5 Element (Wu Xing) Theory For Qi Gong
As I seem to be teaching Lotus Nei Gong's Wu Xing Qi Gong a lot lately and presenting 5 element theory during my seminars across Lithuania, I have been contemplating just how difficult it can be for people hearing this stuff for the first time to digest and try and make sense of in one go! In fact from past experience I know very well that it is impossible!
What is needed is a combination of regular and repeated verbal explanations using symbology on a board
(which is what I do at my seminars) and a written reference that you can come back to over and over. In this way the information can be digested slowly over time.
With that in mind I have decided to share an article that I wrote a while ago on the subject, I hope it is helpful.
In this article I will be discussing the theory of the Zhang and Fu organs and its associated element in relation to qigong practice. It is important for practitioners of the Daoist internal arts to understand how the various spiritual, energetic and physical functions of our organs effect every level of our being and how we can use this knowledge in our cultivation practices. Once we gain some understanding of this we can learn how to integrate these principles into our practices and daily life. An example of this would be using qigong exercises like Wuxing Qi Gong to bring our elemental qi into balance which as a result helps us to maintain the health of our organs and balance the five spirits and emotions. Another example could be used in the daily practice of Yang Shen fa (Life nourishing practice) Yang Shen Fa is an important part of Daoist practice and is basically the art of applying Taoist principles to how you live in order to maintain good health, and store enough fuel for the nei gong process. This is done through various ways including correct diet and avoiding unnecessary wastage of jing through regulating sexual release and avoiding excessive thinking/worrying, talking etc which we will look more at later on in this article. The 5 Spiritual lights Are The Spiritual Seeds Of The Zhang Fu Organs Before looking at the Zhang Fu organs and the 5 elements It is necessary to get some insight into how they were created according to Daoist thought. The ancient Daoist sages said that every thing in existence originates from Dao which is beyond intellectual comprehension. From Dao it passes into wuji which is known as the "seed consciousness" which forms the empty pool of pure potential. As the new creation still in the realm of consciousness starts to lower its vibration, the poles of Yin and Yang divide and spiral causing a refraction of the light of original spirit (Yuan Shen) which results in the manifestation of what is known as the 5 spiritual lights. These lights form the different aspects and expressions of our shen and are the building blocks of life because as they continue to decrease their vibration they transform into the 5 elemental qi and then physical matter. The 5 aspects of our shen are called Shen, Yi, Po, Zhi and Hun and will be covered in more detail later on in the article.
The 5 Spiritual lights transform into 5 elemental qi As the vibration of spirit decreases due to the natural laws of creation and the ebb and flux of Yin and Yang, the spiritual lights transform into the realm of energy resulting in the manifestation of the 5 elements or 5 types of Qi. These 5 types of Qi have 5 types of movement that is expressed within all life in both the microcosm and macrocosm. Through correct qigong practice it is possible to tune into these movements of Qi and learn how the various qualities of qi apply to many aspects of our training. The five movements are described as 5 elements that represent the essence and characteristic of each movement, these are as follows: Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. The chart below illustrates each element with its corresponding colours, and characteristics. The 5 elements form the building blocks of our entire being and for all of existence.Due to the interconnected nature of the 5 elements, through qigong practice coupled with a basic intellectual understanding we can tap into the system so to speak via the energy body to cause positive changes to our health and consciousness. Through learning how to work with our 5 elements in our training we can gain access to our body and spirit and encourage its evolution into the right direction through balancing the spirits that make up who we are at our core. The 5 elements form the meridians. The congenital meridians: As the 5 elements interact with each other in endless cycles the energy body is formed. The energy body forms an energetic cage known as the 8 extraordinary meridians or congenital meridians which transports vital qi and information to help during pre natal development. These 8 congenital meridians are also the most important meridians for the neigong process as it is the re-awakening of these channels that allows the transformation process to take place. Our aim is to restore a healthy flow of qi in the congenital meridians as this is necessary for opening up the small water wheels of qi. The energetic cage also houses the three dantien which is where all of the transformational work takes place. Acquired meridians: The acquired meridians are the aspect of the energy body that becomes most active after birth. It is these meridians working harmoniously together with the 8 congenital meridians that enables the body to maintain its various functions. The acquired meridians are also called the 12 organ meridians due to the close link to the 12 Zhang Fu organs. As qi passes through the acquired meridians it provides vital information and nourishment to all the body's organs to ensure proper functioning. This network of joining channels are also what enables the various organs to communicate with each other creating a holistic unified being.This communication that allows the different parts of our being to interact also extends out into the macrocosm connecting us to Heaven and Earth and our surrounding environment. This allows us to receive divine guidance from heaven via our Shen, connect with our Ming and receive nourishing Yin qi from the earth and Yang qi from above. Through our internal practice we seek to ensure that these natural processes can take place as efficiently as possible through the awakening, purging and increase of flow in these energetic pathways.
The Zhang Fu Organs The organs of the human body according to Daoism is divided into two groups: 6 solid Yin organs known as zhang and 6 hollow organs known as Fu. These organs work together harmoniously to keep the physical body alive. The 6 Zhang organs even house the six aspects of our consciousness mentioned earlier. It is this spiritual aspect the Zhang Fu organs that I will be mostly talking about in this writing along with methods that I use to integrate this knowledge into daily life and practice. The physical manifestation of the Zang Fu organs are a result of energy slowing it's vibration further leading it to transform into physical matter. In Taoism it is the energetic organ that is given most importance as it is at this level of existence that the quality of qi ensures the physical functions can take place properly or not. To give a brief but clear description of the difference in function of the Zhang Fu organs I will leave a quote from the Nei Jing Suwen " The five Zhang organs store the Jing. They do not transport. On the other hand the six Fu organs receive the food and digest absorb and transport it,passing it on". In other words the Zhang organs which are solid take care of the processes of nourishing, regulating, making and storing all the various substances in the body. The Fu organs which are hollow take care of receiving, distributing and excreting. In the next section we will look at the Zhang fu organs and their spiritual aspects in order of the 5 elements. Water Zhang organ: Kidneys Known as the "Minister of power" the Kidneys are the store house of our pre-natal qi (Yuan Qi) and jing and houses the aspect of our spirit that governs will power. "The kidneys rule water" Physically and elementally the kidneys are in charge of producing, distributing, refining and cleaning of the body's fluids. The kidneys open into the ears which means the health of our hearing directly reflects the health of the organ. The most important aspect of the kidneys to understand as a qigong practitioner is that the Kidneys store our jing and is directly linked to our Ming (destiny) via Mingmen that sits between the two kidneys. The neigong process requires that we have an adequate amount of stored jing in order to transform it into qi and shen therefore we must protect from excessive loss of our jing and allow our store of jing to be as plentiful as possible through qigong exercises and Yang shen fa. It is also the place of the ming fire which is vitally important in the conversion process of acquired jing to qi and creates the expansive movement of energy necessary for the energetic functions of the body. The Kidneys also houses the aspect of our spirit that controls our will power known as Zhi. The view of will power in Daoism differs from the western view in that our will power does not mean gritting our teeth and trying to force our self to do something or to give up a bad habit. Rather instead the Zhi should be strengthened through qigong and yang shen fa so that the will to carry out difficult tasks comes naturally without force. Yang shen fa for the water element and zhi includes getting adequate rest, eating good nourishing foods especially things that nourish the kidneys like dark vegetables, beans and a small amount of meat. Bone broth and black beans are especially nourishing because the colour corresponding to water as black. it is also good to include things with a salty flavour although not in excess. Fu organ: Bladder The bladder: known as the "minister of the reservoir" is paired with the kidneys and so works together with them to remove waste fluids through storage and release by urination. Spiritually the bladder is very powerful due to the location and functions of its meridian which runs up both sides of the spine creating a kind of energetic forcefield that protects us during traumatic times. This can be easily related to when we think about how we often feel like curling up into a ball when feeling upset or depressed. All along this protective meridian there are special points called shu points that tie this protective channel in with all the body's other organs. A weakness in this organ will create excessive fear and a feeling of helplessness.
Wood Zhang organ: Liver The Liver known as "the general" is responsible for storing and nourishing the blood, maintaining health of the tendons and opens into the eyes. Energetically it governs the smooth flow of qi throughout the meridians and ensures everything flows in the correct direction. Imbalances in this organ result in stagnation and energetic blockages as well as anger and irritability. This is due to the fact that the Liver houses our Hun which is the aspect of our spirit that closely matches the western idea of the eternal soul that continues through the birth and rebirth cycle. It is also the side of our consciousness that deals with imagination, dreaming and planning. It is important as a practitioner of neigong to try to keep the liver energy in balance so that the Hun is nourished properly which will allow us to stay calm and balanced emotionally. The Hun has a special relationship with the earthly aspect of our soul : the Po as these two spirits keep each other balanced. If one is allowed to get too strong an influence over the other then one can be lost in a the day dreamy world of the Hun or too attached to physicality that is in the realm of the Po. Through qigong practices that keep the elements balanced we can maintain a state that is as close to balanced as possible. The flavour that nourishes the liver is sour so by including sour foods like lemon into our diet we can help with its health. The colour associated with the wood element is green which also means that green foods should be included in the diet to help maintain liver health. Also through practicing awareness in our daily life we can often avoid reacting to situations that cause us to get angry which would result in disturbances of the Hun and the Liver's functions. Fu Organ: Gallbladder Known as the "honorable minister" or "decision maker" Physically and energetically this points to the fact that the gall bladder controls the decision making capabilities of all the other Zhang and Fu organs ensuring that the energetic information received throughout the Zhang Fu meridian system is processed and distributed correctly much like how the Liver ensures the correct directional flow of qi. Spiritually it governs the decision making capabilities of the individual. It is said that divine guidance comes through the shen as well as the planning and dreaming of the Hun, the drive to carry out the action comes from the Zhi and the concentration necessary for the task is directed by the Yi. However If the decision making abilities of the gall bladder is not sufficient due to imbalances in the organ then the person will be too indecisive to carry out the required action. This can often be seen in people who cant seem to make any decisions in life often preferring to leave the role to someone else. Keeping an over all balance within our wood energy in relation to the other elements will ensure that we can make good decisions to helps us through life.
Fire Zhang Organ: Heart The heart is known as "The King" The internal medicine classic states: The heart commands all of the organs and viscera, houses the Shen and controls the emotions". The heart in Chinese (Xin) also means mind or rather heart/mind. This points to he Daoist belief that the true mind resides in the heart. All cultures including our own recognises that one must follow the heart, this to me shows that it is an innate knowing as human beings that the heart is where the true mind is. The heart governs the blood and ensures that it is distributed around the body in order to nourish the rest of the organs. It's qi manifests as the expansive Fire qi which allows the spirit to extend outward. This spirit is known as Shen which is housed in the heart and is the aspect of our spirit that connects us to heaven and Dao. The clear connection to heaven requires emptiness and stillness of the heart/mind. When excessive emotions disturb the stillness of the heart our connection to the divine information of heaven and Dao are severely severed. Through meditation and qigong we can keep the heart still enough so that our connection to heaven and Dao can be maintained. The Heart centre is also the location of the middle dantien, this is the energetic centre where the conversion of qi to shen takes place. Through our practice we aim to allow this process to take place through building sufficient stores of qi beyond just nourishing the organs. When enough qi is present the conversion can takes place which builds up our shen elevating our state of consciousness. A persons strong shen can be seen shining through the eyes. It is important that our shen becomes strong enough so that eventually Shen can transform back to Dao which is the goal of all Daoist cultivation. The flavour of bitter foods can help nourish the heart as well as foods that are red. Heart protector (pericardium) The Heart protector is the second Zhang organ in the Fire element. Physically it forms a shell around the heart which protects it from excessive heat which it diffuses via lao gong. Spiritually it protects the heart from excessive emotions and interaction with others. It's protective role is why it is known classically as "The Kings bodyguard" Fu Organ Small intestines Known as the "Minister of reception" this organ receives the food that has been processed by the stomach for further refinement. It's main job is to separate the pure from the impure, sending the waste products down to the large intestine for further processing and elimination. Spiritually its job is the same. As the heart governs feelings and emotions the small intestines job is to enable us to distinguish between pure and impure emotions, thoughts and feelings. An imbalance in this organ will mean that a person is unable to tell the difference between behavior that is pure or deviant in nature. People will often express sexual deviancy or have the wrong outlook on life and towards others. Tripple Burner (San Jiao) Known as the minister of "dykes and dredges" this organ is different to the rest owing to the fact that this organ does not manifest physically. Housed at the same locations as the lower, middle and upper dantien (in Daoism not TCM) its role is to regulate the internal pressure of the body and energy system as well as controlling the bodies temperature. Spiritually it has to do with our abillity to make friends. People with imbalances here will often find it hard to make friends and can often be loners or a little shy in this area.
Earth Zhang Organ: Spleen The spleen has the vital role of extracting the essence "Gu qi" from food which is then distributed to the rest of the body's organs and systems. "Gu qi" basically translates into grain qi which is why the spleen is known as the "Minister of the granary". The spleens function is easily disrupted by eating unhealthy foods and it's ability to "cook the food to release essence" (digestive fire) is also damaged by eating very cold foods and drinks or eating too many raw cool foods. The spleen also helps to hold the other organs in place as well as the blood vessels. Spiritually the Spleen houses the Yi which is the aspect of our spirit that gifts us with focus, awareness and intellect. Elementally belonging to the Earth element, it manifests as the energy of splitting. When the spleen is weakened our ability to focus and think straight is effected greatly. With regards to the internal arts what we usually call Yi is the aspect that allows us to direct our awareness consciously either inside or outside the body. It is what enables us to listen (ting) to our internal environment and tune into the different frequencies that make up our being which is a very important part of the practices. The splitting nature of the Earth energy also enables us to split our awareness so that we can focus on different things at the same time. Through qigong practice we also learn how to regulate the intensity of our Yi depending on what we wish to do. When the Yi is strong and the Earth element in balance our Yi enables us to listen to the divine guidance received from heaven through the Shen. Imbalances in the Earth element causes people to worry and over think, like wise worrying too much or focusing and thinking too much will also damage the spleen and Earth elemental qi. By eating good healthy food that nourishes the spleen and avoiding to much worrying or thinking we can protect the spleen and maintain good healthy Yi. The flavour associated with the Earth element is sweet and the colour yellow. Naturally sweet and yellow foods such as grains and corn should be added to nourish the spleen however too much sweet food especially those containing unrefined sugars have the opposite effect and are very damaging. Fu Organ: Stomach "Minister of the mill" also referred to in the Neijing Suwen as the sea of nourishment as the stomach works together with it's paired organ, the spleen to provide acquired post natal qi to all of the other organs and systems. This nourishing qi is mixed with the qi taken from the air of the lungs and then distributed around the body. It is said classically that the stomach controls the "rotting and ripening" of food which basically means digestion. Spiritually it enables us to digest ideas concepts and things that occur in our daily life.
Metal Zhang Organ: Lungs Known in twelve officials theory as the "Prime Minister" and belonging to the Metal element which expresses the qi of gentle contraction, the lungs draw in the "Heavenly Yang qi" from the air that we breathe which is balanced with the "Earthly Yin qi" taken from the earth via "Yong Chuan" in the feet. This qi is then distributed throughout the body and mixed with the acquired qi from our food. The Lungs are said to be like a lid or roof of the organs which is how it also controls and regulates the fluids of the body. As the water (steam) sent upwards by the kidneys hits this roof of the lungs it condenses and rains back down ensuring that the cycle continues moistening the body to the correct level. Spiritually the Lungs house the spirit known as the Po which was classically divided into seven spirits to show the different aspects of it's nature. The Po is our earthly spirit that returns to the earth after physical death. Without the Po we would not be able to function on the earthly plane as it is the Po that gives us our cognitive functions and ability to navigate in this realm. The emotion associated with the Po is grief and sadness which are natural emotions that should be expressed when we suffer the loss of a loved one. However excessive grief disturbs the po which is why it is often depicted as a nervous and fearful spirit sitting in a cave. Imbalances in the lungs and Metal element often manifest as addictions and self destructive behavior. To ensure the health of the lungs we should try to breath fresh air and avoid pollutants that damage its functions. Qi gong practice as well as including some white and pungent foods like garlic, radish and onions can help to return the Metal element back to balance. Fu Organ: Large intestine The large intestine is called the "Minister of Transportation" it transforms the waste products from digestion from liquids to solids which it then transports outwards for excretion. Spiritually the large intestine plays an important role as it enables us the ability to "let go". As stated previously, it's partner, the lungs allow us to express grief when we lose something or someone dear to us. This is a healthy and necessary emotion to experience provided we can, after a period of time let go of that grief so that we can move on with our lives. An imbalance in this area would mean that we will hold on to "stuff" for too long which puts us into an imbalanced state.
Conclusion Through understanding the Zhang Fu organs, the five elements and how they effect us physically, energetically and emotionally we can use our knowledge throughout our daily lives to tilt the scales of balance in our favour. Hopefully through steady and diligent practice we can one day transform our emotions into the De or virtue of the ancient sages of the Dao. At the very least we can maintain good health and enjoy a long and fulfilling life without excessive emotions that damage us and those we interact with. With that thought I will leave you with this beautiful quote from the Daoist sage Zhuangzi: “Let your heart be at peace. Watch the turmoil of beings but contemplate their return. If you don't realize the source, you stumble in confusion and sorrow. When you realize where you come from, you naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused, kindhearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king. Immersed in the wonder of the Tao, you can deal with whatever life brings you, And when death comes, you are ready.” ― Zhuangzi