What exactly IS five-element acupuncture?

Five-element acupuncture originated in ancient China more than two thousand years ago and continues to thrive today. In the 1960s, this unique system of medicine was brought to Europe by pioneers including the late Professor J.R. Worsley and Jacques Lavier.  

At the very core of five-element acupuncture is the fundamental belief that many of the physical ailments that patients present with today are the result of emotional or spiritual distress as much as any physical cause.

A five-element practitioner’s job is never to focus on the patient’s symptoms in the manner that other forms of acupuncture do, but rather to identify and treat the cause of all their symptoms by focusing on the individual as a whole. This system of medicine teaches us that all symptoms derive from a single cause which is unique to the patient. We believe that by treating the element of nature that is deficient within the individual, known as their causative factor, we can effect a cure for all of the patient’s symptoms, whether they are on a physical, mental or spiritual level.

According to ancient Chinese wisdom and philosophy, the living universe and all life forms within it operate through the five elements of nature; Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water.

Within our bodies, the five elements present in several unique ways: There are five pairings of vital organs; five distinct odours that call to a practitioner when those organs are in trouble; five unique emotions that the acupuncturist can experience when with the patient, five different sounds within the timbre of our patient’s voice and five colours that, to the trained eye, can be viewed just beneath the surface of their skin. Each pairing of organs relates to one of the elements of nature. It is the five-element acupuncturist’s job to use their senses to identify which one of the elements within a patient is struggling using the clues the patient presents with; it’s a bit like being a detective!  Once we have identified their deficient element, the cause of all their symptoms, treatment can begin. The element and its associated pairing of organs can be nurtured and swiftly restored to health to work in harmony with the rest of the patient’s body. Once this state of balance has been achieved, nature will begin to effect a cure for the patient’s symptoms.

We should understand that all five elements are present within each patient; we are simply seeking the one that has not received enough of the available energy to function correctly, the one that’s having a kip in the corner! In order to be in good health on a physical, mental or spiritual level, all the elements need to have a relatively balanced share of the body’s available energy since it is this that helps to power our organs and therefore our lives. In Chinese medicine, each of the elements has a particular job function that they provide to all of the other elements. Therefore, if one of them is taking a nap in the corner, all the others will suffer. As the deficient element goes down, all the others are put under stress as they struggle to undertake tasks for which they are not equipped and symptoms in the patient will arise.

Imagine a busy office working at capacity when a key worker calls in sick. Their tasks and duties will not go away, so the manager is forced to reallocate them across the department. The team, who were already stretched, have to try and juggle the additional workload. The result is that every task is rushed and duties are completed in a haphazard and substandard manner. The workers become stressed and anxious and end up having to work through lunch and leave the office late, feeling exhausted and resentful. However, when the sick colleague returns and the work is allocated as it should be, the department returns to efficiency and the colleagues feel energised and motivated and are able to complete their jobs to the best of their abilities once more. The same analogy is true within us: When the pairing of vital organs which represent our causative factor go down because they do not have enough energy or Qi to work with, they are effectively taking time off sick and the vital functions that they provide to ALL the other organs of the body simply fail to happen. As a result, all of the organs struggle to keep up with the demands of the body and the patient will experience symptoms.

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