What is Five Element Acupuncture?

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  • Written By: Karyn Maier
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Guillaume Baviere, Alfred Wekelo, Photok21, Mtkang
  • Last Modified Date: 01 January 2020
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Acupuncture is a mind-body modality that draws on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine and is the oldest system of healing known to exist. In fact, its practice dates back at least 1,000 years. Despite enjoying this prolonged longevity, traditional acupuncture has only recently been recognized as a valid modality by the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health. However, even without this endorsement, acupuncture has been used throughout the world as an alternative and complementary therapy to treat an extraordinary wide range of conditions.

Some people may be surprised to learn that Chinese acupuncture is not a blanket or umbrella system of healing involving only one area of discipline. In fact, there are several specializations in practice. One of these is five element acupuncture, which was developed by the Mandarin Chinese. In keeping with the holistic view of classical acupuncture, five element acupuncture endeavors to maintain the flow of the vital life force throughout the body. Should this energy, known as Qi (pronounced ”chi”), become obstructed or bound, the health of the body, mind, or spirit may suffer as a consequence.


As the name implies, five element acupuncture relates to the five elements: fire, water, earth, metal, and wood. It also incorporates the seasons, with each having attributes that relate to each element. Unlike formula acupuncture, which has the goal of addressing a specific illness or health condition, five element acupuncture strives to prevent disease before it has a chance to manifest. In addition, the potential for healing with five element acupuncture lies in addressing the underlying cause of disease, rather than simply suppress its symptoms.

A visit to an acupuncturist specializing in five element acupuncture begins like any other initial intake with a thorough discussion of symptoms and concerns expressed by the patient. After taking this information into consideration, the practitioner will then select a few or several of the 12 main meridian points on the body, each of which are believed to control certain aspects of the physical body, personality, emotions, etc. In addition, there are 365 primary acupuncture points on the body that may require adjustment, as well as another 500-plus lesser points.

The elements come into play when evaluating the patient’s overall nature. For example, water is recognized as a symbol of determination and ambition, and people who tend to push forward in life where others fear to tread may be defined as “water people.” However, water is also associated with emotional turmoil and fear. So, while water people may appear fearless, they may also secretly harbor a sense of feeling immobilized by their personal fears. Water is also associated with the season of Winter, which can contribute to anxiety about feeling paralyzed or “frozen” by insecurity and doubt.



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