Five Phases of Transformation – Part 3: Feedback Inhibition

As mentioned in previous articles, one of the most important theories in Traditional Japanese acupuncture and shiatsu massage is that of the “Five Phases of Transformation”. Part 1 described how these five phases known as Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water are used to categorize a wide variety of natural phenomena. Part 2 explained the Generating Cycle, the first of several relationships which describe how the various phases inter-relate to each other in Nature.

The second of these inter-relationships is called the Restraining Cycle (sometimes also referred to as the Control Cycle). In a healthy system, the Restraining Cycle helps to maintain order and balance

5PhasesRestrainingCycle 257x300 Five Phases of Transformation   Part 3: Feedback Inhibition

By observing Nature

  • Wood restrains Earth by providing a healthy covering of plant life to prevent soil erosion
  • Earth restrains Water by forming embankments to keep the rivers and irrigation ditches from overflowing and flooding
  • Water restrains Fire by preventing overheating
  • Fire restrains Metal by purifying and refining during metalworking
  • Metal restrains Wood by using farming implements and other tools to keep overgrowth in proper check, and the entire cycle repeats

However, when one phase begins to dominate, the system can become unhealthy and out of balance and the Restraining Cycle gives way to Destruction

  • Wood destroys Earth by degrading the soil with over-intensive farming and not letting the land properly fallow with rotating crops
  • Earth destroys Water by blocking and damming up the waterways
  • Water destroys Fire by completely extinguishing the flames
  • Fire destroys Metal by over-tempering during metalworking
  • Metal destroys Wood by using farming implements and other tools to clearcut the forests and overwork the farmland, and the entire cycle repeats

The inter-relationships in Nature that are metaphorically described by the Restraining Cycle have clinical value when applied to the human body, much like the similar Western scientific idea of a feedback inhibition loop, often referred to as homeostasis in biological terminology.

An example of this would be seen when dealing with digestive health conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, various stressors, including unresolved anger and other emotional issues, can cause the Liver system to become overactive and domineering. This then has an unbalancing and destructive effect on the digestive system (known as the Spleen-Pancreas system in TCM), explained by the Restraining Cycle as Wood overacting on Earth.

In this case, treatment would be focused on regulating and calming down the Liver system to reduce its negative controlling effect on the Spleen-Pancreas system, and the digestion is then better able to strengthen and recover.

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