The five elements or five processes are a strongly rooted in Chinese philosophy. They represent the elements wood, fire, earth, metal and water. As primary matter belonging directly to nature, they are symbols of archetypal fundamental forces. The five elements go back a very long time and are of significant importance in Chinese meditation teachings, physical therapies and harmony teachings such as feng shui, qi gong and shiatsu. Furthermore, they also play a role in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and in acupuncture.
As the name suggests, the five processes are constantly moving and undergoing numerous changes as they are parts of the living system. There is never any stillness and the elements have a perpetual relationship with each other. As a Taoist theory of nature, the properties of the five elements describe the relationships between earth, people and heaven as well as the relationships within these spheres. Therefore these terms are related to each other in areas such as the human body or in astrology. The five elements are often represented as a cycle. The various cycles include the creation cycle, the reduction cycle and the destruction cycle and represent various processes. The creation cycle can be likened to a mother-child relationship as the individual symbols gain nourishment from each other. Wood allows fire to burn, ashes supply the earth with nutrients, earth bears metal, metal enriches water and water nourishes wood. The reduction cycle works in contrast: Fire burns wood, wood absorbs water, water corrodes metal, metal removes nutrients from the earth and earth extinguishes fire. And of course, the destruction cycle causes damage: Water washes away earth, earth buries wood, wood makes metal dull, metal absorbs the heat of fire and fire turns water to steam.
As an important part of the Taoist world view, the five elements are assigned various meanings. Wood initially stands for new beginnings and developing an incentive to act. Expansion or rising could also be involved. Fire describes the dynamic phase, i.e. the action. Earth stands for transition; as the earth is constantly moving, this can be seen as a metaphor. Earth also signifies change due to fructification. Metal means both ripeness and contraction. In contrast to wood, metal also stands for sinking and removal. Water signifies stillness and peace. Actively taking time to stop and rest plays an important role here, particularly when it comes to reflecting on your position and your situation.
The five elements also play an important role in Chinese massage. The massage technique is characterised by both extensive stroking movements along the meridians as well as the use of fingertip pressure to treat certain points. The living system of the human body can therefore be set in relation with the five elements.