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Introduction to Five Element Acupuncture

By September 25, 2023April 7th, 2024No Comments

The ancient Chinese followed a philosophical principle that all phenomena in the universe follows an interdependent and cyclical pattern, which flows through nature, the seasons and our bodies.

Ancient eastern traditions, including Daoism, understood that a life force energy (referred to as ‘Qi’) is present in all physical and non-physical things.  This energy moves through our world in different phases – Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water and these ‘five phases’ manifest in our bodies – affecting our physical constitution, health and well-being.

This system of traditional ‘Five Element’ acupuncture has been practised throughout east Asia for over 3,000 years. The role of a five element acupuncturist is to bring the body in to a state of harmony and balance, so that healing can occur.

Traditional Five Element Acupuncture was first brought to Britain by Prof J.R. Worsley (1923-2003).  JR travelled to the far east in the 1950’s and studied acupuncture in Taiwan, Singapore and Korea.  He was particularly drawn to the five element system, which taught practitioners to diagnose patients on a physical, emotional and spiritual level, in order to heal the root causes of disease.

In 1956, JR opened The College of Traditional Acupuncture in Kenilworth, Warwickshire (where many of my tutors and peers studied).  He then went on to write many books and deliver lectures, as well as opening training schools and treating patients in the USA, up until his death in 2003.

Traditional acupuncturists mostly use fine needles and moxibustion to treat patients. Physicians of other east Asian medicine practices may often use other techniques, including the use of cupping and massage.   Specialist practitioners are able to prescribe herbs to support patients in managing health conditions as well.

The Five Elements

The five elements can be viewed as universal laws which operate within our bodies.  This holistic system of medicine sees humans as a microcosm of nature and works with the patient at all levels of healing. Patients will often be diagnosed as having a particular resonance with one (or sometimes two) of the five elements, and this diagnosis will determine how imbalances are treated within the body.

Can you spot some of these constitutional characteristics in yourself or perhaps people you know?


Season – spring

Associated Organs – liver and gallbladder

Colour – green

Sound – shout

Odour – rancid

Emotion – anger

Spirit – hun


Season – summer

Associated Organs – heart, small intestine, pericardium, triple heater

Colour – red

Sound – laugh

Odour – scorched

Emotion – joy

Spirit – shen


Season – late summer

Associated Organs – stomach and spleen

Colour – yellow

Sound – sing

Odour – fragrant

Emotion – sympathy

Spirit – yi


Season – autumn

Associated Organs – large intestine and lung

Colour – white

Sound – weep

Odour – rotten

Emotion – grief

Spirit – po


Season – winter

Associated Organs – bladder and kidney

Colour – blue

Sound – groan

Odour – putrid

Emotion – fear

Spirit – zhi


Useful links;

The Worsley Institute –

The British Acupuncture Council –

The Acupuncture Academy, Leamington Spa –