In this final installment about ways in which to use essential oils, I will address another of my favorite approaches to oil selection: the Five Elements. This framework for the elements is associated with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and as such, it directly relates to the meridian system; consequently, if you choose to select an oil with regard to its elemental correlate, you inherently will address one of the six organ systems in TCM. (The Fire element is linked to two systems: Heart/Small Intestine and Pericardium/Triple Warmer.)

It may be helpful to clarify that there are other element systems. For example, although ayurveda references five elements, their qualities are regarded differently and do not correlate with the names of TCM’s elements. In ayurveda, there is no Wood or Metal; instead, Wind and Ether round out Earth, Water, and Fire. Some combination of two of the five ayurvedic elements are present in each of the three doshas (vata, pitta, kapha). Thus, if you want to treat an issue with respect to ayurveda, you would work with a minimum of two oils.

Additionally, the Four Element system is widely known in the Western World. Although it was originally described to explain the substance of existence from a cosmogenic perspective, the elements—Air, Earth, Fire, Water—later became directly linked to Western astrology. Each sign is part of one of the four elemental groups; if you feel drawn to therapeutically address the qualities of an individual sign, then this system would be your entry point.

Special note: Although I prefer the Five Element system, due to its affiliation with TCM, either of the above approaches would be an interesting way to select oils. As I mentioned in Part One, intuition and personal preference rarely will lead you astray.

So, the first step to decide upon an oil from the standpoint of the Five Elements is to recall those components: Metal, Earth, Fire, Water, Wood. Because the colors associated with chakras do not correspond directly with those linked in TCM to their respective organ systems, I will stick to the function of each organ system: Subsequently, I would choose an oil or oils based on stimulating or sedating that process.

Metal’s system is the Lung/Large Intestine; intake, exchange, and elimination (digestive, respiratory, psychological, and energetic) are its functions. As you might expect, eucalyptus works wonders with Metal concerns, as would cypress, tea tree, or camphor. (There was some deep wisdom at play when moms and grandmas rubbed Vicks on a sick kid’s chest!)

Earth contains the Stomach/Spleen meridian system; as such, it supplies nourishment. Again, “home truths” can guide your way to oil selection: fennel and peppermint or spearmint—great digestive aids—help to soothe and balance Earth issues.

Again, Fire is comprised of two systems: Heart/Small Intestine and Pericardium/Triple Warmer. Circulation is the obvious physical function associated with Fire, but as TCM thinks of the Heart as the “spiritual mind” (Shen), self-realization is also associated with the Fire element. Therefore, you would want to select oils conducive to warming and stimulating (ginger and rosemary are good choices), and also to pacifying and transcending earthly concerns: I find that neroli, lavender, and jasmine are wonderfully suited for this purpose.

Next, Water’s organ system is Kidney/Bladder: its primary functions are purification and survival. Whenever feelings of fear or insecurity begin to creep in, the Water element needs to be empowered. My go-to choices to tonify the Kidney/Bladder system are vetiver and thyme. (If you can find red thyme, give that a whirl; not only will it help to harmonize the Water element, I find it to be a powerful force against muscle soreness.)

Finally, Wood relates to evolution and adaptation, and to physical growth and movement. Whenever you feel frustrated or tense, you need some “zesty” oils to help you break free of constraints. Excellent oils to approach the Wood element are any citrus: I prefer bergamot; lemon and grapefruit work well, too.

Have fun experimenting with your essentials!

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