Aromatherapy and the 5 Elements

I’m a big believer that nature has all the answers; which is probably why I am an aromatherapist!  But it’s a common theme throughout most holistic practices.  For centuries we have been looking to nature for healing, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), in particular, based its remedies on the idea that there are five basic natural elements and that in understanding what each represents we can balance our mind, body and soul in order to find our way back to wellbeing.  

We can also support this idea further by using essential oils that correspond to each element So, in this article, we will explore what the 5 elements are as a tool to help us understand ourselves better, how we can cycle through each of them, what they represent and how we can create balance using essential oils!

Water Element

The water element is related to our innate wisdom.  When we were born we had an inner knowing – an intuition which guided us through life, that is still there in all of us, underneath our thinking that it isn’t.  We forget over time that we were born with this water energy, as we lose trust in the world and begin to fear things.  This is the emotion of the water element: fear.  

Each of the elements has what we call a ‘season’ in our cycle of life, and this element represents winter – which is something that we all cycle through throughout times in our lives.  It is the element which represents our dark night of the soul – our need to control and our inability to just trust and flow.  When we are in a state of fear, it is almost certainly our Water element that is imbalanced.  

Emotional symptoms of this might include panic attacks, fear of failure, phobias, workaholism or lack of drive, feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, depression, feeling sensitive, anxious, worried or nervous, and we may cry.

Physical symptoms can include finding it difficult to rise in the morning, lower back pain, muscular tension up either side of the spine, sacral pain, bags under the eyes, low libido, kidney infection, reproductive disorders, swelling, aversion to cold and poor bladder control, or UTI’s, as well as general fatigue.  In particular, this might occur at 3-5pm or 5-7pm, which is the Bladder or Kidney time in the Chinese clock of ailments (which helps see the time of day you experience symptoms to work out the elemental imbalance).

If any of these symptoms are you, then it could be that your Water element needs a little balancing!  Though, it is important to remember that underneath, we are always connected to our wisdom, and fear is just a natural human response to things.  Water cleanses, nourishes and reflects, and reminds us that we have all we need – just like the ocean knows how to move, we too know how to be ok; we have wisdom within.  

Essential Oils for the Water Element  

To re-balance, we can easily use essential oils in our lives to support.  The essential oils that help with the water element are:

  • Jasmine
  • Chamomile
  • Lemon
  • Sandalwood
  • Bergamot

But how to use them?  Well, with the water element, we want to balance by resting, and nurturing ourselves.  Doing things like yoga, meditation, and being near water – for example having Epsom salt baths - can be useful Water element balancing activities to remind us that there is a flow to life.  So, here are my 3 recommended Water element aromatherapy blends:

  1. Have a bath with Epsom salts to relax and restore. Mix half a cup of Epsom salts with 3 drops Jasmine, 2 drops Bergamot and 1 drop Chamomile and mix well.  Run a warm bath, and add the salt mixture into the running water, and then sit back and enjoy the nourishment.  Notice how you are always okay in this moment.
  2. Prepare a Water element massage blend.  Mix 15ml Grapeseed oil with 3 drops Chamomile, 2 drops Sandalwood and 1 drop Lemon and massage into the body in the direction towards the heart.  This is a lovely blend for after a morning shower, to re-energise whilst creating calm.
  3. Try some yoga and meditation, whilst diffusing a beautiful Water element blend – try 3 drops Bergamot, 3 drops Lemon and 1 drop Jasmine.

Wood Element

Next in the cycle of elements is Wood; the element of Spring, growth and new beginnings.  Spring represents the light, the hope, and it is an energy of rising-up.  It governs our relationship to order, planning and control, but if we do not step into our fully expressed purpose, we will become frustrated and angry.  This element is all about our emotional flexibility, but also leads to the emotion of rage.  When it is in balance, we are confident and intuitive and have a clear vision of our path, and interact with the world in a relaxed way.  If we aren’t, we may end up angry, which is the emotion of Wood.

Emotional symptoms that might manifest in a Wood imbalance include anger, agitation, aggression, bitterness, bossiness, indecision, impatience, irritability, jealousy, over-planning, resentment, shouting, having a rigid attitude and being judgmental, controlling, overly neat, or messy and chaotic.

Physical symptoms include stiff, tense neck and shoulders, between the shoulder blades, yellow eyes and skin, tired, weak, stiff joints, light sensitivity, headaches, menstrual pain, and muscle spasms.  The organs of this element are the liver and gall bladder, so any symptoms there can point you to Wood, especially if they are experienced more between 1-3am or 11pm-1am.

If this picture is you, then you could have a Wood imbalance.  If you are angry, don’t fear - it can be a nice reminder that you have hope in this season of the elemental cycle – you are no longer in the depths of fearful Winter, but moving into Spring!  Give some of the following essential oils a try to help you re-balance.

Essential Oils for the Wood Element  

  • Rose
  • Roman Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • Cedarwood
  • Vetiver

With the Wood element, we want to create ourselves some space to hear what is going on – meditation and mindfulness can be really helpful, but as this is an energy of anger, exercise of expression can be really helpful – whether martial arts, yoga or dance!  Here are my 3 recommended Wood blends:

  1. Diffuse 3 drops Lavender, 2 drops Rose and 1 drop Chamomile essential oil. Grab a journal, and get your thoughts down on paper – who do you want to be?
  2. Prepare a Wood element massage blend.  Mix 15ml Grapeseed oil with 3 drops Lavender, 2 drops Cedarwood and 1 drop Vetiver and massage into the body in the direction towards the heart.  This is a lovely blend for just before bedtime.
  3. Why not dance or do some martial arts?  Take an aromatherapy inhaler with you, with 2 drops of Rose and 1 drop Cedarwood and sniff it on the go!

Fire Element

The Fire element is all about change – and it’s the season of Summer.  This is a fun element, bringing transformation, and freedom, and it is a lot about joy.  If we are in harmony, disappointments we experience are simply part of our learning, and continue to open our hearts, but closing our hearts leads us into an imbalance.  We simply need to remember that it is okay to feel all of our emotions.  When in balance, we are loving, spontaneous and full of joy, laughter and creativity and motivation – this is the Summer of life!

When negative emotions overtake us, this can mean our Fire element is out of balance, and we may experience the Fire element’s emotion of hate.

Emotional symptoms of Fire imbalance can include lack of self-love, poor self-esteem, sensitivity, deep sadness, emotional volatility, hysteria, unease, agitation, anxiety, a closed hearted, cruelness, feeling creatively blocked, withdrawn or being over-loud, mentally vague, confused, unable to connect, not hearing one’s own truth, and having poor boundaries.

Physically, this can manifest as chest or heart pain or tension in the chest, blood pressure issues, insomnia, artery problems, neck and shoulder stiffness, an overactive mind and mental fatigue, coeliac disease, frozen shoulder, dizziness, poor circulation, heartburn and immunity issues, with many colds or infections.  The organs associated with this element include the heart and small intestine, and the time associated with Fire is 11am-1pm, and 1-3pm.

If this is more you than any of the other elemental descriptors, then you might have a Fire imbalance!  If we can learn that by loving ourselves, we set-ourselves free, and can live in all of our emotions, we can re-balance and experience our innate joy, personal power and strength.  Try these essential oils to help you regain balance:

Essential Oils for the Fire Element  

  • Geranium
  • Orange
  • Black Pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Basil

For balancing the  element, we want to surrender, whilst tapping back into what we really love.  Spend as much time painting, drawing, dancing, writing, singing, and enjoying time with friends and family as possible.  You might want to take my key Fire blends with you!

  1. Pop 3 drops Geranium, 2 drops Orange and 1 drop Basil in an aromatherapy burner or diffuser and do an activity that you love, whether that’s dancing, singing or writing – figure out what you love!
  2. Want to do something outdoors?  Take an aromatherapy inhaler with 2 drops of Cinnamon and 1 drop Orange and inhale while out and about.
  3. Prepare a Fire element morning moisturiser.  Mix 15ml Moisturising Lotion with 3 drops Orange, 2 drops Geranium and 1 drop Black Pepper and massage into the body in the direction towards the heart.  This is a lovely blend for the morning, before you head off to enjoy the day!

Earth Element

The Earth element is that season of late summer, or between seasons, which is all about our connection.  When we think of earth, we think of our groundedness, our presence to what is.  In balance, Earth is content, grounded, present and connected, and it is the foundation for the other elements.  It is nourished, both in body, soul and mind, and we are calm and loving, and free, feeling able to support others.

Out of balance, we instead become needy.  When we are out of touch with our ever-present connectedness, we drop into the Earth element emotion of worry.

Emotional symptoms of Earth imbalance include neediness, emotional volatility, worrying, over-protectiveness, obsession, possessiveness, being clingy, having no routine or being overly habitual, feeling unsupported, unbalanced or scattered, emotional eating, feeling emotions in the tummy and suffering with mind fog.

Physically, this may manifest as sweet cravings, hunger, overeating or loss of appetite, bloating, water retention, heavy menstruation, diabetes, candida, poor energy, acidic blood, mucous, gastric problems, excess fat, and pain or stiffness around the navel.  It is the element of the spleen, pancreas and stomach, and symptoms are typically worse between 7-9am, and 9-11am.

If this is more you than any of the other elements, then you might want to balance by nourishing yourself with experiences that feed your soul, body and mind.  Try these essential oils:

Essential Oils for the Earth Element  

  • Ho Leaf
  • Cedarwood
  • Geranium
  • Rosewood
  • Juniper

For balancing Earth, we want to connect with nature, walking barefoot, taking time to rediscover ourselves and doing our favourite things.  Try these beautiful Earth blends:

  1. Want to do something outdoors?  Take an Earth element inhaler with 2 drops of Rosewood and 1 drop Cedarwood and sniff while out and about.
  2. Prepare a grounding massage blend.  Mix 15ml Grapeseed oil with 3 drops Geranium, 2 drops Ho Leaf and 1 drop Juniper and massage into the body in the direction towards the heart.  Use this beautiful blend before doing a grounding activity - such as walking outside - and enjoy nourishing your skin with it as a ritual!
  3. When you’re indoors, reconnect by bringing nature inside with you: diffuse 3 drops Geranium, 2 drops Rosewood and 1 drop Ho Leaf.

Air/Metal Element

The Air element is often also described as ‘Metal’ in TCM, and it is all about taking in and letting go – the part of the cycle associated with grief, but also with the death of all that we think we are, and the reconnection to our true, grounded, connected nature.   This element almost ties together all of the elements in a beautiful reminder that all we desire to be, we already are, but we forget this as we move through the cycles of life.  The Air / Metal element is all about inspiration; about taking an expansive breath!  In balance, we can inhale and exhale fully, in trust that the next breath will naturally come, just as life intended.  We trust the process of grief, learning from each experience and gaining wisdom, trusting in life’s flow.  It is the season of Autumn; change.

The imbalanced emotion of Air/Metal is grief, and lack of trust in letting go.

Emotionally, this may manifest as feeling uninspired, bored, hopeless, depressed, isolated, and pessimistic, with the inability to let go, feeling constricted, stuck, judgmental, cynical, and stuck in patterns with difficult thoughts.  

Physically, this shows as shallow breathing or breathing difficulties, asthma, fatigue, lots of sighing, lacking vitality, pain and tension in the upper spine, mucous and dryness, as well as diarrhoea, constipation, irritable bowel, bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain, sinus issues, colds, skin problems and bad breath.  The organs associated are lungs and large intestine, and the time of day is 3-5am, or 5-7am.

If this is you, more than the other elemental imbalances, you might want to try the following essential oils:

Essential Oils for the Air/Metal Element

  • Rose
  • Frankincense
  • Myrrh
  • Yarrow
  • Clary Sage

For balancing Air/Metal, we want to engage in spiritual practice which invites us to see that we are more than our human form, awakening to the greater force behind life.  If you aren’t spiritual, this can even be seeing that nature has a plan that is beyond all control, just as we do.  Try these beautiful Air/Metal blends, alongside meditation or mindfulness:

  1. Try a steam inhalation to help you focus on your breathing. Fill a bowl with boiling hot water and add 3 drops Rose, 3 drops Myrrh and 2 drops Yarrow. Pop a towel over your head, close your eyes and lean over the bowl, inhaling and exhaling for a few minutes at a time, allowing yourself to see how you are supported by your natural breath.
  2. Use a beautiful meditation blend for some quiet reflective time: diffuse 3 drops Rose, 2 drops Frankincense and 1 drop Myrrh to help you process and connect with the greater intelligence behind life.
  3. Enjoy a massage blend to help you relax into the process of life and your intuition.  Mix 15ml Grapeseed oil with 3 drops Clary Sage, 2 drops Rose and 1 drop Yarrow and massage into the body in the direction towards the heart.  Use this beautiful blend before doing a grounding activity – such as walking outside and enjoy nourishing your skin with it as a ritual!

Because this is a cycle, we tend to move through each element throughout our lives, and so you may require different essential oils at different times, as you move through the seasons.  Within each element you will meet different parts of yourself that you weren’t aware of, but it is a process that will remind you that underneath everything, you are always okay.  Nature has all the answers, and this whole concept is a tool to help us with deeper self-inquiry, based on the knowing that we have all the wisdom we need within us.  All we need to do is see that, and essential oils can support us through this in the most beautiful way, both with their therapeutic properties, and also in the way we use them to nurture ourselves.  

So grab your essential oils, carrier oils and other ingredients from from our website and get creative with your blends. Use them intuitively, and enjoy!

Nicole Barton
Consultant Aromatherapist

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