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Home > Self-Healing QiGong/Tuina > Five Phases

The Five Phases of Personal Evolution

By Bruce Eichelberger M.T.O.M., O.M.D. (China), L.Ac., Dipl.Ac. (NCCAOM)

If a species or idea is to survive for long, it must be fundamentally sound and able to adapt to its ever-changing environment. The 5,000 year-old concept of the Chinese Five Elemental Phases (Wu Xing) is an idea that continues its usefulness to this day.

The Five Phases of Personal Evolution is a model for human development and harmonious living based the structure and processes of the ancient Five Elemental Phases. It combines with these concepts aspects of the Native American Warrior's Path, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and a specific set of Qi Gong movements for cultivating Vitality. This synthesis represents a further evolution of the classical Five Phases.

Below is a skeletal representation of the Five-Phase Personal Evolution Model. Each phase as well as each interaction in this model matches major aspects of the traditional Five Phases.

How Each Phase Works

Each of the five phases is described in positive, process- oriented terms reflecting the "ideal" attributes of each. These ideal states are guidelines or objectives for balanced and integrated functioning. They also reflect the relationships and interactions between phases. In addition, there are descriptions of imbalances caused by either excessive or deficient activity in each phase.


Representing the heart as well as the Shen (Spirit), Fire corresponds with Opening - unconditional giving, responding to events with spontaneous resiliency and adaptability. Our ability to show compassion, experience joy, and share with others manifests here, as does the aliveness in our eyes.

Fire pathology shows as being too open-hearted (to the point of self- detriment); little or no sense of limits or boundaries in interpersonal relations; inability to give emotionally or to be spontaneous; lack of joy.


Corresponding with the spleen and Yi (Mind), Earth is associated with Connecting - patience, focusing thoughtful attention and making useful mental associations. It is also the ability to be clearly in the moment. Stability, home, service and tasting Life's abundance belong here.

Earth pathology manifests as obsessiveness, inability to be in the moment, acting in a scattered or distracted way, lack of awareness of surroundings, or difficulty moving (feeling 'stuck').


Metal (Gold), lungs and P'o (Corporeal Soul), corresponds with Releasing - stepping back from an experience to evaluate and sort it out, refining goals and directions and the ability to let go of excessive emotional attachments to people and events. Inspiration, acknowledging self and others and refining one's character all show up here.

Metal pathology is characterized by chronic grieving or sadness; aloofness; living in the past; extreme attachments; low self-esteem.


Water relates to Aligning, the kidneys and Zhi (Will) - setting foundations, maintaining integrity and balance, gathering energies and storing reserves. It is the ability to stay rooted even in the face of chaos. It may be thought of as a rudder in the flow of life. There are times where we enter the Unknown and must allow Life to guide us without preconceptions, judgments or panic. In such times, Aligning is our optimal response.

Water pathology shows up as lack of direction; inability to complete things; extremism; fear; fixation on only one way of doing things.


Wood, liver and Hun (Heavenly Soul), is expressed in the idea of Trusting. Focusing intention, doing your best and transcending limitations, both inwardly and outwardly, all correspond to this phase. This is where you reach out into new territory, and express creativity.

Wood pathology manifests as depression; being overly cautious; lack of courage; impulsiveness; lack of purpose; anger, irritability and frustration.

How The Phases Interact

The Phase interactions can be simply expressed thus:


is supported by Trusting
is controlled by Aligning (prevents excess)
controls Releasing (limits detachment)
supports Connecting


is supported by Opening
is controlled by Trusting (reaching beyond limits)
controls Aligning (prevents stagnation)
supports Releasing (being present to release past)


is supported by Connecting (releasing the past)
is controlled by Opening
controls Trusting (tempers impulsiveness)
supports Aligning (with Will)


is supported by Releasing
is controlled by Connecting (keeps it current)
controls Opening (keeps balance)
supports Trusting (foundation for further growth)


is supported by Aligning (foundation)
is controlled by Releasing (allows for focus)
controls Connecting (allows for going beyond limits)
supports Opening

Applications of the Five Phases

Any comprehensive, self-contained, self-balancing system has so many possible interactions that it is difficult to fully describe them. Here are a number of illustrative examples of how these ideas relate to one another (refer to the diagram above):

Example 1: Releasing

An aspect of Releasing is the quality of detachment. Healthy detachment is prevented from becoming excessive by keeping a sense of openness and adaptability (Releasing controlled by Opening). Similarly, since attachments are typically a function of past/future associations, a healthy releasing of such attachments is supported by being in the present (Connecting).

Example 2: Aligning

Aligning is also to a large extent the act of balancing and harmonizing all aspects of a situation. Since life is a flow of energy, a static balance is not healthy. Therefore balance must be an on-going process and is prevented from stagnating by providing the foundation for new expansion (Aligning supports Trusting), and staying in the ever-changing flow of the present moment (Aligning controlled by Connecting).

Example 3: Trusting

Just as each Phase is healthiest when supporting the following Phase in the nourishing cycle, it is also healthiest when applying limits to the following Phase on the controlling cycle. Trusting, an aspect of which is going beyond limitations, functions best when it can temper the tendency of Connecting to stay exclusively in the moment. When done appropriately, planning (another aspect of Trusting, i.e., going beyond the limited perception of the immediate here and now) tempers any tendency for imbalanced indulgence to be only in the here & now (Trusting controls Connecting). Planning also stimulates movement, which paradoxically makes spontaneous action more likely (Trusting supports Opening).

Effective Use

The most important question regarding this or any model is, "How can this information be put to effective use?" In the world at large the idea of the Five Phases have historically been used as guidance for everything from planting crops to family interactions to running governments and businesses. The above concepts are useful to guide personal growth and development.

Most essentially this set of concepts is a tool for self-examination and personal evolution. They are exceptional as a basis for meditation or incorporation into other yogic, meditative and/or affirmation practices. The Qi Gong exercises accompanying these concepts integrate them at a deep cellular / energy level, aiding in fuller understanding.

When working with others, the Five Phases may be used as a basis for evaluating personality traits and tendencies. In the context of a complete holistic treatment, appropriate counterbalancing and supporting affirmations might be assigned, or suggestions given to the patient to enhance, at the level of the patient's beliefs, the idea of total balance. Always, the goal is to contribute to the overall sense of balance, purpose and Vitality in a persons life.

Embodying the Five Phases as a tool for personal evolution is limited only by your imagination.

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger, OMD has dedicated more than 30 years to working with people seeking natural alternatives for relieving pain, stress and other health problems. He specializes in individually personalized treatments, addressing each patient's unique health situation with a combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine, metabolic typing, therapeutic exercise and medical qigong. Licensed in the State of Nevada as a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, he is also nationally certified in acupuncture and Chinese Herbology through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). "Quality of Life is Everything." You can reach him at his practice in Reno, Nevada. (775) 827-6901.

  1995 Bruce Eichelberger All rights reserved.

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