The theories of the elements have always excited me for the different ways in which we can use them to better understand ourselves and also for sustainable and holistic ways to approach health. There are different variations to the “Elements Theory”, but in a nutshell the basic idea is that everything in our physical world is made up of five elements, and that these elements interrelate with each other to synergistically work together in health, or disproportionately, as in disease.
Have you ever heard things like, “That guy sure has a fiery temper!”, or ”That girl is such an air-head, always forgetting her jacket!”, or “She’s so wishy-washy, she’ll never make up her mind!”? Even though it seems like modern slang, these ideas go way back.
From the Egyptians to the Greeks, to ancient Chinese, to the Vedic teachings of India and also, more recently, to Hippocrates (c.460 to c.370 BC) have these theories been reasoned that we are made up of the relationship between basic elements. Hippocrates was probably the first to relate the four major humors or fluids in the body as producing particular personality profiles. These are blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm, also known as the Sanguine type, the Melancholic, the Choleric, and the Phlegmatic, respectively.
Rudolph Steiner (1861 to 1925), an Austrian philosopher and founder of anthroposophy, incorporated the Elements Theory in his creation of the Waldorf Schools. These are where teachers take into account the basic nature of a child’s temperament as a way to bridge education for the child. Carl Jung (1875 to 1961), one of the founding fathers of analytical psychology, is well remembered for his concepts of Archetypes as well as for the Myers Briggs Type Indicator Test which are still used today as tools for understanding patterns of behavior.
Norland and Norland (The Four Elements in Homeopathy, Yondercott Press, 2007) have put together a very interesting and functional version of the Elements Theory. Using a conceptual map rather like a compass, these homeopaths describe the element of Water as associated with themes like Spring-time beginning, of coolness, wet, fluidity, weeping, indecision, salty, bladder, and mucus. The polarity or opposite of this element is the Earth element, associated with themes like Fall beginning, hardness, stubbornness, steadfastness, solidity, dryness, bitter, digestion, liver, rectum. The element of Fire is associated with Summer beginning, heat, light, joy, laughter, spontaneity, sweetness, rashness, circulation, heart. The element opposing Fire is Air, with themes like Winter beginning, icy coldness, darkness, silence, intellect, reasoning, analyzing, fear, stillness, sour, lungs, ears, nose.
According to their map, the time after the Winter Solstice (December 21) and before the Spring Equinox (March 21), is the time of the PHLEGMATIC, wintertime, a temperament as well as a time shared between the elements of AIR and WATER. The key to this map is in understanding the concept that when these elements are balanced, a healthy state ensues. If one or more of these elements become imbalanced, either in excess or deficiency, then an unhealthy state arises. In winter, as darkness overpowers light, it may seem easier to feel depressed, isolated, low, or inactive. On the other hand, winter is naturally a time for letting go. We humans are intimately connected with the earth and we have our own natural cycles of creating and of letting go. The polarity of ‘Letting Go’ can also be seen as ‘Creating the Space to Receive’, to be inspired, to move, to flow.
Now is the time to allow ourselves permission for slowing down, to sit with our friends or ourselves, to paint or to draw or to read or to take long baths, or perhaps to reflect or just to notice our in-breath. Notice where you are and what it feels like, without the need to label or judge, just to experience the quality of honest reflection. The element of Air will help to transform us towards slow fluidity, movement, and eventually the gentle action of the expressions of the Water element. Water has the ability to dissolve and to lift up but also to submerge what it cannot move.
For more holistic ideas on supporting winter-time blues or ailments, contact your local Homeopath, TCM practitioner, Ayuvedic Health Practitioner, or Herbalist.