Chinese Medicine is a highly developed and effective system of diagnosis and treatment that uses acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary guidelines to bring an individual back into balance with body, mind, spirit, and the natural cycles that govern our world.
Chinese medical theory is based on concrete observations of these natural cycles of life, which are used to interpret an individual’s relationship to health or illness. A fundamental principal of Chinese Medicine is that we humans are a microcosm of the macrocosm of nature and the universe. The same imbalances that occur in our environment are reflected in the imbalances in our bodies.
The ancient Chinese were keen observers of all aspects of nature, including climate and weather, seasonal fluctuations, ebb and flow of rivers and ocean tides, movement and direction of the sun in the sky, cycles of the moon, crop and livestock variations, droughts and famines, and wildlife migration patterns. They also observed how these variations affected the ebb and flow of health and disease in people. They meticulously recorded their observations over thousands of years and passed them on from one generation to the next.
The first book on Chinese Medicine, the Nei Jing, was written by the Yellow Emperor between 300 and 200 BC. In this text, Five Element Theory is presented as a cycle of correspondences, which manifest as the underlying flow of vital Qi energy in nature, people, animals, plants, music, and even seemingly inanimate objects. Each element corresponds with a season Wood/Spring, Fire/Summer, Earth/Late Summer, Metal/Fall, Water/Winter.
Each season has a profound influence on our health and well-being—whether we’re aware of it or not. The ancient Chinese believed that to enjoy good health, human beings must live in harmony with the natural cycles of the seasons—just as plants and animals respond to and interact with their environment.
For instance, in the summer we experience warmer temperatures and longer days. It’s the time of the fire element and fire’s attendant emotion—joy. The extra hours of sunlight brighten our mood and give us time to play, relax, and enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. The Nei Jing offers these instructive words about summer:
“In the tree months of summer there is an abundance of sunshine and rain. The heavenly energy descends, and the earthly energy arises. When these energies merge, there is a mingling between heaven and earth. As a result, plants mature and animals, flowers, and fruit appear in abundance.
“One may retire somewhat later at this time of year, while still arising early. One should refrain from anger and stay physically active, to prevent the pores from closing and the chi from stagnating. Emotionally it is important to be happy and easygoing, and not to hold on to grudges, so that the energy can flow freely.”
It’s fascinating to read the Nei Jing, written over 2,000 years ago, and absorb the wisdom of an ancient people, highly tuned to their environment. Yet we have to remember that this was their experience and not our own. The Nei Jing teaches by example, not dogma.
We each have our own experience of an element in its corresponding season. The trick, in each season, is opening our senses to our experience and perceptions. To do this, slow down, observe, and take an inventory of your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, feel? What do you notice in the summer season that gives you information about the fire element in yourself? Are you experiencing the pure joy of summer; savoring the taste of fresh fruits and vegetables, and enjoying time with friends or family? If not, there may be an imbalance in your personal fire element.
Disconnection with the natural cycles, all too common in modern times, creates imbalance and ultimately, disease. And because our world is forever changing, we must continually adapt in order to remain healthy. In acupuncture we strive to balance the individual within the internal and external influencing factors of each season. When one is in harmony with nature there is no room for disease to manifest.