Organizing The Metal Element To Structure Your Life

As is true in every season, when you understand how your system is affected by it, you will be better able to take care of yourself. For many, fall is the season to restructure things. Explore how the element of metal in Traditional Chinese Medicine comes into this.
Marije is a yoga and meditation teacher.
metal element traditional chinese medicine
Marije is a yoga and meditation teacher.

In the fall, and especially in preparation for the holidays, you may feel the need for routine and structure in your life. This is not only a practical solution to avoid feeling overwhelmed; it is actually an energetic predisposition. When you look at animals in the wild, they do the same thing; they are getting their “affairs” in order by collecting seeds, nuts and other nutrition to be prepared for the winter season. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) fall is associated with Metal: the element of structure.

The Life Force In Traditional Chinese Medicine

In TCM (as well as in the Indian traditions of Yoga and Ayurveda), it is believed that there is a vital force in all life, a primordial being that is the foundation of all vitality. In TCM it is called: Chi, in the Indian traditions it is called: Prana.

It is suggested that this Life Force flows through the body in particular pathways called Meridians (Chinese Medicine) or Nadis (Indian Yoga). In this blog, I will focus on the concepts of Chinese Medicine only.

Meridians cannot be seen with the physical eye or with special equipment, yet we can experience their presence by the effect their quality has on our overall health. Meridians are like rivers or tributaries. They deliver nutrients to the organs in the form of Chi. The strength and flow of the meridian system is essential for the balance in our system, both physical and mental.

The Five-Element Theory

Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the Five-phase theory (sometimes called: Five-element theory). This theory suggests that there are five elements in nature that cycle in phases through the seasons and our organs: Earth, Water, Wood, Metal and Fire.

The five elements represent energies that succeed each other in a continuous cycle. Not the elements themselves but the movement between them is emphasized in this theory. In a generative cycle, Wood feeds Fire, Fire creates Earth, Earth bears Metal, Metal collects Water, and Water nourishes Wood. When the cycle between the elements is destructive, one element is being destroyed by another: Wood parts Earth, Earth takes in Water, Water quenches Fire, Fire melts Metal, and Metal chops Wood.

Being aware of this cycle and recognizing the relationship between the elements is essential for maintaining (or creating) optimal balance in our physical body as well as for mental and emotional health. In order to maintain this optimal health we also need to support an unobstructed flow of Chi through the meridians in our body, and keep a generative balance between the elements. This is why it is helpful to have an understanding of how the seasons and the elements are related.

Keeping The Five Elements Balanced

In general, the elements are considered to have the following qualities:

  • Earth: mother, nourishment
  • Water: stillness, will power
  • Wood: purpose, growth
  • Metal: structure, boundaries
  • Fire: passion, connection

It is the variation in balance between these elements that influences our health and behavior. At times the metal element in me may be overbearing Wood, which will result in rigidity. Other times Metal may be holding Water, so I can create space for my introspective practices.

Choosing appropriate practices or activities will help to maintain or reestablish this balance. Chi has an intelligence of its own; when we assist its smooth flow it knows exactly how to bring our system back to homeostasis.

Read more: In the Yogic tradition, Prana is the empowering life force flowing through the chakras. Explore how to balance the chakras and release the energy in your body.

The Characteristics Of The Metal Element

Fall is a common time for people to get sick. It may therefore not surprise you that the lungs and large intestines are the organs associated with the metal element. Metal governs our respiration; the lungs “grasp” Chi from the heavens and draw it inward for our body to use. It also affects our immune system that protects us from pathogens in the air. The lung meridian opens into the nose, which is the doorway into the lungs.

The characteristics of metal are hard, strong and precise. It is the metal in the earth that gives it its inner structure and value. Metal allows us to shine, to be brilliant, to inspire. Metal also has a component of flexibility as it can be remolded many times. When metal gets too strong, however, it becomes rigid.

Balanced metal allows for healthy boundaries, an easy routine, and inspiring rituals, whereas too little metal will lead to sloppiness and numbness. When metal becomes overbearing we will have difficulty with expressing ourselves, with intimacy and spontaneity. This can also result in issues with the respiratory system, the skin, elimination, and with the lymphatic and immune system. 

The emotion connected to the lungs and large intestines is grief. When we suffer a loss this can affect our respiratory system: I’ve heard multiple stories of elderly people getting pneumonia right after their better half passed away.

How To Keep The Metal Element Balanced

To keep metal balanced we need structure and routine equalized with an ability to let go and allow ourselves to be supported. We need to soften our boundaries to connect with others, to be social and spontaneous, and give ourselves the time to follow our passion.

A yoga practice with clear and precise instructions that includes many chest-opening poses will support the metal element. Increase your Pranayama practice and your outdoor activities to stimulate your lungs and to strengthen your immune system.

You might want to soften your heart or bring awareness to your breath with these guided meditations by Marije Paternotte:

  1. Softening The Heart Marije Paternotte 15:49
  2. Short Guided Meditation on the Breath Marije Paternotte 6:04

Moreover, using essential oils is an effective way to manage our emotions and wellbeing. Cypress essential oil is especially helpful for those who are mentally or emotionally stuck, stiff, rigid, tense or have perfectionistic tendencies. The chemical compounds in this oil affect the brain to allow us to let go of control, embrace the flow of life, and be more adaptable. Wild Orange essential oil supports a positive mood and invites us to live with a child-like sense of openness. These oils can be inhaled straight from the bottle or diffused in a diffuser. Rubbing a drop in your hand and inhaling is an effective use as well.

As is true in every season, when you understand how your system is affected by it, you will be better able to take care of yourself. Listening to your intuition is an important aspect thereof. So yes: create a health-supporting routine and a manageable schedule for yourself and combine it with my suggestions above.

Meditation. Free.
Always.