5 Element Theory

An ancient perspective on the present moment.

Whether you are wondering about world peace or inner peace, 5 Element theory has something to offer. Like any theory, the more you wonder, question and investigate each Element, the more they will reveal themselves to you. Elements are living “Spirit” – turn your attention toward them and they will reach back to you.


First, a few basics:

  1. The word Element can limit our understanding.
    Many translators use “Phases” instead of Elements.  “Element” can imply something stationary and solid whereas “phase” gives us the hint that things are changing, shifting, flowing.
  2. Just like seasons, the Elements reflect changes in the environment – both within us and outside of us.
  3. The name of each Element represents many qualities and characteristics.
    The word “connotation” comes to my mind to describe the many meanings implied with each Element/Phase.

What are the 5 Elements?

  1. Fire
  2. Earth
  3. Metal
  4. Water
  5. Wood

Inner World/Outer World Connections

Each of the 5 Elements has many aspects, connections, connotations. Below are some words to support your understanding of each of these Elements:

In the Universe around us, Fire is the literal fire that burns as a flame of the candle, of a gas stove, or a forest fire.  Fire is the season of summer, the Sun, heat, a fully blossoming flower, the color red. Within us, Fire is our physical warmth, our emotional warmth, love, joy, our ability to lead others and ourselves wisely, our physical heart and small intestine.


handful of dirt


In the Universe around us, Earth is the literal planet Earth, the literal soil beneath us, the season of late summer, humidity, vegetables that come after the blossom, our food, our home.  Within us, Earth is our ability to digest food as well as thoughts and experiences. Emotionally, Earth varies from a sense of safety, security, and abundance to insecurity, worry, and scarcity. Earth is our muscles, our digestion, our stomach, and spleen organs.


GoldIn the Universe around us, Metal is the literal air that we breathe and literal metals, such as gold, steel, and all types of crystals. Metal is the season of Fall, the dropping of leaves, the seeds within the fruit and vegetables, dry air, the color white. Within us Metal is our ability to let go, to allow grief to pass through us, to refine ideas, to be self- aware, to contemplate and focus our mind and attention. Physically, Metal is our lungs and large intestine.


WaterfallIn the Universe around us, Water is the literal water in the ocean, falling from the faucet, a full tub, bottled water, the season of winter and cold. Within us, Water is a sense of creativity, quiet, our ability to incubate, the emotion of fear as well as quiet peace. Kidneys and Bladder are the Water organs. In the darkness of winter below the frozen earth, away from our senses, seeds from now dead plants are held, incubating, only to grow again in the spring to continue the lifeline of the plant. Water – the mystery of Life and Death.


Pine TreeIn the Universe around us, Wood is the literal trees and plants. Spring is the season of the Wood Element, sprouting plants, sunrise, birth, and wind,  Within us, Wood is our ligaments and tendons, our ability to push through hardship, to persevere, the emotions of anger, frustration as wells as assertiveness, and kindness. Physically, our liver and gallbladder organs are Wood.

Phases of the 5 Elements

Just as the seasons continuously shift one into the other, the Elements shift from one into the other in an endless cycle of change. As Winter becomes Spring, Water becomes Wood, stillness becomes movement, fear gives way to perseverance.

Reflect upon the phases of your emotions, how they rise, peak and fade. Reflect on your day as it begins, unfolds, and quiets back into the night. Reflect on your life as from a tiny sprout, growing, aspiring, “arriving”, letting go, sinking back into the mystery of death and life.


We are always changing. Sometimes that change is obvious, others times not. The shifting phases of the 5 Elements perspective give us a compassionate and concrete way to reflect upon in order to understand changes in ourselves and others.

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Cindy Black

Cindy Black is the Founder of Big Tree School of Natural Healing and the author of Meridian Massage, Pathways to Vitality. She is appreciated for her ability to make the complex accessible, fun, and practical.


  1. Barry on July 7, 2021 at 5:48 pm

    Lately, I have felt so connected to planet Earth. I’m Interested to learn more about how these 5 elements apply to our lives and higher purpose.

    • Cindy Black on July 7, 2021 at 8:39 pm

      Hi Barry,

      Direct experience with any of the Elements is so valuable and precious. There are many layers to learn about each Element and how they interact with each other – I am still exploring and learning – I hope that you enjoy your journey with the Elements.
      – Cindy

  2. Emma William on August 23, 2020 at 5:54 am

    Hi Cindy!
    Thanks for sharing this information. If I am not wrong, all these elements come into use in the massage therapies as well, is that right? How exactly can they be used?

    • Cindy Black on August 23, 2020 at 9:24 am

      Hi Emma,
      Yes, 5 Element theory can be applied to Massage Therapy. Integrating 5 Elements, and the 12 Meridians, acupressure points and other aspects of Chinese Medicine is what I call Meridian Massage.
      I use my understanding of the 5 Elements to help get a better assessment of clients, then I offer them more specific self-care practices or lifestyle adjustments that they can do between sessions to support their return to balance.

      For example, if a client comes saying they have neck pain. I ask questions and make observations of their answers, the rhythm of their speech, the volume of their voice, what contributing factors they may identify that brought on the neck pain.
      If the main contribution was overworking and ignoring their body’s pain signals, I often as more questions about the Wood Element as ignoring pain and pushing through obstacles are two things that out of balance Wood Element is famous for. If that seems right for this person, I will focus my massage on the Liver and Gallbladder Meridians and points as these are the meridians associated with the Wood Element. For self-care I encourage the person to notice when they feel pain and see if they can make an adjustment in their actions, to ease up a bit.

      Understanding the 5 Elements in depth gives you the ability to decipher common symptoms in more detail, and then tailor your hands on work more specifically. The results are that you as the practitioner can leverage the healing potential Qi (energy) so that you don’t have to use so much physical energy, and your client feels improvement more quickly, and they can learn how to make simple changes to support their health and vitality.

      Here are 5 recorded classes (these are free) on each of the 5 Elements to learn more: 5 Element Videos

      Use this link to learn more about online Meridian Massage Courses that I offer

      Thanks for your great question! I hope that you keep wondering about it yourself and let the Elements guide you.
      – Cindy

  3. Anna on March 20, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    Much appreciated — your talks, your writings on this subject, your dedication. Blessings always for your commitment and excellence.

    • Cindy Black on April 23, 2020 at 7:48 am

      Thank you for support and kind words Anna!
      – Cindy

  4. Marsha on October 12, 2019 at 6:49 am

    This is beautifully written and makes you think!

  5. Andrew on September 11, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    I love the inner/outer world connections we have to the elements. Beautifully written.

  6. Keith Vincent on May 2, 2019 at 1:10 pm

    Hi Cindy, i really do appreciate the info you send, it is always a great reminder to me of what we are all about and how blessed we are to have all this wonderful knowledge of our connection to the universe.
    I feel your spirit and energy, thank you for continual enlightenment.
    Best wishes.

    • Cindy Black on May 2, 2019 at 2:51 pm

      Thank you for writing Keith, I appreciate your words very much.
      Wishing you all the best,

  7. Kris Will on May 2, 2019 at 11:52 am

    I have long been drawn to the Five Elements and Five Element Theory. Thanks for this beautiful post. I look forward to all of your words of wisdom and experience in this field.

    • Cindy Black on May 2, 2019 at 2:52 pm

      Hi Kris,
      I encourage you to follow the draw of the Elements…it is a wonderful adventure!
      – Cindy

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