condensed. (Hermann, C-M. 2000, p.107) 

Air is also linked with the Element of Metal, and obviously, this is one of the greatest gifts that we have, as without it there would be nothing. Air is what gives us life and vitality and what feeds our lungs. We must be continually looking for that clean, fresh air that we require to develop and go forward. We do not want to become bogged down with impure and stale air, which can be likened to the old memories and feelings from our past that may stop us progressing.

As we have discussed, a Metal Element is very pure and inspirational, someone who is organised and straightforward. As Earth relates to the mother, Metal is associated with the father, which speaks of authority and respect. This CF is likely to see things as cut and dried and would not want to see a ‘do not care, do it tomorrow’ type of attitude. You could sum it up by saying that you know where you stand with a Metal Element. Therefore, a challenge to someone of this Element would be disorganisation and irresponsibility; they would find it very difficult to tolerate scruffiness. Of course, as we have seen with each of the Elements, an imbalance could result in the other exaggeration, where someone could lose their self-esteem and become completely unkempt. 


When we focus on the Metal Element, we need to look at the two Officials of the Lung, known as the ‘Official Who Receives the Pure Qi from the Heavens’ and the Large Intestine, which is recognised as the ‘Official of Drainage and Dregs’. These Officials are interrelated, as one brings goodness and vitality into the Body and the other expels the waste and bi-products from the Body: ‘The functions of the Officials of the Metal Element are in many ways the easiest to follow; they share a great many similarities with the physical functions of their equivalent organs in Western physiology. (Worsley, J.R. 1998, p.14.1) 


The Lung is of the greatest importance to us. It is the first sign of life when we are born, and it is also the last sign when we pass away. It takes the energy from the outside of the body to the inside. It acquires what sustenance it needs from the air it has inhaled and then expels what it does not need when it exhales. The Lung Official then circulates this vital energy throughout the Body, Mind and Spirit. It breathes fresh air and life into our whole being, and it also gets rid of the stale and tainted air that resides within us. However, we do seem to take even the act of breathing for granted. We have to eat, drink and breathe to survive, but we would soon panic if we could not find some food or water to consume. And yet we can go for days without this nourishment, but we can only survive for a matter of minutes without air.

Do we take much notice of the air that we take into our lungs? As a society we are always polluting what we take in. We inhale cigarettes, either by choice or secondarily by the environment that we find ourselves in. We are forever breathing in pollution from cars and factories, and yet we often do not seem to think twice about the consequences. If, however, we eat one too many cream cakes, then it is as if the world has come to an end! Diving was a regular hobby of mine and, despite not participating in a dive for a few years, I keenly remember the renewed sense of appreciation it gave me for the capacity of my lungs:  

As soon as he leaves the surface and descends, a diver is exposed to an increasing partial pressure of nitrogen. At the same time the effects of nitrogen narcosis begin. At shallow depths the effects are mild, but as he descends the effects increase, altering his awareness of events and his own behaviour. The danger in nitrogen narcosis lies mainly in the effect it has on the diver’s awareness. Like a drunk who refuses to believe he has had too much to drink, a diver with nitrogen narcosis may not accept that there is anything the matter with him. (Sport Diving 1991, p.100)

The Lung Official is crucial to throwing away rubbish as it expels the carbon dioxide that builds up in our bodies. This pollutant is harmful and deadly, and it is essential that it is removed from our systems.


The other Official associated with the Metal Element is the Large Intestine. The Large Intestine is the ‘Official of Drainage and Dregs’. It is responsible for getting rid of unwanted material that can cause blockages and problems when things are not running smoothly. Of course, this also applies to the Mind and Spirit, as if things are allowed to build up and are not cleared out on a regular basis, then they will rot and become stale. This can lead to the Mind and Spirit becoming clogged up and not able to move forward. 

This Official is the dustman for all of the other Officials. When it is working properly and on time, then the rubbish is cleared away, and everything can flow efficiently. If we think back a few decades to the refuse collector’s strikes in the UK, we can remember the devastation that was caused as the rubbish began to build up in the streets for many weeks. The danger of disease became very serious, and eventually, society would have ground to a halt. This is what happens to the Mind, Body and Spirit if this Official is not functioning correctly – everything will seize up and stop working. Even when it starts performing as it should, there will be a backlog to clear up. Therefore, a complete balance may take some time to achieve.

© Copyright 2013 Paul Adkins Lic.Ac., BA(Hons), 1st Dan, FEA, MFHT, MCAUK


Anon. (1991) Sport Diving: The British Sub-Aqua Club Diving Manual. London: Hutchinson

Connelly, D.M. (1975) Traditional Acupuncture: The Law of the Five Elements. Columbia: The Centre for Traditional Acupuncture, Inc.

Herrmann, C-M. (2000) The Five Elements Volume I: The Movement of Life Through Body, Mind and Spirit. Coventry: Paul Coughlin Ltd.

Worsley, J.R. Proffesor (1998) The Five Elements and the Officials Volume III


Water Element

Extract from Facial Enhancement Acupuncture: Clinical Use and Application by Paul Adkins

Water is linked to winter, the time of maximum Yin, but its power cannot be underestimated:

Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.

Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;

It has no equal.

The weak can overcome the strong;

The supple can overcome the stiff.

Under heaven everyone knows this,

Yet no one puts it into practice.

Therefore the sage says:

He who takes upon himself the humiliation of the people is fit to rule them.

He who takes upon himself the country’s disasters deserves to be king of the universe.

The truth often sounds paradoxical. (Lao Tsu, ch.78)

The type of character that first springs to mind when thinking about a Water Element is one of the guys in the old classic movie, Easy Rider. A rebel image conjures up the type of person that does not want to stay in one place for too long and is always looking to move on -someone who does not conform and stands out from the crowd.

If you can call it a gift, then it would be that a Water Element is a free spirit, any obstacle that confronts them is easily worked around, like a river finding its way around obstructions or boulders in its way. When balanced, they adapt to the shape that contains them which, on the flip side, can indicate a need for boundaries, lest the Water overflows and loses control, using up their reserves.

The persona of a Water Element sounds like a very cool and attractive one to have, a bit of a James Dean figure, a person that is hard to pin down, who is perhaps on a different wavelength to the majority of people, but who risks depleting their Essence:

Water itself is naturally elusive and resists definition. It can hold any shape, and yet cannot itself be grasped and held once and for all. It appears to have boundaries, and yet will find a passage around any dam or obstruction wherever it can. (Worsley, J.R. 1998, p.6.1) 

The emotion associated with the Water Element is that of fear or lack of fear. This feeling can be traced back many years to when farmers would have built up their stores of grain and crops to last over the barren winter months. There was the fear that if this was not done, then there would be no food left come the spring. This fear is still evident today in Water Elements that, during the winter, are very conscious of conserving things and are frightened of the consequences if they do not. A farmer would be very careful to make sure that he conserved as much water as possible so that there would be enough supply for the dry season to follow. 

Take time to observe the relentless persistence of Water to get to where it wants. 

This is a feature that you can see if someone’s Water Element is balanced, they will be persistent in what they do and not give up: ‘Over time it can wear away the hardest rock and make it smooth. (Hicks, A. and Hicks, J. 1999, p.180)

Notice the smell, each Element has an odour and Water’s is Putrid. The sound that is linked to the Water Element is that of groaning. This is very evident when you are taking a walk along the beach, the sea has that relentless groaning sound, one minute quiet and then a groan as the wave reaches a peak and breaks – a similar sound to a train. Finally, the taste associated with Water is salty, and of course, you can taste this on your tongue very easily when you are near to the sea. 


These two Officials do precisely what it says on the tin! They deal directly with the Water Element. Between them, they govern the major aspects of our vital fluids. They are of the greatest importance to the whole of the Body and other Officials, as none of them can function without Water.


The Kidney Official is known as the ‘Official Who Controls the Waterways’. This, however, may be a little misleading as the Kidney does far more. Ancient Chinese philosophy believed that the Kidney Official was the storehouse for ancestral energy passed on to each generation; it was the seed of life handed down.

The Official takes some of the Qi energy from our consumption of food and air and compiles it as a reserve. This supply can be called upon when we have heavy physical or mental tasks to cope with. A part of the Kidney Official is the Ming Men, this is responsible for warming the Essence of the Kidney, and it is also a very important part of the Official as it is a warmer for all of the Body’s organs.

The Essence that we have mentioned is called the Kidney Jing. This is derived from both Pre- and post-Heaven Essence. The pre-Heavenly Essence is inherited from our parents at conception. It can be gradually depleted throughout our lifetimes unless it is conserved well. The post-Heavenly Essence is taken from food and nourishment and can be replenished.

The function of Kidney Jing in our bodies is to do with the basis of growth and development; deficiency can result in stunted growth or retardation and bone and teeth problems.

Kidney Jing is also the basis of our constitutional strength and the production of bone marrow, which fills the brain and the spinal cord. The pathology of someone with deficient Kidney Jing will be that of someone who is always weak and prone to constant infections.


The Bladder is the ‘Official Who Controls the Storage of Water’, and it is the reservoir of the Body, Mind and Spirit. This is the reserve that we draw from in the winter when things are running low. If this is lacking, then things can start to go wrong in all three aspects. 

As well as being a reservoir, the Bladder is also charged with disposing of the impurities found in our urine; if these are left to build up and not disposed of, this can eventually pollute our whole being.

So, if the Bladder is out of balance, it may not be able to keep its fluids within its boundaries. This may manifest as incontinence and cystitis type infections. The Bladder is one of the few Officials that is similar in its description of use, both in Chinese and Western medicine. It is also the longest meridian on the body with sixty-seven points. We need to look at the Bladder and the Kidney in the context of equal importance: ‘The Kidneys are rulers over the winter. Kidneys and Bladder are related and have to be treated as one in acupuncture.’ (Wallnofer, H. and Von Rottauscher, A. 1965, p.90) 

These two Officials of the Water Element need to be dealt with the greatest of respect, as they are responsible for a considerable amount of water in the body – in fact, according to Masaru Emoto in his book ‘The Hidden Messages in Water’: ‘the average human body is 70 percent water.’ (2004, n.p.) That is a large volume of fluid that needs retaining and managing, so these organs need to be in the best of condition.

© Copyright 2013 Paul Adkins Lic.Ac., BA(Hons), 1st Dan, FEA, MFHT, MCAUK


Emoto, M. (2004) The Hidden Messages in Water, translated by David A.Thayne. Hillsboro: Beyond Hills Publishing.

Hicks, A. and Hicks, J. (1999) Healing Your Emotions: Discover Your Element Type and Change Your Life. London: Thorsons

Tsu, L, (1972) Tao Te Ching, translated by Feng, G-F. And English, J. New York: Vintage Books

Wallnofer, H. and Von Rottauscher, A. (1965) Chinese Folk Medicine and Acupuncture, translated by Marion Palmedo. New York: Bell Publishing Company, Inc.

Worsley, J. R. (1998) Classical Five-Element Acupuncture Volume III: The Five Elements and the Officials. J. R. & J.B Worsley

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