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Application of Five Elements

Applying this theory to the body is actually just a matter of plugging in for the variables. Wherever you see an element, replace it with it's corresponding zangfu organs. The examples below show the zang organs.

Generating Cycle Controlling Cycle

This simple substitution is enough to explain how the organs interact within the body. Oriental Medicine, being mostly a system based on imbalances as the cause of disease, now has a second form of pathology along with the yin-yang theory. The examples below will make more sense as you read on and learn the functions of the organs.

Application Examples of the Cycles

1. One of the most common pathologies, as you will learn, is Liver Qi Stagnation. This pathology is often accompanied by problems with the digestive system. This is an excess of the liver. According to this theory, the liver controls the spleen. If the liver is in excess as it is here, it will over-act on the spleen and interfere with it's ability to transform and transport food.

2. Using the generating cycle, we see that the kidneys generate or are the mother of the liver. You will learn later on that the kidneys are the root of the yin of the body. Additionally, the liver stores the blood of the body and is susceptible to deficiency of blood if too much is used during the active hours. Since the kidney is the mother of the liver, you can nourish the yin of the kidneys, to in turn nourish the blood of the liver (as blood is part of the yin of the body).

3. The heart controls the lungs. When the heart is in excess it will over-act upon the lungs. Symptoms of heart excess are often accompanied by shortness of breath and chest oppression, affecting the ability of the lungs to control the airways.

Application Examples of the 5 Element Chart

Five Elements Metal
Seasons Autumn
Environment Dry
Zang Lung
Fu Large Intestine
Directions West
Tastes Pungent
Sense Organs Nose
Tissues Skin and Hair
Emotions Grief
Remember the chart that you saw on the previous page. Lets take the element Metal as an example. Here you have a chart of correspondences. If a patient comes to you complaining of anything in the chart you attribute it to an imbalance in that particular organ. If someone comes in and is in grief, has either skin issues or dry and brittle hair, or maybe a pungent taste in the mouth, you attribute the imbalance to the Lung. The same goes for the rest of the organs.

In addition, the colors are important, which are noted by the color of the cell in chart. The Japanese school of five phase, for example, rubs the skin of the forearm and then looks to see a color shading. If it was green for example, they would attribute imbalances to the liver. If it was red it would be heart, pale white would be lung, yellow would spleen and dark or black would be kidney. I think you get the idea.

Application Examples from the Nan Jing

In many chapters of the Nan Jing, particularly chapter 69, it discusses how to utilize the mother-son principle for tonifying and reducing the elements to create balance. The general principle is to tonify the mother in case of deficiency and to reduce the son in case of excess. For example, if the liver is excess, you should reduce the heart. If the kidney is deficient, you should tonify the lung and so on.

If Deficienct in ... Tonify
Spleen Heart
Lung Spleen
Kidney Lung
Liver Kidney
Heart Liver
If Excess in ... Reduce
Spleen Lung
Lung Kidney
Kidney Liver
Liver Heart
Heart Spleen

Multitude of Possibilities

Okay, now to tie it all together here. So imagine, if you see a deficiency in an organ there are a lot of possibilities as to what is causing it. There is a good picture in Maciocia's Foundations of Chinese Medicine book on page 32 that describes almost all of the possible pathologies that any organ can have according to five phase. Take a look to get a cool pictoral view. For our purposes, let's take the spleen (earth) as an example here. The spleen is susceptible to becoming deficient or attacked at least 4 different ways.

  1. The liver controls the spleen. If the liver is excess it can over-act on the spleen.
  2. The spleen controls the kidneys. If the kidneys are excess they can insult the spleen.
  3. The heart is the mother of the spleen. If the heart is deficient, it will not have enough to nourish the spleen.
  4. The lung is the son of the spleen. If the lungs are deficient, they may drain too much from the mother spleen.

Now you can see how complex diagnosing can become. If you take into account the fact that there are 2 organs per element (four for fire since the pericardium and triple warmer are both associated with fire), at least 4 different ways for imbalance to occur per organ, you get a nice and easy 48 possible diagnoses to look at. Let's not think that this is just one aspect of organ and body disharmony. Don't worry, it gets worse :)

I have put the explanation of the zang/fu next. Usually a discussion of the fluids and influences of the body come next in most texts but I think this way will make it easier to understand the concepts of qi and blood.

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