Cultivating Self-Love and Overcoming Addictions: A Five Element Perspective

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

There are five basic elements categorized in Chinese Medicine: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each element has its own characteristic features and goes through a generation cycle through which it transforms into another element.

Five Elements

The Five Elements begin with Wood because Wood represents growth and new beginnings. The season of Wood is Spring as new growth begins to sprout forth.

The active energy provided by Wood creates Fire and Fire is about maturity and relates to the season of Summer, the hottest time of the year. 

Fire creates ash as it burns and this ash creates the next element, Earth. Earth is about harvest and corresponds to a period known as Late Summer. Earth also corresponds to a 16 day transitional period that occurs during each seasonal transition. 

The minerals found in the earth are metallic, so the Earth element creates the element of Metal. Metal is about decline, corresponding to the season of Autumn, a time when nature transitions toward a state of dormancy. 

As Fall enters full dormancy, we enter the Winter season, which relates to the element of Water. Water relates to going within, introversion and introspection. Winter is the gestational period that supports the consolidation of energy back into our Kidneys for physical rejuvenation and inner transformation. Through this process, we can blossom forth a resurgence of new growth energy that ensues in the springtime as the 5 Element cycle starts again.

The Summer's Fire Energy can set Addictions Blazing --

 Since we are in the season of Summer, the element of Fire is in its full effect potentially overheating our body, especially our blood.  Hot blood creates an over-stimulated emotional state. If we add hot natured food to our diet such as coffee, alcohol and hot spices such as garlic, rosemary, basil, ginger, peppers and onions, the internal fire can really get out of control during this season causing inflammation, high blood pressure, skin rashes and emotional disorders such as anxiety, irritability and outbursts of rage. 

If we don't make an effort to keep the body cool and calm, patterns of ADDICTION can become more of a problem during this time of year too as the Heart Fire starts to blaze and a person will crave substances such as sugar, medications, alcohol, cigarettes and drugs such as marijuana to numb out.  

One of the very interesting aspects about the Heart is that it is the organ related to us having emotional control in our lives. If we are stuck in patterns of addiction, then our Heart Fire is overwhelming the function of our Earth. The Earth relates to the Spleen and the Mind so one's mental control becomes overwhelmed by their emotions if the Heart Blood gets too hot. The Earth/Spleen energy also relates to the Pancreas so we can see as the emotions get over aroused with Heart Fire, a person will crave sweets and damp-inducing comfort foods to numb out and placate one's restless emotions. Even fruit, which is very high in sugar and prevalent during the Summer when eaten in excess will create a lot of dampness which further compromises a person's mental capacity to control their heart's emotional fire. In addition, as dampness accumulates in the body, it creates a sluggish circulation of Qi energy and a person will reach out for stimulants to get their energy moving which can perpetuate the state of internal heat that is driving  the emotional imbalance and the addictive behavior.  Internal dampness relates to the popular topic of CANDIDA which underlies many health problems from the head to the toes.

Managing the internal fire driven by addictions is a very important issue underlying all Chronic Degenerative Disorders --

Whether the addiction is substance related or other such as an addiction to work, exercise or masturbation, these habits induce a smoldering of internal heat that grows and grows deep in the body. This is a dangerous condition that we call "Latent Heat or Latent Fire"  that becomes suppressed so a person may not be aware of it because they are not symptomatic. However, over time as this suppressed heat that is trapped in the body slowly burns out the body's resources to stay repressed, various symptoms of disease will start to manifest. These diseases are all related to inflammation from this latent heat escaping anywhere in the body and is the underlying cause of chronic diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune disorders and cancer. 

Breaking the Addiction cycle is about CHOICE --

The more severe the addiction, the more involved a person's treatment may need to be. However, it's ultimately about choice. We've all seen people with longterm addictions to cigarettes who stopped smoking on a dime when they made up their mind to do so for whatever reason. Chinese Medicine is a powerful ally to support a person to clear the fire in the blood in order to reduce the restless emotions and the addictive cravings. Cultivating a daily routine of calming practices such as taking nature walks and doing Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Yoga and Meditation are very important especially during the summer season to help calm the emotions so one can regain mental control of their lives and break the addiction cycle.

From a dietary perspective, eat more of a vegetarian diet during the hot summer months and follow a diet that is cooling and alkalizing for the body. And always remember, those morning protein smoothies that include everything but the kitchen sink, well, they induce a lot of dampness and heat in the body so try to simplify your morning smoothie and have a nice green vegetable based juice instead to alkalize your body.

Green juices have a bitter, cooling nature that effectively drain and clear out the heat in the blood, calm the heart and mind and help you to once again gain mental control over your emotions. 

Calming the Heart supports cultivating Self-Love --

As the blood becomes more alkaline, the Heart energy calms down and this allows the Kidney Jing, also called Essence, to be conserved. Conserving one's Kidney Essence relates to cultivating Self-Love because the Kidney energy relates to one's relationship with oneself.  

Essentially, through the process of calming the Heart, a person becomes more Spiritually oriented as one's desires of the heart begin to settle down and become less important in one's life. This process of detaching from one's desires allows one's sense of Self-Love to grow and expand.

If you find yourself this summer getting a bit overwhelmed, frazzled and feeling "out of control", remember, you have a choice to be calm, to cultivate detachment and embrace yourself with more love as you sit back and sip your tall glass of green vegetable juice. 

Start your day this way and you'll really enjoy your summer with a happy calm heart!


Salvador Cefalu, L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, CA, a wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine & Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare non-insertion form of Acupuncture. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com