The Five Elements and the Human Body

September 20, 2011 8:30 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 3:35 pm
Chinese philosophy identifies 5 different ways that Qi manifests itself in the universe as the five elements. (
Chinese philosophy identifies 5 different ways that Qi manifests itself in the universe as the five elements. (

In Chinese medicine, a human body is divided into five systems: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Human organs and tissues correspond to the five elements. The body’s five systems not only automatically self-regulate according to the laws of yin and yang but also coordinate with the five elements from the outside world in order to achieve health.

In the outside world, people react to a few things, such as climate, color, and sound. [All of which correspond to the five elements.] The climates are spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The colors are red, yellow, white, black, and green. The sounds are do, re, mi, fa, so, and la. Even moral and ethical elements correspond to the five elements. For example, benevolence is wood; righteousness is gold; propriety is water; wisdom is fire; and trust is earth. 

There are five windows connecting the outside world to the major systems in the body. Traditional Chinese medicine calls these “apertures” or “mouths.” For the spleen, it is the mouth. For the lung, it is the nose. For the liver, it is the eyes. For the heart, it is the tongue. For the kidneys, it is the ears. Human beings learn about the outside world through these orifices. The relationship between the five systems and the five elements are as follows:

Five elements: Earth, metal, wood, fire, and water.
Five orifices: Mouth, nose, eyes, tongue, and ears.
Five colors: Yellow, white, green red, and black.
Five notes: Do, re, mil, so, and la.
Five inner organs: Spleen, lungs, liver, heart, and kidneys. 

Five hollow organs: Stomach, large intestine, gall bladder, small intestine, and bladder. 

Five principles: Trust, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and courtesy. 

The five colors, the five notes, and the five principles all convey the same thing: Only when the notes are pure can they inspire people to connect to the Tao and awaken their conscience.

How do the five elements affect each other? For example, metal is the daughter of earth, which has fire as its parent. Earth’s subjects are water and its official is wood. If all these were employed in a metaphorical relationship in human beings, it would look like this: A virtuous man is loving and kind to his children, honors his parents, cares about his subjects, and is a sincere, righteous official.

Every element is closely related to the other four elements. For example, when the ears, the orifice of the kidneys, hear wonderful music, the other four organs also benefit. When the eyes see something elegant, the other four organs share the beauty. When the inner meanings from the sounds and colors pass through the inner organs, they awaken our moral elements. In other words, it helps a person to follow universal principles and behave like a righteous human being.