By Tan Shiau Tse
Ancient Chinese philosophy is built on the foundation of two main systems – Yin and Yang （阴阳）, and the Five Elements （五行）. The Five Elements are Wood（木）, Fire（火）, Earth（土）, Metal （金）and Water（水）. They form the basic elements of the material world. These Five Elements are interconnected to each other in that one element can either increase the strength of another element or restrain the other. This interconnectedness is shown in the diagram below:
The outer arrows denote one element generating or increasing the other (e.g., Wood generates Fire), whereas the inner arrows denote the relationship of restraint (e.g., Water restrains Fire).
With the world view built on the Five Elements, the Chinese then extended the model to include various aspects of the material world, including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the human body. Below shows some groups of categorisation using the Five Elements:
Just as a human body can broadly be classified into yin or yang type, it can also be placed into 5 categories according to the Five Elements.
Wood is an element that is energetic, is pronounced in movement, and symbolises growth. Its governing Solid Organ (脏zang) is the Liver and its governing Hollow Organ (腑fu) is the Gall Bladder. Here are some characteristics of a Wood person:
Appearance: Usually slim with long limbs. Long face with a tinge of green tone in their complexion, agile but not strong.
- Able and hardworking,
- A good listener,
- Good at rational persuasion
Illness Tendency: Prone to illness during Spring and in an environment where it is windy and chilly; Prone to the following:
- liver, gall bladder and eye problem,
- nervous system problem,
- neurosis, etc.,
- Keep warm in windy and cold environment;
- Avoid allergens, liquor and smoking;
- Staying calm and restrained
- keep a positive mental state.
Suitable Food: Food that nourishes the Liver and Spleen, and food that enhances the mood, such as ginger, onion, buckwheat, Chinese yam, potato, pork, fish, egg, rose tea, etc.
Suitable Sports: Taichi, qigong, yoga.
Fire symbolises passion, vitality and joy. Its governing Solid Organ (脏zang) is the Heart and its governing Hollow Organ (腑fu) is the Small Intestines. Here are some characteristics of a Fire person:
Appearance: Strong body with broad back, pointed chin with relatively small and a complexion of red tone.
- Full of Passion
- Excitable and easily agitated,
- Creative and inventive,
- Risk taker
- Walks, speaks and thinks fast
- Active and agile
Illness Tendency: Prone to illness in the summer season and hot environment. Prone to the following illnesses:
- cardiovascular diseases
- coronary heart disease,
- various heat syndromes,
- various yin-deficient and yang-excess diseases such as diabetes
- Avoid “heaty” food such as curry and deep fried food,
- Take more food that clears heat and nourishes yin;
- Take care of the heart by going for regular heart check-up, reduce unnecessary stress, increase in cardiovascular exercise etc.
Suitable Food: Food that nourishes the heart, calm the mind, and cool the body, such as lily bulb, lotus seed, bitter gourd, artichoke and American ginseng.
Suitable Sports/Leisure: Classical dance, brisk walk, fishing, chess games.
Earth symbolises stability and practicality. Its governing Solid Organ (脏zang) is the Spleen and its governing Hollow Organ (腑fu) is the Stomach. Here are some characteristics of an Earth person:
Appearance: Stocky build with relatively big abdomen, small palms and feet. The face is normally round with a complexion of yellow tone. Walks steadily.
- Stable character,
- Practical and hardworking,
- A dependable person who gives generously in a relationship, but tend to be possessive
Illness Tendency: Prone to illness in the mid-summer, rainy seasons, and damp environment;
- Abdominal, digestion and dampness-related problems such as
- high cholesterol,
- sagging organs, etc.;
- Problems related to high blood viscosity such as
- poor blood circulation and numbness
- Avoid damp environment
- Exercise more often
- Eat moderately
- Avoid oily and cold food
Suitable Food: Food that aids in digestion and removing dampness such as orange peel, Chinese barley, Chinese yam, radish, carrots, mushrooms, corn, yogurt, etc.; food that reduces blood viscosity such as black fungus, hawthorn and lotus root; food that aids the Liver (see above section on Wood Type).
Suitable Sports: Sports aerobic in nature such as jogging, basketball, etc., but has to take care not to over exert and tire the body.
Metal symbolises integrity and endurance. Its governing Solid Organ (脏zang) is the Lung and its governing Hollow Organ (腑fu) is the Large Intestines. Here are the characteristics of a Metal person:
Appearance: Average body stature with relatively big and strong bones, square face and fair complexion.
Personality: Upright, honest, conservative, practical, decisive, broad-minded and has good organisational and leadership ability.
Illness Tendency: Prone to illness in the months of autumn, and in dry and hot environment; lungs and dryness-related problems such as
- chronic bronchitis,
- dry and itchy skin, etc.
- Avoid food that is dry or “heaty” in nature, such as spices, fried food and barbequed food;
- Always take sufficient amount of fluid.
- Protect the lungs from cold and chill.
- Quit liquor and smoking
- Frequent natural environments to get good quality air and negative ions
Suitable Food: Food that replenishes bodily fluids and helpful for the lungs, such as pear, persimmon, pomelo, apricot, white fungus, lily bulb, lotus root, gingko fruit, almond, soup, etc.
Suitable Sports: Trekking, qigong, deep breathing and aerobic sports.
The element of Water element is serene and all-encompassing. Its governing Solid Organ (脏zang) is the Kidney and its governing Hollow Organ (腑fu) is the Bladder. The characteristics of a Metal person are as follow:
Appearance: Tend to have a body stature broader at the hips. Deep-set eyes, big ears, complexion with a tone of grey; has tendency to get plump.
Personality: Sensitive, intuitive, calm when dealing with problems, tend to look for completeness in a relationship.
Illness Tendency: Prone to illness in wintery months and cold weather; kidney and water-related diseases such as
- weak legs,
- diarrhoea at dawn, etc.
- Keep warm and avoid anything cold;
- Take food that nourishes the Kidneys,
- Exercise to strengthen the lower back,
- Avoid carrying heavy objects
Suitable Food: Food that is warming in nature and food that nourishes the Kidneys, such as red dates, wolfberry, mutton, black bean, black glutinous rice, spices, ginger, pepper, etc.
Suitable Sports: Sports that combine stillness and movement, such as taichi, yoga, or movement-related sports such as jogging and ball games.