As the Chinese New Year--2012 is the Year of the Water Dragon--is upon us, I encourage you to take the celebration as a reminder of the wisdom that the principles of Chinese medicine can offer us.

The Five Elements—Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water—form the foundation of traditional Chinese medicine. Separately, each element has specific characteristics and strengths. But together, the Five Elements represent something much larger: five stages of growth and transformation of all living beings.

You may note parallels between a particular element and your own personality. This is typical. Just keep in mind the overarching Chinese tradition of balance. No personality is 100% one element--there is a facet of each element within us all!

The 1st Element: Wood
Wood is often considered the first element because it represents new beginnings, such as birth, growth, expansion, and youth. A tree is one symbol of this developmental phase of creative and spiritual awakening.

The Wood element's primary season is spring, and its color is green. Its primary emotion is anger, and the reactive climate is windy.

Are You a Wood Person?

Balanced: If you're a healthy Wood person, you have a strong immune system. In personality, you're a born leader with strong boundaries to protect you from overwhelm, stress, and conflict.

Imbalanced: A Wood person lacking balance might experience symptoms such as vision problems, a weak immune system, numbness or tremors, and headaches. Mentally, you might feel unable to make decisions or be easily stressed, moody, depressed, and closed-minded.

Foods for Wood: Look for sour tastes, berries, and green vegetables. Spring is a perfect time for a diet-based detox.

The 2nd Element: Fire
The Fire Element represents a stage of peak growth and power. In this phase, energy is harnessed to its "full potential." It might be described as vibrant, intense, concentrated, active, and expansive.

The Fire element's primary season is summer, its color is red. Fire's primary emotion is joy, and the climate is hot.

Are You a Fire Person?

Balanced: A Fire person at his or her best is happy and excited, inspiring, friendly, and outgoing.

Imbalanced: A Fire person with elemental deficits or excesses might experience a pale complexion or flushed face, hyperactivity, or palpitations. Mentally, you may suffer from restlessness, anxiety, insomnia (or sleep plagued with bad dreams), a lack of joy, or an inability to follow through.

Foods for Fire: Add bitter tastes, brightly colored fruits and vegetables, mint teas, salads, lemons, and limes to your diet.

The 3rd Element: Earth
The Earth Element represents nurturing transformations and is a prime balancing force in the Five Element cycle. Positioned in the middle of the circle, the Earth Element acts as an anchor, lending the stability that ensures a smooth flow from one element to the next. Digestion and metabolism, Earth's primary tasks, are the source of health and wellbeing of the entire body.

The Earth element's primary season is late summer, its color is yellow, its climate is dampness, and its emotion is worry.

Are You an Earth Person?

Balanced: A healthy Earth person will experience balance and stability, be firmly "grounded," and be mindful to acquire and plan for what's needed (including money).

Imbalanced: For an Earth person, imbalances might result in cloudy or obsessive thinking, anxiety, or a feeling of being "burned out." Physically, fatigue, weight issues, bruises, abdominal pain, sugar cravings, sinus congestion, indigestion, nausea, and poor muscle tone can also surface.

Foods for the Earth Person: Eat high-quality, balanced cooked food; eliminate large, sugary, or cold meals. The taste is of the Earth element is sweet, such as what's found in grains, beans fruits, and yellow fruits and vegetables.

The 4th Element: Metal
The Metal Element consolidates and separates what is spent or unnecessary from what must be stored for later use. This part of the cycle is more inward and focused on conserving with little or no growth.

The Metal element's primary season is autumn, its color is white, and its climate is dry.

Are You a Metal Person?

Balanced: In peak condition, a Metal person has a strong defense system against illness, healthy skin and hair, clear breathing, and regular elimination.

Imbalanced: A Metal person with elemental deficits or excesses might experience shortness of breath, exhaustion, asthma, dry skin, nasal congestion, deep cough, or skin issues. Thinking might be clouded by grief or sadness as well as the tendency to repeat same errors and be overly judgmental.

Foods for the Metal Person: Meet your flavor preferences with pungent foods, potatoes, garlic, onion, and fruits that need to be peeled.

The 5th Element: Water
The Water Element symbolizes unity, tranquility, and quiet. This is the period for rest, a stage of dormancy and preparation for a new beginning--for the life cycle to begin again.

The Water element's color is black or blue, its climate is cold, its season is winter, and its emotion is fear.

Are You a Water Person?

Balanced: If you're a Water person in top form, you display inner strength and courage. You possess calm energy, clear thinking, and a strong belief in your principles.

Imbalanced: Out of balance, a Water person might be fearful, lack drive, and be unable to follow through on ideas. Physically, back pain, fatigue, cold, water retention, weakness, or perhaps bipolar disorder may also result.

Foods for the Water Element: Look for healthful salty flavors such as seaweed and kelp. Include in the diet mushrooms, squash, melons, and grapes; blue, black, and purple foods; soups and stews for the cold seasons and cooling foods during the summer.

Perhaps you identify strongly with the personality of one particular element--or one element's listing of imbalance symptoms. That's good: Knowing where you are is an excellent starting point. The next step is fine-tuning in order to rebalance yourself. And now, on the cusp of a new year, is a wonderful time to make that commitment!

Author's Bio: 

Roberta Roberts Mittman, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., M.S., is a nutritional and lifestyle consultant, holistic mindset mentor, and nationally board-certified acupuncturist. Using natural, drug-free techniques, Roberta opens the door to complete mind-body health. Roberta's goal is not only to relieve patients' illness and discomfort, but to help them set realistic goals for physical and mental preventative care and overall wellness. Roberta believes in empowering individuals to be their own best healers.