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Wu Xing (Five Phases)

The Theory of Wu Xing is one of the basic concepts of Chinese philosophy. It comes directly from the Yin and Yang theory serving as its continuation. As well as Yin and Yang, Wu Xing doctrine reflects the highly dynamic nature of Universal life in all its aspects and manifestations. Its practical application in philosophy, astrology, feng shui, art, military strategy, family relations, martial arts and medicine dates backs more than 2000 yrs.


The most common (although the least correct) translation of Wu Xing is “Five Elements”. It is depicted as a pentagram included in the circle, uniting five basic elements of the Universe: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water (Table 1).

Table 1


The correct translation of the characters Wu Xing would be Five Movements or Five Phases which reflects the dynamic, perpetually changing nature of Universal existence. The pentagram is a simplified, static reflection of the multi-leveled, dynamic, multi-dimensional nature of Wu Xing.


As you can see from the Table 1, all five phases connect and affect each other either through the Generating (Nourishing) or Overcoming (Controlling) Cycle.


From the Traditional Chinese Medical point-of-view every individual is a micro-universe that exists and functions in accordance with the main Laws of Nature: Qi, Yin/Yang, and Five Phases.

​Table 2 reflects how Five Phases relate to the world, our body, inner organs, and the different aspects of our health.

Table 2


Table 3 shows the relationships between our organs from the Wu Xing point of view:

Table 3


By analyzing Tables 2 and 3, we can see how a Chinese doctor can make a holistic diagnosis and treatment plan considering Yin/Yang and Wu Xing relationships between our inner organs, emotions, sense organs, tastes and cravings, etc. For example, if doctor found weakness in your lung pulse, besides possible breathing difficulties, it may lead to excessive sadness, skin problems, and aggravation of your condition in fall. All of these are manifestations of Metal Phase. Besides, Lungs are connected to the Kidneys, Spleen, Heart and Liver through the Sheng (Creating) and Ke (Controlling) cycles. It means that weakness/disease in Lungs may compromise all the connected organs.


If you are looking for holistic, whole-body treatment, aiming at your physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health, make sure your doctor understands and uses the main concepts of Classical Chinese Medicine: Qi, Yin/Yang and Five Phases.

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