The 5 Elements Theory & our Health During Covid-19

We are four months out from when Illinois locked down to “flatten the curve,” due to the novel coronavirus.  What a whirlwind it has been!  I’ve been reflecting a lot on how this has affected me as well as the lives and health of my patients.  Since the acupuncture program at Serenity Holistic Health has been open again for two months, some consistent, identifiable patterns have emerged regarding covid-19’s impact on our bodies, minds, and souls.


In Chinese Medicine there is a cycle called the Five Elements.  In summary, the Five Elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water are in either a functional or dysfunctional relationship.  These elements exist externally in nature and internally in humans and correlate to the meridian pairs:  Wood to Liver/Gall Bladder, Fire to Heart/Small Intestine, Earth to Spleen/Stomach, Metal to Lung/Large Intestine, and Water to Kidney/Urinary Bladder.  Additionally, the elements relate to the seasons:  Wood to Spring, Fire to Summer, Earth to Late Summer, Metal to Fall, and Water to Winter.  The extent to which these relationships are functional or dysfunctional is usually within our control--but not always.  


There are emotional tie-ins with the elements too:  Wood to anger, Fire to joy, Earth to worry, Metal to sadness, and Water to fear.   It would be outside of the scope of this article to go too deeply into this topic, as it is vast, but what I would like to share are my observations regarding how profoundly disrupted the Five Elements are during this pandemic.  


For many of us the current relationship between them is dysfunctional.  We are not eating well (Earth element) and don’t feel good in our bodies.  We worry about catching the virus, our jobs, our economy, and our country,.   We are feeling grief in our lungs, our Metal element.  We are grieving our lost freedoms, our connections, the very real loss of life.  We feel perpetually exhausted and adrenally fatigued (Water) from Zooming for work, homeschooling, and sanitizing and mask-wearing, and we fear for our futures.  We feel angry and pent-up (Liver element) as we were constrained and under severe stress at a time when we were meant to be budding open (Spring) after the long winter.  Now we are in summer, and our joy (Fire) is like a wildfire, either non-existent or in a state of over-excitation.  


It is Wood that nurtures and gives birth to Fire (covid-19 hit when we were right about in the Wood element).  Given we are in the peak of summer, and the Fire element, many of us are experiencing a short-circuiting in its related meridians:  the Heart and Small Intestine. Not to mention that in June our country experienced profound civil unrest in the form of Black Lives Matter at a level we had not experienced in many years.  Hard, hard times--necessary times--for our nation to (hopefully) address deep-seated and ongoing racial disparities and injustices. Between this and covid-19 our hearts were, and still are, heavy.


In Chinese Medicine the Heart is the ruler, or King, of all the other networks.  The Heart houses our Shen or “Spirit,”  which “hides” in our Hearts during sleep.  Because our Heart energies are “disordered” (going back to Spring 2020’s Wood/Liver meridian energy disruption and subsequent dysfunction), many of us are experiencing terrible insomnia and nightmares.  I’ve never had so many patients report issues relating to sleep in my 23 years of practice.  But, I’ve also never had so many patients report feeling ‘so much better’ from their acupuncture treatment (s).  Sleep is improved, nightmares are quelling, and we are feeling more joy. 


Points that are needled here: Heart 6, Yin Xi, which nourishes Heart Yin and clears Heart Fire, Ht 7, Shen Men, Spirit Gate, calms the Spirit and clears the meridian of Heat, and Ht 8, Shao Fu, Lesser Mansion, that clears Heart Fire and calms the mind. (Photo taken & posted with patient permission.)

 What can we do to feel happier, rested, and less traumatized in these times? 

  • Consider coming in for an acupuncture treatment or series of treatments to get yourself back on track!  The way we are doing things at SHH--the precautions we have implemented--makes us feel very confident our environment is safe for treatments, 


  • Try to eat a diet that is better for our Fire element:  watery foods like celery, watermelon, cucumber, tomatoes, asparagus, sprouts, and lettuce are excellent examples (in general, think seasonal foods).  Avoid an excess of hot foods like salsa, fried foods, and dairy,


  • Move our bodies and sweat a little to work off some of the dampness we accumulated over Stay in Place (preferably outside for some good oxygen such as power walking-- better yet, power walking in nature!), 


  • Do this wonderful Reaching for the Sky exercise to stretch your Heart meridian and get blood flowing through it:  Sit up straight.  Wrap left hand around right wrist.  Breathe evenly and exhale as the hands go up above your head and feel like you are lifting something heavy.  Repeat 10-15 times.  Now right hand wrapped around left wrist, repeat 10-15 times, 


  • Drink more water!  Try adding jujube tea to your diet to help with insomnia.  Jujubes, or chinese dates, are small, apple-like fruits that are rich in Vitamin C, zinc, amino acids and saponins, which relax and soothe the nervous system.  You can order organic jujubes on Amazon.  Recipe for tea:  Slow simmer 1 lb. jujubes (make a cut in each jujube) in a gallon of water (for about 3 hours), then cool and refrigerate in mason jars to drink in the evening before bedtime.  You can add ginger slices or cinnamon when simmering for taste or honey and lemon after.  Disclaimer:  do not drink if pregnant or lactating, on the drug venlafaxine, or an anti-seizure medication.  


  • Give yourself a break and send yourself some love! You are doing a great job under very tough, historic circumstances!  Let’s work on rebalancing with the help of this ancient medicine so we enter the autumn season with our Lung Qi bolstered, healthy and functional~


All the best to you & yours in these trying times.  I am confident we will get through this, 


Maureen McLaughin, LAc



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