Five Phases of Transformation – Part 2: Positive Feedback

One of the most important theories in Traditional Japanese acupuncture and shiatsu is that of the “Five Phases of Transformation”, sometimes also referred to as the Five Elements. As described in Part 1, these five phases are known as Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water and are used to categorize a wide range of dynamic processes of transformation and change within Nature.

Besides being used to classify and categorize various natural phenomena, Five Phase theory also makes use of several relationships which describe how these phases influence and interact with one another.

The first of these relationships is called the Generating Cycle (sometimes also referred to as the Creation Cycle)

5PhasesGeneratingCycle 257x300 Five Phases of Transformation   Part 2: Positive Feedback

By observing Nature

  • Wood generates Fire by providing the fuel to be burned
  • Fire generates Earth by producing wood ash which then enriches the soil
  • Earth generates Metal by supplying the raw ore to be further refined
  • Metal generates Water by attracting surface condensation of moisture
  • Water generates Wood by nourishing the tree roots, and the entire cycle repeats

Although intended to be taken more symbolic than literal, the inter-relationships in Nature that are described by the Generating Cycle have much clinical value when applied to the human body.

For example, when dealing with health conditions such as asthma, allergies, or sinus problems, Traditional Chinese Medicine often focuses on the Lung system. However, treatment may also include working on the digestive system (known as the Spleen-Pancreas system in TCM), particularly in cases involving a buildup of mucous and phlegm, which is regarded as a byproduct of weak digestion.

This clinically useful approach can be explained by the Generating Cycle. Strengthening the Spleen-Pancreas to have a beneficial effect on the Lungs is applying the principle of Earth generating Metal.

The concept of the Generating Cycle is not unique to Eastern science; in Western science, this idea can be thought of as a positive-feedback loop. A common example of this would be the high-pitched squeal of feedback from a PA system where a microphone picks up sound from a speaker, amplifies it back into the sound system, out through the speaker again, and back into the microphone in a continuously repeating cycle.

In Western medicine, the positive-feedback loop is responsible for many biological processes. However, these types of systems tend to become unstable and escalate out of control without a feedback inhibition mechanism; in Five Phase theory this is called the Restraining Cycle and will be discussed in Part 3.

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