Introduction to the Five Element Tradition of Classical Acupuncture

Five Element Acupuncture as presented in the Classics of Chinese medicine, is based upon the concept that the primary cause of any illness is a disruption in the harmony of the body/mind/spirit in that individual.

Therefore, great attention is given to the thoughts and feelings of the patient, their social and medical history, relationships with others, the degree to which they are realizing their goals in life, their personal self-esteem.

In the Ling Shu, Chapter 8 (Henry Lu's tr) Qi Bo says: "The laws of acupuncture dictate that needling should be, first and foremost, based upon the spirit..."

The five elements can be thought of as a mechanism for classifying all phenomena into separate categories, each of which share some kind of mutual resonance (similar to, for, eg. the way in which cold, dark and wet are all associated by resonance to Yin). Therefore, wind, spring, the color green, the odor rancid, etc. are associated by resonance to the Wood element. Each element has its own set of associations.

There is a Yin and Yang aspect to each element, each of which is referred to in Ch 8 of the Su Wen as “Officials of the realm”. These officials govern not only the functions of the physical organs after which they are named, but also include a variety of non-material functions, such as our ability to make deicisions, express love, have insight, etc.

In the modern world, where most of us have adequate food, clothing and housing, our persistent susceptibility to both acute and chronic illness is more a reflection of the emotional damage transmitted through our minds and spirits, than through whatever may attempt to attack our bodies. The factor that determines this susceptibility or lack there of is the constitutional strength of the individual on a body, mind and spirit level and their subsequent ability to resist external influences.

Physical symptoms are regarded as red flags alerting us to a deeper imbalance which must also be addressed before health can be restored. Treatment planning involves choice of points based on the individual needs of that specific patient, rather than the use of formula points for specific conditions.

Consequently the role of mind, emotion and spirit is extremely important in the Classical System of Acupuncture.


Yin Organ Liver Heart & Circulation/Heart Proctector Spleen Lung Kidney
Yang Organ Gallbladder Small Intestine & Triple Burner Stomach Large Intestine Bladder
Season Spring Summer Late summer Autumn Winter
Color Green Red Yellow White Blue/Black
Sound Shout Laugh Sing Weep Groan
Odor Rancid Scorched Fragrant Rotten Putrid
Emotion Anger Joy/Lack of Sympathy Grief Fear
Sense Organ Eyes Tongue Mouth Nose Ears
Physical manifestation Nails Complexion Lips Body Hair Head Hair
Nourishes Sinews and membranes Blood and Blood Vessels Flesh & Muscles Skin & Hair Bones & Marrow
Body/Mind Affect Planning & Decision-Making Circulation, cognition, wisdom, meaningful relationships, homeostasis Grounded, Centered, Digestion, Nourishment, thought, Qi distribution to muscles Respiration, inspiration, receiving pure Qi, letting go of waste, immune defense Fluid storage, energy reserves, controls 2 lower orifices, controls body fluids
Spirit Affect Hun: smooth flow of qi; inspiration, insight, introspection Shen: Quality of life, individuality, awareness Yi: intent, meaning, sentiment P’o: instinct, vitality, capacity for movement, balance & coordination Zhi: Will, memory, data storage, drive, origin of skill & intelligence



go back