The Five Elements of Traditional Chinese Energy Medicine: the art of massage and the Five Phases

Introduction to the Five Elements.

We, at Massage in Chianti love to keep learning new things relating to well-being and massages, in order to broaden our knowledge and to improve our treatments and services, we are constantly studying and updating ourselves.

The last course we attended left us excited, and full of new amazing information, the one that opened the door for us onto the Wonderful World of the Five Phases or Five Movements, which characterizes Chinese culture and medicine.

The Chinese Energetic Medicine is a world made of culture, traditions, nature, which the human being at the centre, studying it and detecting causes and disorders thanks to the five Elements.

The relationship of physical, chemical, emotional, ancestral influences in the human being and its environment, are deeply explained in TCM and show how the individual is not just one arm or a foot, or a liver or a heart, but is treated as a Whole, potentially in total harmony within and with the Nature around it.

To enclose in a few words what these elements are in an exhaustive manner, is definitely impossible.

Anyways, we will try to give a general idea of what these elements are and what are the main features.

Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water: these five elements do not exist isolated from each other, but they influence one another in several different ways. This interaction and connection between them give birth to a fluid, vital balance which characterizes the human being as a whole. On one side it allows life to have some stability, on the other it constitutes the prerequisite for the continuous variation necessary for life itself to unfold.

Let us give a closer look…

The Cycle of the Five Phases: 


Wood is the element of new things and beginnings, it is the element related to Spring and to the early hours of the day, the element of youngsters and the future.

It symbolizes the Force of Nature but also Personal Identity. It is connected to the Air Element, it moves the energy necessary to make plans and make important decisions. It is the energy we move when we focus to realize our projects.

On a physical level it is connected to liver, muscles, tendons, eyes and gallbladder. Its colour is Green.

When it is not in harmony it can lead to aggressiveness, leadership that subjugates other, rage and rigidity in relationships.

If Wood is not in harmony in our body, it prevents us from completing the projects we started, accumulating only a series of potentially good ideas, without going through with any of them. It leads to impatience and disorganization.

When it is balance, it rules the ability to plan, design and make decisions which will benefit both oneself and others. The energies are channelled positively, the vision is wider and most of all the person is able to take the opportunities that present themselves and is able to follow through with ideas and plans with passion and dedication.


The energy of Fire, is at the top of the upward movement and goes in every direction.

It is the summer element, of the central hours of the day, when the sun is high and it represents the apex of life.

When it works in an excessive manner, it destroys. An always present and often abrupt destruction, which main purpose is to get rid of something to make space for the new to enter. It is connected to heart, small intestine, and blood vessels. Its feeling is Joy.

The Fire Element represents in the person the capacity of having good social interactions. When this is strong, the person loves to be the centre of attention, and rarely manages to hide true thoughts and feelings. One tends to be empathic, but does not easily give up one’s role. When this element is in balance, one tends to take care of one’s image, trying never to appear ordinary. Loves meeting people and creating new relationships.

It is possible though that unbalance of the fire element occurs. This often manifests as the wish to be friends with everyone to hide solitude. Speaking a lot in public is a way to hide the real issues. When this element is unbalanced it may try to put others in the shadows to draw more light on oneself. Cannot create true friendships and is almost always pretending.

Earth, the harmonizing and balancing element.

This is the element of transformation. Earth gives birth to everything and welcomes everything at the end of the path. It is the symbol for rooting and supporting. Represents the Late Summer season, and is connected to stomach, pancreas, spleen and mammary glands.

When the Earth element is in balance the person can easily find peace and tranquillity within and acts as a mature, balanced and stable person; capable of helping others, being an understanding, empathic person, open to people and their ideas.

When the Earth element is unbalanced, the person tends to commiserate oneself, blame others if things go wrong, cannot take responsibility for oneself and to stand alone. Sometimes, believes in stuff which is easily discredited by truth. Cannot accept that others might have different points of view. Does not accept suggestions and when someone makes them notice something, instead of thanking, they pretend they knew that already. Tends to speak for a long time and explain again even when the subject has been covered and the point has been made.

After the upward expansive energies of Wood and Fire, Earth is a balancing Element.

Now moving onto Metal, an element whose energy is directed inwards. Metal expresses density, compactness and structure. The human being needs to structure the body (anatomical structure), as well as his/her existence. In life, the structures ruled by Metal are the guidelines that give the person stability. If one though remains too anchored to them, one risks losing one’s mobility and therefore capacity of evolution and development.


Is connected to Autumn, lungs, nose, skin, body-hair and colon.

When this element is unbalanced, the person will feel sad, depressed and lack confidence. This will lead to isolation and the person will appear as anti-social. Blaming oneself, one closes in the attempt of protecting oneself. When one is afraid, it is difficult to breathe.

When it is balanced, the person will complete projects and reach one’s goals, showing oneself to be realist and stable. Although this person will care about one’s privacy, social life will not be avoided.

Water represents calmness, tranquillity, rest and in these resides the power of human bodies and their organs.

The Water element hosts the primal energy, the vital essence of man. Without the balancing force of Water, Wood pushed by its impulse would stir things up in vain, with no force, the Fire element would lose its harmony and the Earth element would lose its capacity to absorb the nutrients and transform them into energy. In the Metal element, Water lightens up lungs and large intestine and allows them to breathe and eliminate the residues with no effort.

The season connected to this element is winter, while the body parts are endocrine glands, teeth, kidneys, bones, bladder and the nervous system. The colour is black and its time is the night.

Water represents the self. If this is in harmony it manifests as acceptance, strength and stability. The person will be keen to make new discoveries, explore the possibility that life brings along. Equipped with a strong sensitivity, the person will understand every aspect of a feeling or a situation. Believes in oneself and the others.

When the Water element is unbalanced, the person tends to explore with no specific aim, with no objective, and will tend to get lost in thousands of thoughts without being able to follow through with any of them. Every time a good idea seems to appear, it just goes and the person does not move, while finding it difficult to let go, fears and anxieties will be cultivated.

But this is not all, because our course was not only theory, but practice too!

In the next article we will see how it is possible to work with these Five Elements in the art of Massage … so, stay tuned!