What is Five Element Acupuncture?

by Nora Franglen

You can see from the title of my six books published by Singing Dragon that I practise and write about a branch of acupuncture called five element acupuncture. All acupuncture is based upon an understanding of an ancient Chinese philosophical concept which describes the universe and all who live in it as created by the Dao, the All, the infinite, what we can think of as the universe before the Big Bang.


The Dao itself is divided into two forces called yin and yang, positive and negative forces created at the time of the Big Bang, which always counterbalance each other and make time and motion possible. Finally, yin and yang split into what the Chinese call the five elements, each with simple, everyday names of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. In geographical terms we can see the elements as being like the four directions of north, south, east and west, with the fifth its centre.


The Chinese understood that the elements were symbols for the complete cycle of life, from its point of creation, the seed of all things, which they symbolized as being the Water element, associated with the season of winter, the Wood element, being the bud which emerges above ground in spring, the Fire element at the height of summer, which in turn leads on to the Metal element in autumn, and finally back to Water as winter closes in again. They related each element to a season in this way, all five creating the cycle of a complete year.


They also regarded the elements as creating all living beings, including the human, with different elements forming the different organs of the body. Thus the heart is associated with the Fire element and the liver with the Wood element, for example.  And then, by a further stroke of genius, they recognized that the relationships of the elements to each other within a human being were responsible for creating the unique characteristics we all show, giving us what I call a unique elemental imprint, much as each of us has a unique genetic imprint.


Each of us therefore owes allegiance throughout our lifetime to one dominant element out of the five. I call this our guardian element, because when we are in balance and healthy, it will protect us and make sure that the energy circling within us remains healthy.  When we become unbalanced, though, it will be the element which succumbs to the pressures of life, both physical and psychological, and will therefore need to be supported by acupuncture treatment focused on this particular element.


This understanding of the human being represents a truth confirmed to me by my many years of practice as a five element acupuncturist. Practitioners are trained to observe the presence of the elements in each person, and gauge the level of their balance or imbalance in relation to one another. The elements leave specific sensory markers upon us. The sound of our voice, the colour on our skin, the smell on our body and the emotion each of us shows all point to the dominant presence of one particular element. We learn to use these diagnostically to help us decide which particular element is under stress, and then direct our attention to redressing any imbalance by concentrating our treatment on this element.


The sensory signals will indicate changes as a result of some imbalance, which can be physical or psychological or both. For example, a person suffering some emotional trauma in their life may appear much paler or unexpectedly irritable, showing that their dominant element is reflecting the stress they are under by a change in skin colour or emotion.


Similarly physical conditions, such as jaundice place a greenish tinge on the sufferer’s skin. Where Western medicine will diagnose this as jaundice, five element acupuncture will see this as a sign of an imbalance in the Wood element, whose colour is green. This is a good example of where Western medicine and acupuncture have matching diagnostic criteria on which to base their treatment.


I have spent the last 35 years of my life confirming the truth of what I write about through the treatment of my patients and through my observation of how human beings interact with each other. My two latest books which include a selection of my blogs over the past few years represent my homage to the discipline I have dedicated so much of my life to, in my belief that it represents a surprisingly simple, very profound approach to healing many of the ills, both physical and psychological which this modern world is burdened with.


Nora Franglen has a degree in Modern Languages from Cambridge University, and worked as a translator whilst bringing up a young family. Her own experience of five element acupuncture led her to study at the College of Traditional Acupuncture, Leamington Spa, UK, and she continued her postgraduate studies there under J R Worsley. She was Founder/Principal of the School of Five Element Acupuncture (SOFEA) in London from 1995-2007 and continues her teaching through her practice, through postgraduate work in the UK, Europe and China, and now through her blog, norafranglen.blogspot.com. She lives in London, UK.


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Books By Nora Franglen

Blogging a Five Element Life

The follow-up to Nora Franglen’s first book of collected posts on the holistic life of an acupuncturist, this provides further insight into the everyday musings of a master of her craft. From her love of London’s cafes to challenges she has experienced in her clinic, it reveals how acupuncture can enrich and balance all aspects of our being.

Read more about the book here.


On Being a Five Element Acupuncturist

Based on her well-read blog, Nora Franglen provides a rich insight into the inner thoughts and feelings of a master acupuncturist. Covering everything from her love of coffee shops to how to treat patients effectively, it is reveals the holistic and rich nature of acupuncture.

Read more about the book here.


The Handbook of Five Element Practice

A companion for practitioners of Five Element acupuncture that strengthens the foundation for practice. With detailed outlines of the different components of Five Element diagnosis and treatment, this complete manual will support and invigorate practice. It also includes a Teach Yourself Manual.

Read more about the book here.


The Simple Guide to Five Element Acupuncture

This accessible guide explains the history and philosophy of five element acupuncture, and shows how it addresses specific health needs and general well-being. With case studies throughout, the guide explains how an acupuncturist diagnoses and treats patients, and looks at the character of each element.

Read more about the book here.


Keepers of the Soul

With profiles of well-known figures, the book explains the spirit of each of the Five Elements of Chinese medicine, and what they look like in different people. The philosophy behind Five Element acupuncture is explained, including what it means to live in harmony and how the Five Elements help shape our body and soul.

Read more about the book here.


Patterns of Practice

Considering acupuncture in its wider context, this book contains Nora Franglen’s reflections on her practice and explores how the search for acupuncture points can lead the practitioner deep into challenging areas of existence.

Read more about the book here.



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