A self-organizing behavior exists in all natural systems, including the human body. When a system is in a challenge, self-organizing reformulates energies to protect or recover. This state interacts with or interrupts internal and external factors. It is a scientific principle, is automatic, and is usually accompanied by system energy dissipation (dissipative structure). Self-organizing stabilizes structural and functional body maintenance. The Five Elements theory of TCM incorporates this health status through inter-promotion, acts on (restrains), overrides, and counteracts (violates) among the Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water). The science of this behavior is spontaneous, undirected, and uncontrolled by other systems. The process is often triggered by random fluctuation, amplified by positive feedback, and is typically robust enough to self-repair substantial damage.
1.The Hierarchical Sequence of the Five Elements
Inter-promote (produce) is: Wood → Fire → Earth → Metal → Water → Wood (promoting, improving, and generating growth);
Act on (restrain) is: Wood → Earth → Water → Fire → Metal → Wood (controlling, restraining, and checking);
Override (subjugate) is also: Wood → Earth → Water → Fire → Metal → Wood (restraining excessively in abnormal conditions);
Counteract (violate) is the reverse: Wood → Metal → Fire → Water → Earth → Wood (reversely restraining in abnormal conditions).
Inter-promoting and acting on are inseparable aspects which oppose and cooperate for relative, dynamic balance/coordination during development and change. Each element helps to “promote” (produce) while it is being “promoted” (produced), and helps to “restrain” while being “restrained.” For example, Wood promotes Fire and is promoted by Water; Wood restrains Earth and is restrained by Metal. The inter-promoting relationship of the Five Elements is also known as the “mother–child” relationship, with each element being the “child” of the element that produces it, and being the “mother” of the one that is produced. For example, Wood is the “mother” of Fire, and the “child” of Water.
With this subtle regulation of promotion and restriction, the Five Elements theory explains normal climate changes, nature’s equilibrium, and the body’s physiological activities. The inter-promotion and inter-restriction in the five elements are called control/generation and development. Promotion and restriction are inseparable, because without promotion there would be no birth and growth, and without restriction there would be no response to change and coordinated development. For example, Water promotes Wood but restricts Fire, and Water is restricted by Earth but promoted by Metal. For relative balance, restriction and promotion go together to regulate the normal condition, and correct imbalance.
2.Abnormal Regulation in the Five Elements Under Abnormal Conditions
(1)Abnormal regulation is seen as a child–mother interaction, or as overriding (subjugation) or counteraction (violation)
Child–mother abnormal interaction is caused by disturbed relationships among the five elements. Mother leading child (mother–child) follows the order of inter-promotion. Child leading mother (child–mother) contradicts the order of inter-promotion. For instance, Wood affecting Fire is mother leading child. But Wood affecting Water is child leading mother (where Wood is too strong or Water is too weak).
For example, normally the Liver (Wood) is the mother, and the Heart (Fire) is the child. But Heart (child) blood deficiency may involve (lead) the Liver (mother), causing blood deficiency of both the Heart and the Liver. Heart (child) hyperactivity may induce (lead) Liver (mother) hyperactivity, resulting in hyperactivity of both the Heart and the Liver. The above examples show that “a diseased ‘child’ organ implicates its ‘mother’ organ.”
(2)Over restraint (Subjugation) and reverse restraint (violation) between the restrictor and the restricted are abnormalities in the five elements inter-restrictions caused by a breakdown of the normal relationships
Subjugation is over restraint on what is weak beyond normal limits. The hierarchy of subjugation and of restriction are the same, but subjugation is an abnormal interaction under certain conditions.
Wood, for example, may not be inherently excessive and would restrict Earth within the normal range, but if Earth becomes deficient, the balance breaks down, “Wood encroaches on deficient Earth” and Earth weakens further. For instance, when Wood becomes excessive, even if Earth is normal, eventually “the excessive Wood (will) encroach on Earth.”
Restriction is a normal interaction, a physiological condition. Subjugation is an abnormal interaction, a pathological condition.
3.New Understanding of Five Elements Research
According to recent research on human body specialty and introspective experiments in the past two decades, more and more people recognize that the Five Elements theory manifests some invisible solid energy circulation among the Five-Zang viscera. As a new reference, the concept of energy circulation helps explore and further understand the Five Elements theory and utilize it in clinical practice. Actually, the energy circulation shows the physiological function states in the deeper structure level than the Zang Manifestation level of the human body system.
The Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor paints the interior body’s invisible picture. Using the human being’s extraordinary ability to observe what is normally unseen, the ancient Chinese found the following: the Upper Jiao (chest) looks like a misty white fog, the Middle Jiao (stomach) like fermented paste, and the Lower Jiao (abdomen) like many streams. Energy fields around the Five Zang appear as different colors: white around the Lung, yellow around the Spleen, blue around the Liver, red around the Heart, and bright black around the Kidney .
Various types of Five Zang energy interact, collide, and produce each other.Based on TCM research and experiments on the human body specifically, it is becoming recognized that the Five Elements theory manifests some energy flow circulation between the Five Zang. As a new reference, the concept of energy fields helps us better understand the Five Elements theory:
Energy from the Kidney (Water) and Spleen (Earth) → (move to support) the Liver (Wood): the Liver’s “mother,” Kidney energy, first rises to the Liver’s “father,” the Spleen, which restrains the Kidney. The two sources of Zang energy mix, collide, interact, and reproduce new energy, then support the Liver, described as Water producing Wood .
Energy from the Liver (Wood) and Lung (Metal) → (move to support) the Heart (Fire): the Heart’s mother, Liver energy, first goes left under the diaphragm, and then rises to the Heart’s father, the Lung which restrains the Liver. The two sources of Zang energy mix, collide, interact, and reproduce new energy, then support the Heart, described as Wood producing Fire .
Energy from the Heart (Fire) and Kidney (Water) → (move to support) the Spleen (Earth): the Spleen’s mother, Heart energy, first descends to meet the Spleen’s father, the Kidney, which restrains the Heart. The two sources of Zang energy mix, collide, interact, and reproduce new energy, then support the Spleen, described as Fire producing Earth .
Energy from the Spleen (Earth) and Liver (Earth) → (move to support) the Lung (Metal): the Lung’s mother, Spleen energy, first rises to meet the Lung’s father, Liver energy, which restrains the Spleen. The two sources of Zang energy mix, collide, interact, and reproduce new energy, then support the Lung, described as Earth producing Metal.
Energy from the Lung (Metal) and Heart (Fire) → (move to support) the Kidney (Water): the Kidney’s mother, Lung energy, first rises to the Kidney’s father, the Heart, which restrains the Lung. The two sources of Zang energy mix, collide, interact, and reproduce a new energy, then go over the shoulder to the Taiyang (Bladder) meridian in the back, and then allow the Taiyin meridian to descend to support the Kidney, described as Metal producing Water .
Exploring these “unseen” (invisible) movements is particularly difficult, especially the last one, because the locations of the Lung and Kidney are not close to each other, and the conclusions require complicated observations, research, and clinical experiments. We can utilize this knowledge to explain many pathology and etiology problems and instruct the practitioners to create new strategies for clinical practice. Take the Liver stagnation problem as an example: first guide the energy of the Liver to the left, then guide it through the diaphragm and up to the Heart; the key point in strengthening the Kidney is to open the shoulder blade channel and promote a mix of the Lung energy with Heart energy. This mixing energy eventually goes over the shoulder and then down to the Kidney.
TCM treats patients holistically and emphasizes prevention and self-healing. Unlike allopathic medicine in most cases, it does not directly attack abnormal organs or parts, rather than adjusting the whole body to reinforce energy circulation in the abnormal area.