This paper is an introduction to the ideas and treatment methods used in constitutional Five-Element acupunc- ture. Five-Element acupuncture aims to treat the person as a whole and to look deeper into a person’s being, knowing that as important as the patients symptoms are they are simply signposts to an energetic imbalance in the person. By diag- nosing and treating this deeper constitutional imbalance a Five-Element acupuncture practitioner aims to help the per- son grow and change and be all they can be, knowing that by treating the cause of the person’s distress the presenting symptoms will dissipate.
With an emphasis on spirit and emotional level causes, Five- Element is very different in theory and aim to modern tradi- tional Chinese medicine (TCM) styles of acupuncture and encompasses more than the commonly taught Five-Phase theory. While a modern acupuncturist will look for external causes of disease such as damp, heat and wind, a Five- Element practitioner will view these as symptoms of a per- son who has moved away from their own centre. By nurtur- ing this movement back to centre the patient experiences an all over change in their understanding of themselves and the world in which they live.
The Five-Element style was first brought to the West by Professor JR Worsley from his teachers Ono and Hsui in the late 1950s, after which he set up the first college dedicated to constitutional Five Element acupuncture in Leamington Spa UK(1). It has been said that this acupuncture style most close- ly adheres to the values and priorities expressed in the Nei Jing and other classics of Chinese medicine(2). To understand this elegant and transformational form of acupuncture there are certain ideas that are best explored first.
Though shrouded in mystery we have records and legends tracing Chinese medicine back to around 3000 BCE and the time of the three culture heroes. One of these heroes, the Emperor Fu Xi was thought to have developed the eight trigrams of the I-ching along
Gye Bennetts trained at the College of Traditional Acupuncture U.K. in Leamington Spa, United Kingdom. He ran clinics in London and Brussels for over three years before retuning to Australia nine years ago where he now treats in North Sydney. He has a Five-Element acupuncture information website at www.5element.com.au, and runs courses for TCM trained prac- titioners wanting to learn the Five-Element style of acupuncture. He is a member of the British Acupuncture Council and the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society. firstname.lastname@example.org.
with the concepts of the Five- Elements and yin and yang. This apparently happened after the emperor saw a dragon-horse rising majestically from the Yellow River in a vision one day. The ideas of yin and yang and the Five-Elements developed through daoist and natural- ist (precursor to Confucian) thinking into the Han dynasty (500 BCE to 500 CE) to become some of the core principles for diagnosing and treating in oriental medicine(3).
These five elemental energies — fire, earth, metal, water and wood — are evident in nature and can be seen in the annual march of the five Chinese seasons. They can also be observed in ourselves as they create the twelve main acupuncture meridians that make the body’s energetic sys- tem. Each of these elements is thought to be part of our emo- tional, spiritual, physical and mental make up. Let’s briefly look at these five elements both in nature and in ourselves.
Wood is the energy of spring. After the quiet still time of winter, nature bursts forth with hope and optimism to create the new growth of the season. Wood creates in us the merid- ians of the gall bladder and liver. These meridians are the parts of us that move forward into the world, that see, plan and make decisions. In other words, goes out and makes a difference.
Fire is the energy of summer. This is the time when nature moves into activity, the time of mating and fulsome growth. In us, it is the energy of four meridians; the heart, the heart protector, the small intestine and the three heater. Fire is the part of us that governs relationships, has fun, enables us to have intimacy and connects with others through the heart.
Earth is the energy of late summer, the four to six week peri- od at the end of summer when nature is heavy with its har- vest. In us as people, the earth energy creates the stomach and spleen meridians. These meridians are the parts of us that are like mother earth herself — caring for and feeding others, being concerned about others’ wellbeing, ensuring things are safe and secure.
Metal is the energy of autumn, the time when nature lets go of what it no longer needs. Nature is cleaning house, drop- ping it leaves to enrich the soil for next year’s growth. It is the energy of the lungs, the part of us that connects to the higher spiritual realms and is the source of our own self- esteem, as well as of the large intestine, the part of us that lets go on all levels (body, mind, spirit and emotion).
Water is the energy of winter, the time when nature retreats and recovers its vital energy ready for the next cycle of sea- sons. In us, it is the energy of the bladder and kidney merid- ians. This is the part of us that rests, fills up or that part that is driven forward, relentless, like a stream moving from the mountains down to the sea(4).