Living in harmony with the seasons: An introduction to the Chinese 5 elements

Western vs Eastern medicine approach

It can sometimes seem like we are expected to be on top form all the time.  If we are feeling ill we take a pill, if we have low emotional periods there is a high chance we will also be offered a pill to ‘fix’ us.  We are so disconnected to nature, to its cycles and to our own that we seem to have forgotten that we are human, not robots. Further we appear to have generally accepted that the amount of disease and illness around us is normal. But does it have to be? By being aware of our natural cycles and working with them instead of against, could we actually prevent a lot of unnecessarily- prescribed drugs which often treat the symptoms anyway and not the cause?

In Chinese medicine it appears to be more generally accepted that we cannot always be at our ‘best’. In fact there is no ‘best’ or ‘worst’ there is just ‘you’, going through whatever you need to at that time.

Emotions can cause stress, whether it be anxiety, grief, fear, etc., and stress causes cortisol production, which can then crystalise in organs and create imbalances in the body. If emot


In numbing and suppressing our emotions we are rejecting them.  By accepting and treating all emotions with self-love could we prevent a lot of future illness?

When I was first properly introduced to Chinese medicine through my study of kinesiology I instantly connected with this complete acceptance of self. I learnt that whatever ups and down I was going through were not only natural but actually completely ESSENTIAL to my emotional growth and both ups and downs must be embraced in their own way.

The 5 elements and corresponding seasons

The Chinese express these ‘ups and downs’ in the form of a cycle signified by the 5 seasons (summer is divided into 2 -early and late (last 18 days)) and their 5 elements:




This cycle can represent at a basic level our annual seasons where, for example in agriculture we generally accept that there are things we must do in the certain seasons rather than in others. However this cycle can also be used for ourselves within our seasons and also metaphorically to represent something like a project or relationship. But how?

First let me demonstrate through a story…..

Once upon a time where was a devoted couple called John and Mary who had been married for 35 years. When John suddenly died, Mary was upset in her grief. She was filled with guilt that she had not been nicer John on the morning he died and with regret that they had not taken the overseas trip he had wanted to. On her first night alone she heard a strange noise and where normally she would not worry or would send John to investigate she became full of fear and anxiety. In the morning she realised the sound was caused by the rose bush scratching the window and felt anger at herself for being so silly and at John for dying. She also felt resentment because she was now alone. Later when her daughter rand tell her she was going to be a great grandmother she was able to feel joy because she knew that life must go on. In the course of time when her dear friend rang to say that her own husband had died Mary was able to offer sympathy and empathy without being caught up in deep grief again.

The elements and corresponding emotions

This diagram shows the cycle of emotions within the 5 elements and which Mary has gone through (starting with metal):




If Mary had suppressed and not experienced ALL the phases she might not have been able to have experienced the genuine joy and empathy at the end of the story.

Using the 5 elements for our own personal year planner

How else might this cycle be applicable? Each element represents different energies and therefore what we do in each phase is different. Do you feel like hibernating in the winter? Do you have more energy and joy in the summer? Perhaps this is our body’s way of syncing with nature and showing us what it needs (if we are listening)……


Blue and Mint Green Cycle Diagram

As you can see, our natural state is not to be consistent all year round. Our current lifestyles (work etc.) do not reflect this nature but even with work we can still be mindful of our natural cycles as humans.

Emotions can cause stress, whether it be anxiety, grief, fear, etc., and stress causes cortisol production, which can then crystalise in organs and create imbalances in the body. If emot


Other example uses of the 5 element cycle

  1. A project

A project may begin during a water (winter) period. During this time of rest and reflection; ideas may start to germinate for a concept which are ready to be further tended to and initiated in the wood (spring) energy. This is where much of the hard work comes so that some benefits of the idea are starting to be reaped in the next phase which is fire (summer). By this time a chance to see if anything is not quite right with the initial idea can now be more clearly seen and a quick realisation that things need to change in order to continue successfully occurs (late summer- earth). Moving into the metal energy (autumn) the project may reduce in pace so that good ideas can be kept and those not working can be shed. A period of water energy (winter), no matter how long or short, is then necessary to take time to reflect on what has come so far. In this way the project can metamorphosise and continue to grow bigger, better and stronger in its next phase so as to avoid the frustration and anger of blocked wood (spring) energy and can instead flourish. And the cycle continues……

2. A relationship

Before a relationship, some time spent alone in personal reflection during water (winter) can allow space for someone new to come into your life. There might then be some (short or long) time working on getting to know each other as friends during wood (spring) before finally entering into an official relationship and allowing things to deeper flourish during fire (early summer). This summer (honeymoon?) period may last weeks or months. But at some point things may start to show signs of change and contraction (earth – late summer); initial excitement may be lost or disagreements may start to creep in. At this point a couple may choose to break up there and then or continue through the cycle to metal (autumn) where it will become clear that in order to continue on together- certain aspects of the relationship will need to be analysed and fine-tuned. This process will occur during the water (winter) phase which is one requiring strength and reflection (individually and together) on what has come before and perseverance to continue. Another wood (spring) phase then begins where the metamorphasis of the relationship begins and new ideas are tried. The fire (summer) phase then represents the second flourishing of this relationship, as it did the first time but this time much deeper. These phases may be short or long and may happen once a year or once a month! The wood spring energy may continue up until 3 years (3 year itch?!) and if worked through may not crop up again until the 7th year (7 year itch?!)

My next post will look at how to recognise which element you’re currently in (with regard to your current state/ a project/ goal/ a relationship), and how to clear any blocked energy.

I have also written about the links between these elements, the moon cycles and the feminine cycle.



Touch for Health Toni Lilley

Staying healthy with the seasons Elson M. Haas

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Arwa says:

    omg loved this! very interesting was familiar with the elements but not in the way you explained it here.. everything is a cycle! loved the concept & makes so much sense too 🙂 Thank You X

    Liked by 1 person

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