In Chinese Medicine there are five elements or ‘phases’: water, wood, fire, earth and metal.  Each element is said to relate to an organ of the body, a meridian of Qi, a season, a sound, a color, certain foods, an odor, and basically everything else. Having your elements in good harmony means feeling your best–physically, emotionally and mentally.

The water element relates to the kidneys and bladder in our bodies. The kidneys are said to house our ‘ancestral energy’. It’s our foundational strength, our bones, our deep power and will to survive. It corresponds to the winter.

Wood element organs are the liver and gall bladder. They help our bodies to detoxify and cleanse the blood. Wood element relates to spring, the time of new beginnings and ‘spring cleaning’.

Fire element has four organs, small intestine, heart, heart master, and triple warmer. The functions of the fire element are said to relate to the circulation of blood and warmth; to sorting ‘pure’ from ‘impure’; as well to our deep sense of joyfulness (the heart is said to house the ‘shen’, an aspect one knows by the twinkle in someone’s eyes). Seasonally, the fire element corresponds to summer, when plants flourish, nature matures and begins to bear fruit. Fire is a transformational element.

Earth holds us up and supports us. In our bodies, it’s our stomach and spleen which receive and convert nourishment into usable energy. The earth element corresponds to the late summer, when we bring in the harvest, savor its flavors and reflect on the year’s growth.

The metal element governs the large intestine and lungs. In the fall most trees let go of their leaves, much as the colon lets go of what our bodies don’t need. The lungs bring in the inspiration of the breath, infusing us with air.

This progression of elements moves full circle from water (winter) to metal (autumn), and back to water again. Each element gives rise to the next in a creative cycle. We can look at our lives and ask meaningful questions of these elements which may help us to see what could move more smoothly in our life. Understanding what might be ‘stuck’, we can apply a treatment to promote smooth flow and balance—feels better!

For example, one can ask “How is the wood element in me and in my life?” This would be a great inquiry to do now in the spring season because the power of spring is surrounding us so fully. Some questions that relate to wood are: How well do I clear out, clean out, and get rid of stuff from my environment that I don’t really need or that doesn’t support healthy growth and new projects? Do I eat a lot of fried food, greasy stuff that’s harder to digest? What happens when I am angry? Do I hold it in and get resentful? Do I explode and shout frequently? How fully self-expressed am I? Do I have goals? What are they? Am I achieving them? How flexible am I, physically, emotionally and mentally? Do I tend to see things in a black and white way? How is my sense of self esteem? Do I get mired in seeing details, and sometimes lose sight of the big picture?

If we go around to each of the elements and inquire about the state of each in our lives, we can get a sense of where things are moving well and where not. Usually, where we aren’t moving well there will be some sort of symptom—a pain, an ache, an upset or complaint. This makes sense because we feel much better when things aren’t stuck.

Acupuncture needles are the tool of Chinese medicine, and they work well to get things moving in a good way. Anything can be a tool for balance and healing, however. A word can act as a needle, bringing harmony where there is disharmony. Getting organized and keeping to our goals is revolutionary for some (wood element); a kind touch is just the thing for another (fire element). Breathing in a conscious way–in and out–when we are angry can stop a potential violence (metal/ wood element). Giving space for each other, allowing another to be, exactly as they are, without judging, can be such a gift and can even help, ironically, that person to make some changes. Forgiveness is powerful medicine (all metal element). Telling a joke, smiling, dancing—these, too, can shift us when we are stuck (fire element). Singing to each other, singing our own healing songs, bringing thoughtful gifts, or preparing a meal for another (earth), if missing, can be exactly right for life to flourish again. Simple ways like these, by themselves or combined with acupuncture or other healing work, can keep our symptoms small and manageable, can help us to feel and be well, and can support our world to be a smilier and brighter place, year (and years)-round.


Melora Kaplan, L.Ac, M.Ac. Melora has been practicing acupuncture for over twenty years and has seen hundreds of patients. She practices Five Element-style acupuncture and is especially good at attuning herself to the underlying causes of disease and treating at that level.

Feel free to call Melora for a free consultation or to ask a question about acupuncture at 410-772-8277; or email