|The element theory reflects the creation and control of energy (chi), in both nature and the body. Metal when heated becomes liquid (water), water nourishes the tree (wood), the tree ignites to make fire, and ashes become earth - this is the five element creation cycle. Metal cuts wood, tree roots hold the earth, earth contains water, water puts out fire, and fire melts metal this is the five element control cycle.
These metaphors are used in Chinese medicine to help understand imbalances in the body that result in health problems, as the five element processes are seen as paralleling what happens within the body and how organs develop and control energy. Chinese healing arts include Tai Chi, acupuncture (which you'll learn about soon in Day 7), as well as food and herbal medicines (which are often offered in conjunction with acupuncture treatments).
All forms of traditional Chinese medicine strive for the same goal - strong, balanced, free-flowing internal energy - using different techniques.
Tai Chi practitioners follow patterns of slow, graceful, precisely controlled movements. Correct posture and breathing control are emphasized, and the fluid motions promote the harmony of body and mind. Tai Chi forms consist of sequential movements of specific positions, one flowing smoothly into the other from a set beginning to an end. A single form can include up to 100 positions and take 20-30 minutes to complete, though 10 minutes is average. Tai Chi forms can be performed almost anywhere and time, by an individual or in a group. Experts recommend practicing at the same time each day, every day, and many teachers will also designate specific times of day as suitable (or not).
Tai Chi is based on the belief that a person's vital energy force, or chi, flows through the body along specific meridians, nourishing and sustaining all tissues and organs. Tai Chi experts believe that Tai Chi's health benefits result from a person balancing the energy of their five key organs by eliminating any excesses or deficiencies, and breaking up any blockages in the flow. The origin and center of the body's chi is considered to be the dantien, an area of the body located right below the navel. All Tai Chi movements originate from the dantien and focus on this center of the body's vital force.
Tai Chi necessitates great concentration, erasing everything from your mind so that you can focus on the smooth, gentle movements and feel a mind-body connection. It is a total body exercise involving all the limbs and joints in relaxed continuous movements.
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 Different foods are believed to correspond to different organs, and can supplement or remove excess energy from these organs. Herbal medicine is treated as food, but herbs are deemed to have stronger qualities. The five elements of foods and herbs are: bitter (heart); sweet (spleen); pungent (lungs); sour (liver); and salty (kidney). For in-depth information about the Chinese five element theory and herbal/food healing, please see Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition, North Atlantic Books, 1993 (also has a terrific bibliography).
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