Archive for the ‘5 Phases’ Category

Five Phases of Transformation – Part 3: Feedback Inhibition

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

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.

Five Phases of Transformation – Part 2: Positive Feedback

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

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.

Five Phases of Transformation – Part 1: Interacting with Nature

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

All the principles of heaven and earth are living inside you. Life itself is the truth, and this will never change. Everything in heaven and earth breathes. Breath is the thread that ties creation together.“

Ueshiba Morihei – The Art of Peace

One of the unique aspects of Traditional Oriental Medicine is the concept that human beings are a microcosm of the universe. By careful observation of the relationships and interactions occurring in Nature, this knowledge can then be applied to the human body for the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of health problems.

Based on this Eastern approach of observing natural phenomena, 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.

Like the theory of Yin – Yang, or polar opposites, Five Phase theory was originally taken from ancient Chinese science and philosophy and was important in everyday life, from farming and agriculture to military strategy and the martial arts.

Five Phase theory demonstrates dynamic processes of transformation and change within Nature, with these phases being traditionally classified as Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.

For example, the Wood phase relates to centrifugal movement, similar to the sprouting new growth of plant life in the springtime. In addition, during this time of year the wind comes from the eastern part of China and the green and unripe fruits growing in the region have a sour taste. In Eastern medicine, the Liver corresponds to the Wood phase because of its quality of helping the blood circulation spread outwards throughout the body, especially that of supplying nourishment to the tendons and ligaments which control the movements of the muscles. Finally, a severe windstorm can cause massive destruction, similar to how the Liver’s associated emotion of anger and rage can easily become unrestrained.

Fire, with its image of flickering flames, is associated with the southern part of China and its hot tropical summer climate. In addition, extreme heat burns and scorches food, producing bitter flavours. The Heart corresponds to the Fire phase, as it regulates the circulation throughout the blood vessels and its associated emotion is mania and overexcitement, resembling a fire burning out of control.

The Earth phase has a stable quality to it and describes the central agricultural regions of China with their damp paddy fields, filled with rich and nourishing yellow mud, being harvested in the late summertime. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the digestive system of the Spleen-Pancreas is a central foundation to good health, and the sweet flavour of rice and other whole grains are nourishing for the muscles. A healthy and stable Earth phase results in someone who is “grounded” whereas an imbalance produces worry and overthinking.

Metal ore is found in the arid desert mountains of western China, with the autumn season being especially dry in the region. The Lungs are associated with this phase, the actions of inhalation and exhalation resembling that of bellows used in forging and metalwork. The skin is regarded as being a “third lung” supporting the respiratory system and the corresponding emotion is that of sadness and grief.

Water, the fifth and final phase, has the characteristics of dissolving and sinking and is associated with the cold, dark, ocean waters to the north, especially in the wintertime. In the body, the Water phase is regulated and kept in balance by the Kidneys, and the mineral-rich salty flavour of seaweed helps to nourish and strengthen the bones.

Phase Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Season Spring Summer Late summer Autumn Winter
Direction East South Centre West North
Climate Wind Heat Dampness Dryness Cold
Colour Green Red Yellow White Black
Flavour Sour Bitter Sweet Pungent Salty
Organ Liver Heart Spleen-Pancreas Lung Kidney
Body tissue Tendons/ligaments Blood vessels Muscles Skin Bones
Emotion Anger Joy Worry Grief Fear

The above table summarizes some of the qualities associated with the Five Phases and demonstrates how a wide range of natural phenomena can be categorized.

However, the true value and purpose of the Five Phase theory is in observing how these systems influence and interact with each other throughout all of Nature. In turn, this knowledge can then be applied to the human body and is discussed in more detail in Part 2.