Five Element Theory and the Season of Summer

old_citySummer is trying to move into the Northwest. Interspersed between the rains and cold are the bright, beautiful, hot days of summer where the grasses grow and the insect abound.

In Chinese medicine, there are many different theories. Five Element Theory is one of the oldest, most improved, and most used theories to diagnosis and describe pathology. Five Element Theory is estimated to originate during the Western Zhou Dynasty around 1000 B.C. – 700 B.C.

The cornerstone of Five Element Theory is the five elements: water, fire, wood, metal, and earth. These elements are described and associated with a variety of items including: seasons, yin-yang theory, and organs.

Summer is associated with the element Fire. Fire’s natural characteristic is to be hot, dry, and blaze upwards. Summer being the hottest season of the year and the blazing growth of new plants fits the characteristics of fire.

Fire is a yang energy. Yang is said to impart “beginnings” of life to all things. Yang is associated with Qi and moving energy in the body and through the organs.

Five Element Theory is also interested in pathology. What happens when we have too much fire in the season of summer?

The season of summer has the key characteristics of growth and, hopefully, abundance. In a summer season where we have too much fire, droughts take over, the plants whither and die. During winter the famine comes. Too little fire and flooding may abound washing away the crops leaving nothing to harvest in the fall. With just the right amount of fire, the crops blaze upwards to grow and flourish and the harvest is plentiful.

Organs are associated to the elements and the element’s season. There are 12 key organs in Chinese Medicine and these 12 organs are separated into six pairs. Each pair has one organ which is considered yin and one organ which is considered yang. For the element, fire, the heart and small intestine are the organs attached to fire and summer.

The heart is considered the yin organ and the small intestine is considered the yang organ. Together, these two organs are referred to as the “Emperor Fire”.

The other four elements are associated with one organ pair. Unique to the fire element, is the association of a second organ pair: pericardium and triple burner. The pericardium is the yin organ and the triple burner is the yang organ. These two organs are referred to as the “Ministerial Fire”.

Like Western medicine, each organ in Chinese medicine has physiological function. In Western medicine, the heart pumps blood. For the Chinese, the heart also pumps blood yet is much more than a muscle that pumps blood. In Chinese medicine, life becomes more than form. An example would be our individual lives are more than our physical form. Our lives include our thoughts, hopes, desires, actions, families, relationships and much more.

The heart, as the Emperor Fire, controls the blood vessels, governs blood, houses the mind, interprets emotions, and many other functions.

So, taking the element fire with the summer season and the heart organ we can look at a couple ways that too much, too little, or just the right amount of summer fire can manifest in the heart.

The heart controls the mind and governs the blood. When there is too much fire and heat blazes upwards, the mind can become restless, the face red, the emotions agitated. The person may talk incessantly or laugh inappropriately. With too little fire, the warmth of the fire and heat can not reach the face and the face becomes pale, the person becomes listless. They may feel as if their heart misses a beat every so often or flutters. With just the right amount of fire, the person is relaxed and happy. There facial complexion looks healthy and they appear robust.

Like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, we can have too much fire, too little fire, or just the right amount of fire. Although this summer season may be starting out with too little fire and too much water, let’s hope as we move forward we get just the right amount of fire!