Traditional Chinese Medicine, like Ayurveda is founded in the understanding that the energy within the human body is the same as that in the environment. Qi (pronounced chi) is the term used to describe life force energy. Qi flows between the mind (thoughts, emotions) and body. When our normal flow of Qi is interrupted or blocked changes to the health of the mind and body can result. Traditional Chinese medical practitioners also believe the flow of Qi from our environment affects health and wellbeing.
Yin and Yang
The basis for classifying Qi is Yin and Yang. The attributes of Yin and Yang are often described as opposites. Our goal in life encompasses living in harmony with these opposing yet complementary energies. However nothing is totally Yin or Yang. The weather, our food and our personality are a combination of Yin and Yang energies. From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, health and wellbeing is achieved to the degree we can adjust to changes in our internal and external Yin and Yang.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Elements
The nature of Qi is further described through the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water and their relationships with the seasons. The balance of these elements within the mind and body contributes to optimal health and successful healing.
- Wood represents the season of spring, and the ascending activity of yang, as we are motivated to get moving outdoors after winter. It is the element underlying the qualities of sour foods.
- Fire is the element of summer, a yang season, with the qualities of expansion, growth, lightness, external activities, brightness and creativity. It is the element in bitter foods.
- Earth represents the last month of summer and the transition of yang to yin, encouraging us to bring our energy inward. It is time to take the middle way between extremes of summer and winter. Sweet foods contain the earth element.
- Metal represents Autumn, a time of harvest and to pull energy inward and downward in preparation for winter. Pungent foods have the qualities of metal.
- Water is the element of winter and it is yin in nature. It encourages us to become introspective and storage oriented. Salt and salty foods are characterised by this element.
Creation and Control Cycle
The creation and control cycle explains the regulation of Qi through the elements:
Creation: wood provides fuel for fire, the ashes become earth, the earth produces metals and water nourishes trees (wood)
Control: wood is cut by metal, fire is dampened by water, earth is penetrated by wood, metal is melted by fire and water is directed and contained by earth.
The practice of traditional Chinese medicine relies on the observation of subtle energies within our mind, body and environment. Next week we will explore these energies through the flavours of foods and eating with the seasons.