The Wood Element or Phase

Trees in Spring Wood phase

The Wood element or Wood phase – for growth –  is the subject of this page, but first, consider how it fits into the greater scheme of things!

WOOD ELEMENT or WOOD PHASE in the Shen Cycle

The five elements comprise an archetypal view of existence, each element emphasising a distinct principle. The ancient Chinese looked at life’s ebb and flow in terms of movement and change, and the five Elements or Phases reflect stages of the process.

  • Wood symbolises birth and growth,
  • Fire maturity and Display,
  • Earth consolidation,
  • Metal refining and rebalancing,
  • Water a remembering and inner strengthening, prior to rebirth through Wood again.


Endless Cycle of Life

Five Elements or Phases
Five Phase Diagram – Copyright Acupuncture Points

No element can be considered in isolation in the same way that a wheel is not a wheel unless its rim is intact at all points. Each element contains aspects of all the others and nourishes the following element as per the 5 Element cycle.

Wood Phase, Growth and Spring

Wood symbolises the activity of birth or growth, and all facets of life connected with it, including, when Wood is imbalanced, those facets which arise from inhibiting, wasting, or a surfeit of the birth or growth process.


in any process of growth there must be direction and a proper use of resources. The Wood organs, Gallbladder and Liver represent this process, Gallbladder by Decision and Judgement, Liver by Planning.

But by themselves neither of these adequately conveys the quickening, gathering, positive, optimistic, hopeful, self-asserting, future-oriented, enthusiastic and expansive principal for which Wood stands,


In nature, spring is the wood season, with its bright greens, unfolding buds at the start of their new phase, freshening winds, spring cleaning and planting, awakening from hibernation of small mammals and lizards, return of migratory birds, their mating and gathering of twigs (Wood) for nests, and the yielding of trees in the wind which blows with a new restlessness.

Appropriately, the sun rises earlier each day, and in the East, connected to Wood by the ancient Chinese.

A Healthy Wood element type

Goes for Growth!

black and white Hustle-printed ceramic mug on table. Hustling is very Wood!

Someone who has an optimistic forward-looking outlook with a spring in his step.

He sees a bright future, and ‘Vision’ is the sense, together with its perception, connected with Wood.

The man moves in a fresh and youthful way, with hope in his eyes; he believes in the future. Entrepreneurial!

He or she works hard, concentrating on success in his endeavours.

If he seeks you out, it is because you will be useful! Not always, indeed hardly ever, is he merely interested in your company, I’m afraid, no matter how fascinating you are.

Wood Phase Colour – Green

Food picked before it is ripe is often green and sour because only at a later stage – after the heat of the sun has worked on it – will it be ripe. Such food often causes flatulence, ie wind.

In countries fortunate to be blessed by ample water and sun, growing plants are usually green.

Water, Metal and Wood Elements

Wood takes its energy from Water, but to be effective the Wood energy must be balanced, steadied and co-ordinated; balance is a necessary ingredient of growth (and is connected with the eyes and ears) but for mature judgement and good planning, it must be remembered that Metal regulates Wood.

Growth needs to take form with direction and purpose. This can be inhibited in several ways, either by chaos or straight frustration (more on this below).

If so there may be irritability and anger, shouting and sudden movements (putting a strain on the ligaments).

Or there may be depression, resignation, hopelessness and despair (see below).

Someone who never gets angry is often aimless and apathetic; for others the emotions may break out explosively for no good reason.

For some, the perfect way in the face of such an obstacle is compliance and yielding, growth round or through the problem.


Wood Imbalance: maybe not growth but rush!

man holding telephone in telephone booth. Impatience, a Wood failing, pushing for growth!

Impatient? Someone always hastening, never enough time, full of plans for when he has nothing to do, in a state of constant tension, at the end of his tether? Probably Wood imbalance!

Another Form of Wood Imbalance

If …

  • our plans have been constantly frustrated, or
  • we fear to admit something embarrassing or that might adversely affect our lives or
  • we accept compensation for work done at a lower than ‘fair’ rate or
  • we find ourselves forced to forgo what we like in order to please someone else, or worse
  • to please someone else we must do something we actually really dislike


… this easily leads to inner tensions.

We may smile, but it’s a tight smile!

Here, Wood energy often spills over, upwards, causing neck or jaw tension ( for example, ‘bruxism’ – grinding or clenching teeth). It can make us dizzy (partly due to Wood energy interfering in our Earth energy, depleting effective digestion) and anxious, sometimes feeling a bit hopeless, harbingers of depression for some.

Our Blood Pressure may rise.

Later it may affect our appetite (too much, too little), digestion (belching, acid risings) and bowel actions (variable, unreliable).

If the pressure really builds up in us, we may become unpredictable, or unaccountably selfish, not understood by others. Or we display passive aggression.

Sometimes, life’s like that!

Now, don’t misunderstand me! Everyone, for the sake of civilisation, puts up with this from time to time. We tell or accept white lies, we forgo pleasures, we put up with it. That’s life!

But for some of us, constant inward pressures like these lead to ongoing health problems. Often, looking back, we realise we should have done or said something which might have displeased another party at the time but which would have prevented us from becoming bitter and twisted!


If possible, have a firm chat with the ‘other ‘ party. But that’s not always easy.

Another solution is to have some personal activity that moves your energy round the 5 Element cycle. In this case it would be something that enables you to enjoy Fire element/phase activity, Fire being the next after Wood. For more, read our page on Fire phase, but for example, this could be a creative or display process that leads to recognition, an important aspect of Fire. This way, you achieve satisfaction and approval in another, perhaps artistic or inventive, way.

How does acupuncture help here? If the right acupuncture points are chosen, our Wood energy begins to flow smoothly again and we feel newly empowered. Of course, we may still need to have that little ‘chat’! But for a while, we can get on with things.

Continued acupuncture can gradually strengthen the smooth flow of our Wood energy again. This makes us better at planning and decisions – and peaceful assertiveness! – leadng to more happiness and progress in life.

It helps if your acupuncturist is not only experienced but understanding and trained to listen and supply feedback.

Treatment of Wood imbalance

How does Wood unbalance your life?

  • Overdoing it, leading to frustration and tension
  • Overdoing it, leading to burn-out and exhaustion
  • Inability to assert oneself
  • Over-enthusiastic boasting and downfall


There are many acupuncture points that help to stabilise Wood.

So does a gentle massage and many forms of Oriental massage (shiatsu, for example) are very effective, not least because of their steady deliberation, which has a slowing effect.

Equally, many herbal formulae were developed in China to steady Wood problems.

To steady Wood, other oriental traditions include yoga and Tai Chi.

But for many Westerners made tense by their Wood-like frustrations, a game of football or tennis works well.

Also, Wood types benefit hugely from mentoring, a skill that people with healthy Metal possess.

two swimming mallard ducks on still body of water. Guidance can help these types. They're all for growth!

Internally, anyone can increase their own Metal element’s power by learning good posture and breathing techniques, and taking time to meditate.

Food for Wood? Wood Nutrition?

Nutrition for Wood? Most typical Wood types can’t be bothered with good nutrition! They’d rather take supplements and get the ‘time-consuming’ business of eating over and done with as soon as possible.

But for health, they need to slow down a bit, eat a varied diet with plenty of natural fibre (eg from vegetables) to give their intestines something to grip on, otherwise they’ll get cramps and constipation.

And they should eat more slowly, chewing well.

Often they race along, eating too little for their body’s needs, leading to various kinds of Blood deficiency and, for some, eventually signs of yin deficiency.

Also, they don’t rest and sleep enough, further causes of Blood deficiency, causing them upper-body tensions, headaches and visual problems.

Then they get Qi stagnation, with constriction and irritability and physical blockages ranging from sinus problems to irritable bowel syndrome.

Acupuncture is very good at helping Qi Stagnation!

Back to food, and we have a page on Blood-building foods, to help build up Blood so the patient feels more steady and resourceful.

asparagus: rapid growth upwards, a very Wood attribute.
Asparagus, a good Wood food.

Of course they need good nutrition, but I doubt they’ll find time to read our page on it!

Wood Element Organs and Times

Two zangfu organs and their channels comprise the Wood element, although all channels contain Wood points.


For more on these times and what they mean, click on Chinese medicine clock.

A Typical Wood patient

She’s 25, arrives in a rush about 5 minutes late, and as we walk towards the treatment room asks if we can be sure to finish on time as she’s booked herself in for a Presto-Pilates class which should finish just in time for a lunch appointment with a new prospect for work. She speaks quite quickly and pushes ahead of me on the way (even though she doesn’t yet know which treatment room she’ll be in). She’s wearing quite a lot green clothes today, I notice, slightly different from normal.

When it comes to deciding what to do, I’ve already made a pretty firm diagnosis as we reach the treatment room, before she explains what her problems are today!

Her underlying reason for coming is infertility even though she and her husband only started trying for a baby two months ago when she stopped the pill, but today she tells me her problem is neck tension and not enough sleep. When I question her, she explains that she needs to do some later-night work to connect with people elsewhere in the world and often rises early  for the same reason.

She’s chosen a scent that to my nose seems a little sour.

Pulses confirm the diagnosis

Her pulses show some tension (‘wiry’) in several places including her Stomach pulse, which is also a little ’empty’.

I ask her what she had for breakfast.

She had no breakfast, just a coffee on the way to me.

She receives my regular scolding for this, as I explain that acupuncture treatment uses the energy she gets from proper food, which does not include coffee. The wiry pulses are further indications of a possible Wood imbalance and her Liver pulse is very full. There is tension in her Gallbladder pulse.

To calm her down and just confirm a couple of questions in my mind I do some abdominal palpation which further confirms the Liver/Gallbladder diagnosis.

So I was right in my preliminary Wood diagnosis. But she also has this emptiness in her Stomach pulse so I treat her Stomach source point with moxa to energise it enough to give me Qi to work with.

Then I use several Liver points to steady her. The pulse wiriness and fullness disappear, and as this happens, indeed, almost as I insert the needles she gives a big sigh and goes to sleep!

Later, I wake her and suggest that she postpone her Pilates class. She’s quite dreamy by now, almost ‘spaced-out’ so I tell her to walk around the car park for a few minutes taking deep breaths to get back to normality before driving off.

What were the pointers to Wood here?

woman in white shirt holding black ipad and 2 kids. Wood element tendencies.
Doing more than one thing at a time! Very Wood element like! Photo by Vitolda Klein
  • Arrived late, in a hurry
  • Was planning to fit me in, plus a Pilates class before a working lunch
  • Pushed ahead of me on the way to the treatment room
  • Talks fast and urgently
  • Sour smell
  • Wearing more green than usual. I wouldn’t use this as a pointer to Wood on its own, but it supports the other evidence.
  • She and her husband are in a rush for a baby, even though it may be too early to expect a return of normal periods – and fertility – immediately after stopping the pill, though of course it’s not unknown
  • Before I ask her about her periods, she launches into a description of her neck tension and insomnia.
  • She had no breakfast today, just coffee to ‘compensate’.


To be honest, I could probably have gone straight to treatment without taking her pulses or palpating her abdomen.

However, it’s good to have objective measures to gauge the effects of acupuncture points used and very often, the pulses change immediately after inserting needles, if the locations were chosen well.

If there is no such change, it may suggest weakened vitality – which should already have been obvious when taking the pulses and from the general demeanour – or a poor diagnosis.

(By the way, this is not the woman in the photo!)

The Other Elements


Also read:

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