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Introduction to the Five Elements

Introduction to the Five Elements

If you’ve done any research on feng shui, you’ve likely come across the concept of the five elements. This is a foundational philosophy used not only in feng shui, but also in traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese astrology, and martial arts. The five elements, also called the five phases, are the basic components that make up life and the world around us: fire, metal, earth, wood, and water. In feng shui, the elements are more than their physical manifestations; they’re also types of qi (energy) that correspond to those materials. Each different element has a different type of energy. Think about fire and metal, for example: fire is expansive and changeable, while metal is rigid and unwavering.

The energy in nature influences us

These five elemental energies impact how we feel and act. They can: lift our spirits, inspire us, make us more thoughtful, and feel more secure and grounded. Wood, for example, has the qualities of kindness, compassion, and flexibility. If you don’t have enough wood, you might be easily swayed and not become indecisive. In feng shui we have adjustments that you can support and correct these imbalances. A very simple and straightforward way you can correct and imbalance is by introducing an item into your home in the material, shape, or color that corresponds to the element i.e. the color green for wood.

They can support and balance us

The elements also exist in relationship to each other, so each element feeds another. In our example of not having enough wood, you could also add the water element to feed wood (because trees need water to grow). The rest of the cycle is: wood feeds fire (makes sense!), fire feeds earth (ashes return to the soil), earth creates metal (earth compresses to create metal), and metal creates water (condensation collects on cold metal).

The elements can also control each other, which is helpful to know if you have too much of one element. Too much wood, for example, and you may be a little too opinionated! To correct this imbalance, add metal (metal cuts wood). Wood binds earth (think of a plant’s roots in soil), earth blocks water (like a riverbank), water extinguishes fire, and fire melts metal.

This all might sound a little confusing; just try to remember that no one element is good or bad, and that is all about creating balance and harmony. The type of energy you need can shift throughout your life, and can be influenced by your environment and life situation.

Try this: creating a five element adjustment for harmony

A good way to start working with the five elements is to include one item that represents each element in your space. You can be creative and work with your space, style, and budget. Add the elements with intention, you don't have to be super obvious and make a big splash. It is best to take a subtle approach when decorating with the five elements. Here are some suggestions:

  • Fire

    To introduce the fire element with material, you can include fire itself in the form of a candle. Electronics also represent the fire element. You can also bring in fire with triangular shapes and the colors red and orange.

  • Metal

    The most obvious way to bring metal into your space is to bring in objects made of metal. You can also use circular shapes, the color white, and metallic colors.

  • Earth

    You can bring the earth element into your home with ceramics and pottery, the colors brown and yellow, and square shapes.

  • Wood

    Potted plants are a great way to include the wood element. You can also bring in the wood element with green and teal colors, or tall columnar shapes.

  • Water

    You can bring the water element into your home by including actual water, like a fish tank or water fountain. Mirrors, black and dark blues, and undulating shapes also correspond to the water element.

As you become more familiar with each of the five elements, you may start to notice when one is out of balance in your life or home. When you do, try including something from this list to correct the imbalance, and notice if you feel any shifts in energy over time!