Balanced Wellbeing: 5 Elements and TCM

I’m super excited to introduce another guest blogger to the Cultivated Wellbeing community while I’m away at BlogHer!

We’ve talked a lot in the past few months about finding an outlet of some kind, whether it’s a way to be creative, find stillness, fulfillment, extra energy, or extra nutrition in the kitchen, and last week I even hinted at the connection between nature, health, and spirituality.

Now we’re going to talk about what this pursuit looks like through the lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). 

5 elements Marie BowserMarie Bowser, Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.)

Practicing in an integrative holistic clinic in El Cerrito, CA for the last 4 years, Marie has just begun sharing her expertise with the employees of Alameda Health System through onsite clinics. (I just set this up – AHS is my day job.) She’s been a pleasure to work with, and I’m really looking forward to visiting her practice myself in the near future.

Marie brings a wealth of knowledge on the subject of integrative health, weaving the eastern teachings of TCM into our modern western lifestyles. She calls on her patients to play an active role in changing their health, supporting each one with her unique combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine and lifestyle & nutrition coaching. Her training in massage therapy, qigong, reiki, meditation & mindfulness and energy work also inform her style of practice.

If you’ve been curious to learn more about acupuncture and TCM, this post is a great jumping off point. You’ll find Marie’s website linked to the bottom of this post where you can learn more about what her practice offers and how you might personally benefit from TCM.

Marie Bowser 5 elements five elements

Finding Balance Using the 5 Elements

Chinese Medicine is a system of diagnosis and treatment that relies on the Five Elements. The Five elements not only help to understand balance and imbalance in our bodies but also in our homes (Feng Shui) and in our lives.

Using the Five Elements is not only a fun way of looking at our lives and analyzing where we place our attention, but also a strategy for preventing/shifting illness. I often suggest that my patients look for ways to bring each of the Five Elements into a week, month or year to better achieve balance in their lives.

The Five Elements Theory is a poetic way of looking at the world. It’s also a practical system to analyze the areas of your life that could use a tweak. Personally, when I plan out my weekly to-do list, I categorize tasks by Element. If any particular Element looks overloaded I reorganize my week for better balance. If I don’t have enough fun (fire) planned for myself, I find some to schedule in. If I have a big week at work (wood), I make sure to schedule quiet time knitting or reading a good book (water).

The following is a brief discussion of the Five Elements, how they relate to the different areas of a balanced life and how we can use them to bring balance into our lives.

Marie Bowser 5 elements five elementsWOOD

Wood is related to creativity, planning and executive function. We nurture wood through planning and following through on our goals. For patients who feel stuck in this area, I often suggest incorporating creative activities to generate a flow toward bigger picture ideas. I also recommend working with a coach to help guide and motivate patients in creating and following through on a life plan.

Some people are overly identified with their life plan at the expense of other areas of their lives. They might be considered over-achievers or “workaholics.” A remedy for this is to participate in gentle wood activities such as spending time walking in nature or attending a restorative yoga class (wood is related to muscles and tendons, and stretching relaxes wood energy).

FIREMarie Bowser 5 elements five elements

Fire is related to joy, romance, and fun as well as connection with others. It’s said (and I believe it to be true) that our 20’s are the time for fire in our lives. This is when many of us leave our parents’ homes, create our urban families and start searching for a partner.

We’ve all had those wild weekends where we stayed out all night, had a fabulous time with our friends, and blew off the next day’s obligations. Not only is this is okay, it’s actually important to do occasionally, but fire imbalance can manifest through living this way EVERY DAY. Sound like fun? It can be for a while, but will eventually become taxing on the body.

In order to balance this excess fire energy, I recommend placing strong attention on water (meditation), wood (using a calendar to schedule to-do’s) and earth energies (making sure the home is clean, inviting and full of healthy, nourishing food).

Some people have too little fire. For various reasons, they feel uninspired, depressed, fatigued and isolated. They may be disconnected from the things that bring them joy. The first thing I get these patients to do is to brainstorm a list of activities that have brought them joy in the past. Once the list is made we find creative ways to reincorporate those activities into their lives. In the case of a patient who is feeling blue as a result of high pressure job stress, we might schedule a portion of their weekend to do something fun outside.

Marie Bowser 5 elementsEARTH

Earth is related to food and nourishment, nurturing and compassion, as well as to our home. Without proper nourishment and an orderly home base, it is challenging to be a grounded, functioning, healthy person in the world. Everyone benefits from placing attention on this element.

Unfortunately, our fast-paced, demanding culture causes people to neglect the earth element. We work through lunch at our desks; we skip meals; we eat processed junk food while on the run. Sometimes a person’s living situation is disruptive (hoarding, disharmony with housemates) which impacts basic household needs like cooking at home or feeling like there’s a safe place to decompress. Sometimes the most important things a person can do to make a health shift are things like scheduling grocery shopping, cooking meals for the week, packing the next day’s lunch and snacks before going to bed, cleaning and de-cluttering the home, and maybe even looking for a new living situation.

There are also people who eat in order to manage stress and soothe emotions (food, nourishment, and self-nurturing). They also benefit from assessing their situation and balancing the earth element in their lives.

Marie Bowser 5 elementsMETAL

Metal is related to self-worth and achievement (including financial and career achievement). This is where the fruits of our wood energy manifest. All that planning finally pays off in promotions, raises or professional acknowledgement.

Metal element is also related to how you spend your money. Do you treat yourself to indulgences occasionally? Do you save your money? Are you preoccupied with showing off the external signs of your achievement with toys and bragging or do you wear your asceticism like a badge of honor? How does all of this relate to your self-esteem? A good financial planner can help get you on a track with a savings and spending plan. A good therapist can help you to work out issues of self worth.

Marie Bowser 5 elementsWATER

Water is related to rest, intuition and wisdom. What are the ways that you nourish wisdom and intuition in your life? It is said that Einstein took naps and woke from them with breakthroughs in the problems and concepts he was working out. Sounds like napping could be pretty helpful!

Do you get enough sleep? Do you have a meditation practice? A restorative yoga practice? Do you journal? Are you listening to the information inside of yourself? If you’re not getting adequate rest, not only will your executive function (wood) suffer, you will become sick – never mind being disconnected from your own internal wisdom.

Info for Marie Bowser:

For a free 30 minute consultation with Marie, visit to schedule a visit. Mention this post and get $25 off your first session. 


I'm a wellness professional with a Master's in Integrative Health, passionate about spreading health, happiness and personal fulfillment to as many people as possible. I have a professional background in health and wellness, dietary supplements, and nutrition, and embark every day to live a well, balanced, happy life. In being true to myself and what I seek in life, I hope to inspire others to do the same, to cultivate wellbeing in their own lives.

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