Charlotte has written several articles.
The Elements: Wood, Water, Metal
The Nature of Wood
The energy of wood corresponds to spring. When the sun begins to warm the earth and life bursts forth, seeds push through the soil, flowers blossom, the animals return and new beginnings are everywhere. In much the same way, a wood element type expresses exuberance, growth and creative expression. The energy of wood is creative, directional, visionary and competitive. It is particularly related to the eyes, the sense that is most directional. This includes our ability to see ourselves (self esteem) as well as setting goals and “seeing” a direction in the future.
The wood element is associated with the liver and gallbladder. Both hold energies of successful and directed growth. The liver is yin and relates to planning and preparation while the gallbladder is yang and relates to the quality of decision-making. Gallbladder symptoms are often one-sided, reflecting a tendency to see the world in terms of clear-cut relationships like good and bad/ right or wrong.
Wood Balance and Unbalance
When our creative expression is blocked, frustration and anger tend to arise, consequently the life theme of a wood constitutional type often has something to do with how they deal with anger.
When out of balance, the anger, which has to go somewhere can either be expressed outward onto others or life circumstances or injustices or it can implode inward causing depression and apathy.
When in balance wood personalities can tackle challenges without losing their cool. They are creative and move forward with openness and excitement. If an obstacle arises, they use their inherent qualities of flexibility to calmly walk around it, avoiding the strategies of withdrawal or conflict.
Wood Symptoms and Tendencies
An imbalance in wood energy is suggested by hopelessness, problems finding or sustaining direction, a feeling of stuck-ness or stored up resentment. The body begins to clog up.
On the emotional level, Wood people have trouble setting boundaries and saying no. They may express inappropriate anger, irritability and self-criticism.
On a physical level, things like blood clots, tumours, eye problems appear or an individual may be prone to repetitive sprains and strains. Other symptoms traditional associated with the wood element are headaches, arthritis. menstrual difficulties, constipation, uterine fibroids, tightness in the throat and jaw problems.
Life Thesis of Wood
It is the nature of life that obstacles to our growth arise, like a seed sprout growing up through the soil, it will encounter pebbles, at the surface it has to compete for light and space with other taller plants. Resistance always accompanies growth, it’s not personal.
The water element corresponds to winter, the season of death, gestation and rebirth. In winter the trees are bare, the landscape is bleak, the ground is cold, animals are fewer, the sky seems empty and fragile. It is as though all the energies of the previous year have withdrawn, there is stillness and quiescence like seeds waiting to grow in the soil. There is enormous potential and power waiting for the right time to come into being.
Another aspect of water can be found in the image of the ocean and the vast unknown depths and stillness beneath the surface.
The water element corresponds to the kidneys and bladder organs. In TCM, the kidneys are understood to contain our reserves. The relationship between using reserves wisely, through correct use of the willpower is often the central theme for water types.
Fear is the predominant emotion experienced by water types and can often arise in the face of the unknown. Too much fear can cause a sort of frozenness, where no action is taken at all and our potential is never expressed. Too little fear causes us to take risks and deplete our reserves.
Water Symptoms and Tendencies
Water imbalance manifests in the lower abdomen and back such as lower back pain, frequent urination, joint brittleness, weak legs, prostate problems and knee pain. If there is a deficiency of jing, there can be fatigue, poor memory, tinnitus and night sweating.
On a mental level there can be anxiety and a lack of flow in the thought process. Water types can be distrustful and secretive. They can often feel overwhelmed and just plain fearful a lot of the time. On the other hand, there may be apparent fearlessness or bravado, where they take unnecessary risks in their life. Water element types can tend toward overuse of their willpower and drive themselves beyond their limits, workaholism being just one way to numb the unbearable existential anxiety.
When in balance, water types are quiet, thoughtful types who make good listeners. They bring a sense of essential self, of listening to the silence and depth of being and are quite comfortable with the idea of not knowing. So deep and still in their life connection, they can seem to be on the edge of death and chaos in order to feel alive.
The metal element relates to autumn, the season where energy starts to run inward again. The trees lose their leaves, the harvest is finished, the days are getting shorter. There is a stillness in the air and the early mornings can be misty, as though cloaked in contemplation. It is a time to appreciate the year’s harvest and to value the entirety of the year’s life cycle.
Metal energy is downward, subsiding and contracting, the opposite of wood energy. It has a melancholy or pensive quality to it, like a kind of surrendering, letting go into something unknown.
Metal Organ Association
The organs related to metal are the lungs and large intestine. We breathe in, taking into ourselves nourishment in the form of air, we breathe out letting go of that which doesn’t serve us. In the same way, the large intestine excretes the waste that we no longer need. In the context of our lives, the lung and large intestine energy is related to taking in new ideas and being inspired as well as the ability to really let go of that which has no further value.
Metal Balance and Imbalance
When in balance metal element people have a deep appreciation of life, they are deep thinkers and are quite mental. They are extremely interested in the intrinsic value and worth of things, this includes valuing themselves and others.
Metal people understand the bigger picture, they are often very interested in the spiritual path and purity, they often dedicate themselves to it. They can appreciate the poignancy of new life whilst accepting the reality of impermanence. They are born priests or teachers and area able to inspire others through their understanding of spirit and the transcendent.
When out of balance metal element people are often not receptive to new information, there is a holding on to old ideas and they can appear judgemental and rigid in their thinking. Their life theme revolves around loss, they often hold onto unresolved grief and use a great deal of energy to fight awareness of their pain. They lose their connection to the spirit and inner value, tending to either become very materialistic (accumulating ideas, stuff, possessions to fill the lack of value) or shunning things completely and living in a “pure” way, as an ascetic.
At a physical level, symptoms associated with metal are asthma, allergies, chronic bronchitis, sleep apnea and emphysema. Large intestine disorders include constipation, irritable bowel disease and diarrhea. The inability to let go can manifest as rigidity of the spine and neurological degeneration.
The Life Thesis of Metal
Gaining worldly success, possessions, ideas or pleasures can’t address our need to connect with value and meaning. It’s our spiritual connection that sustains us ultimately.
Stress; How it affects the body and what we can do about it
Remember that feeling of being stuck in traffic and late for work or perhaps when you had to confront your boss about his difficult behavior.
Your shoulders and jaw might have tightened, your heart raced, you may have felt breathless. Then, as the traffic eased or your boss apologized, you might have felt your shoulders relax, your feet warmed up and that jitteriness dissolved. These are all signs that your autonomic nervous system is doing its job of responding to your stressful situation.
The Autonomic Nervous System is made up of both the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic branches. When stress goes up, the SNS releases adrenaline along with cortisol, causing an increase in heart rate, muscle tightening and all available energy is made ready for the task of either running, fighting or freezing. When stress levels return to normal, the PNS causes the body to relax, the heart rate slows and the body warms up.
The problem with this is that stress isn’t often completely discharged, if we are not able to fight or run away, adrenaline and cortisol levels remain high. We may then adapt to this hyper-vigilant state, perhaps feeling normal but our bodies tell a different story with tight shoulders, cold extremities, low energy and difficulty concentrating
When stress is chronic, excess cortisol can have seriously harmful affects on your health like lowering the immune system, increasing blood pressure and causing stomach ulcers (it also makes you look and feel old!).
So how can we deal with stress? Removing stressors that are known would be the first step. Regular exercise is important, it uses up stored adrenaline in the muscles. Learning to relax is the next step.
There are many ways to consciously turn on the Parasympathetic Nervous System or relaxation response. The easiest way is to work with your breath.
When we are stressed the breath is often very shallow and fast. This type of breathing uses mainly the top part of the lungs where the blood supply is limited and not as much oxygen is available for exchange. Deep abdominal breathing drops the diaphragm down, increasing lung volume and accessing the rich blood supply at the bottom of our lungs. A deep abdominal breath also massages and stimulates the internal organs where the Parasympathetic nerves reside thereby directly stimulating the relaxation response.
The key to abdominal breathing is to expand your belly as you breathe in. A good way to start training yourself is to gently rest your hand below your belly button and with each breath send your belly into your hand. On the out breath allow your hand and belly to fall. You can count to four on the inhale, then hold for four and exhale to four, to regulate and slow the breath down.
Another way to turn on the Parasympathetic NS is with our attention. When we feel stressed our attention usually goes immediately to the uncomfortable sensations and emotions, but if we widen our attention to include other parts of ourselves, then we don’t become so identified with stress.
The trick here is to feel areas in the body that feel good, to really focus on them and enjoy them. Let them get bigger, like a warm glow spreading through your whole body.
Both of these practices tend to promote a sense of grounding; that is they bring the focus away from the mind and disturbing thoughts and emotions and into the body. When we focus and connect to the breath and the body, there can be this sense of expansion as though we are right here in the present. When we can sink into the present, the causes of the stress, which are often related to the past and future are no longer there to plague us.
The Dynamic Body
We might think of our body as never changing or moving, like an image in the mirror each day, it looks the same. But inside the body there is a constant turn over of molecules and cells.
For example, the cells of our stomach lining are replaced every three or four days. Our liver is renewed every 6 weeks, even our bones which seem so solid are actually fluid in the sense that they are continually renewed, completing a cycle every 3-4 years. In fact in a scant 7 years every atom in our body has been changed!
The body is constantly in motion; the heart beats over a 100,000 times a day, the diaphragm expands and contacts 24,000 times a day. The subtle craniosacral rhythm flows through all fascial tissues at a rate of 8-10 times a minute and the viscera gracefully glide toward and away from the midline.
In acupuncture and craniosacral therapy we are very concerned with keeping this internal environment moving and flowing. When we experience trauma, infection, weakness and depletion, the body’s tissues slow down and contract, they become too still, impeding the flow of blood and nutrients.
Palpating the craniosacral rhythm is especially helpful in diagnosing areas in the body that don’t move well, as the rhythm is quite absent, pulling the palpating hand toward it like a vortex. In acupuncture we call blocked energy, “stagnation of Qi” This can mean a lack of motion in the organs, meridians and the corresponding emotions.
Qi flows through 12 main pathways or meridians, completing a cycle every 24-hours. Each meridian is named after an organ, for example the stomach meridian contains 45 different points, most of those points affect the functioning of the stomach in some way.
Each organ system is understood a bit differently than in western science. The ancient Chinese didn’t have microscopes; they weren’t concerned with exact structure and disease causation. Instead they used their understanding of the body to build a picture in terms of overall functionality and relationships between each system.
So when we talk about the liver, its in terms of how it effects our energy; the liver keeps the flow of Qi smooth and harmonious, the liver nourishes the tendons and brightens the eyes, it governs our ability to plan and make decisions.
The spleen produces blood and holds up internal organs, it transforms and transports food; it governs our intellect and reasoning.
The kidneys contain our inherited and acquired energy reserves, they strengthen the knees and back and give us our will power to complete our destiny.
The lungs govern the breath and the “Wei Qi” (our immune defense) they moisten and nourish the skin and are responsible for our inspiration and our openness to new ideas.
The heart is the sovereign, it governs blood circulation and sleep, it contains our consciousness, its our deepest joy and knowing.
Notice that in Chinese medicine the functions of both the mind and body are represented in each organ system and are addressed together. For example, when the spleen is deficient there would also be a tendency to worry a lot and “over think” together with loose stools, low energy and sugar cravings.
Acupuncture, when applied to the spleen channel will support the body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients as well as promoting mental clarity and a sharper intellect.
Craniosacral therapy works directly with restricted tissues, using gentle pressure and intention to start the process of unwinding. Unwinding is a bit like a telephone cord that has become all tangled, the only way to sort it out is to hold it by the cord and let the headset spin!
When held and followed, the body will naturally move toward its place of deepest restriction until it comes to a stop or “stillpoint” This node/ in between place gives the system an opportunity to reset itself and return to a fuller, stronger motion. The stillpoint is also understood as an interface between the body’s tissues and stored feelings.
The potential for healing within the dynamic body must indeed be limitless, it is our intrinsic nature to move, evolve and change. Both Acupuncture and craniosacral therapy work well with this very fluid medium, reminding the body of its inherent glide and elegance and reconnecting us to the present experience of ourselves.