Classical Five Element Acupuncture

This post is a collection of excerpts from “Classical Five-Element Acupuncture: The Teachings of Professor J.R. Worsley

Written by Neil R. Gumenick, M.Ac (U.K.)
in Collaboration with J.B. Worsley, D.Ac (U.K.), J.D.


For thousand of years, the Chinese have recognized that the Five Elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water exist in everything, everyone, and are essential for life. Classical Five-Element Acupuncture asserts that every human being is born with, or develops early in life, an imbalance in the natural functioning of these Five Elements. This imbalance becomes the underlying cause of illness.

Classical Five-Element Acupuncture is set apart from other systems of acupuncture by its core premise of diagnosing and treating a patient’s fundamental Causative Factor: the element among the five that is the source of imbalance. The Causative Factor is assessed by way of sensory information provided by the body, mind, and spirit of the patient. Each of the elements has a corresponding odor, color, sound, and emotion, which can be perceived when a particular element is out of balance. Accurate diagnosis and treatment of the Causative Factor is the key to Classical Five-Element Acupuncture. In addition, this elegant system recognizes that the health of each unique individual’s body, mind, and spirit must be taken into account to fully understand and treat the cause of illness. Thus, no two patients are ever treated the same.

“Be yourself.”

J.R. taught how to recognize the authentic Self. He taught that everything a practitioner would ever need to diagnose and treat patients dwells within. He taught that this medicine could not be learned from books. He often said, “If you want a teacher, go and find yourself a child below the age of one, before his/her mind has been conditioned and polluted.” J.R. taught how to access beyond thinking to that childlike spontaneity beyond categorizations, characterizations, and labels.

Our Uniqueness and Causative Factor:

He taught that every human being is a unique individual, a unique balance of the five elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. No two people are the same, regardless of the similarities of their symptoms or of their underlying elemental imbalance, which he termed the Causative Factor (CF).

The Myth of “Types”:

J.R. emphasized that there are no such things as “elemental types.” To think of people in such terms is simply that: thinking. He taught that one can draw no conclusions based on any categorization: not body type or shape, facial expression or characteristics, behavior, gestures, personality traits, spoken words, symptoms, attitudes, or personal history. For every Earth imbalanced patient that is built like the “Pillsbury Doughboy” – thick, soft, and fleshy we can show you another that is the exact opposite: thin, hard, and angular (or any other combination of physical traits imaginable). For every Wood imbalanced person that manifests anger, we can show you a Fire, Earth, Metal, or Water imbalanced person who gets even angrier. Every person must and will express every emotion and each element contains all five. The relevant issues are the quality and the appropriateness of the emotion.

No two fragrant odors are the same, nor are two shades of yellow, singing voices, nor expressions of sympathy, yet these indicators, unique to each individual, will clearly express Earth as the underlying Causative Factor. As in Nature, Earth can be dry and sandy, loamy, rocky, clay-like, volcanic, unstable and quaking, etc., yet it is still Earth. Such endless variations can be found in any element and, therefore, in individuals as well.

What is Water? Is it the roaring ocean, a peaceful lake, a meandering stream, a thunderous rainstorm, a gentle drizzle? Are they not all expressions of Water? Metal can be diamond, gold, air, molten lava, rotting leaves, and excrement. Wood can be a seed, a blade of grass, and a massive oak – everything that grows from the Earth. Fire can be a raging forest fire, a cozy fireplace, a smoldering ember, a single spark, burning rubbish, the heat of the summer sun, the light of a distant star – all expressions of Fire, no two ever the same. Once one knows the Causative Factor, the Elements Within, and level of the disease, then one can understand the how and why of an individual patient’s symptoms, physical presentation, attitudes, behaviors, etc. It is never the reverse.

The Elements Within:

J.R. taught that to better understand the uniqueness of a person, one must look at the state of the elements within the Causative Factor (CF). Every element contains within itself all five elements, and each brings its own unique qualities to every person, regardless of the primary imbalance. These qualities will and must influence the way in which a person manifests him/herself. The Element Within is the secondary element that has, in effect, caused the imbalance in the CF.

Even more subtly, there is a third element within the secondary. This Element, having caused the imbalance in the secondary, will manifest as a third dimension of odor, color, sound, and emotion.

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