Five Elements

Titanya Monique Dahlin

The Five Elements

Movement and The Rhythm of The Five Elements


by Titanya Monique Dahlin

I believe movement to be one of the greatest forms of healing.  Memories of trauma can be trapped within our cells for years before they are able to be released. Our bodies hold secrets to everything we need to know.  There is a beautiful remembrance in the body that houses our challenges, lessons and freedoms and if we listen to it, life takes on a depth and fullness as well as a freedom from confusion and judgment.    If only we are able to recognize and move to the ancient rhythms within us and mirrored in nature, we will  not be so stuck in the “rights and wrongs” of judgment, angst and confusion.  

          Our ancestors knew this.  They danced with the rhythms of nature.  This was their religion and their celebration. They danced to achieve ecstasy and through this, they reached God.  They moved and danced to release their demons and illnesses.  They danced through birth, through death, through storms and through growth.  To dance and move is to tap into the divine mystery that is you.

     More than 5,000 years ago, The ancient Chinese knew this too.  They looked at the nature around them and realized that there are Five major rhythms in life that we tend to cycle through and have inside our bodies, as well. The Five Rhythms they observed were in Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal.

       Recently I was on the panel for the Five Rhythms (Element) class in Sanibel, Florida. A question came about, as to the 5 Rhythms, the 5 movements.  Being my expertise for the last 10 years, I have taught movement/belly dance workshops within the Five Elements.  As far as I know, I was the first to introduce these two elements together (Middle Eastern dance and The Five Elements). I love teaching this ancient oriental art form of the Five Elements, more than 5,000 years old.  It is constantly humbling me and teaching me who people are inside.  Instead of having negative reactions to people, I am now more able to understand their element and “meet” the person themselves.      

In the Five Element panel, In Sanibel, I realized, later on, that I had not given my full knowledge, due to nerves or forgetfulness.  I would like to address, in depth, the “whys and wherefores” of how certain elements are drawn to certain types of movement and what they might need instead, for health reasons.

     Firstly, you will find yourself gravitating to a type of movement that probably is just right for your element type.  It will harmonize and resonate with your own natural rhythm.   You will excel in this type of movement.  Sometimes, the challenge will be to dive into something that is unfamiliar to you or difficult, such as dancing into another element’s movement.  This not only will give you an experience of that element and how they react in the world, but it might bring up challenges and resistances that if continued will be very good for your growth. And perhaps it can be the thing that cures the physical and emotional wounds, as well.

     We all have each of the Five Elements within us, but one or two elements can appear stronger than others in your life.  We all move and flow within the cycle of the wheel, depending on what we are dealing with in our lives – starting projects, gaining strength,  mothering, going within, letting go, etc. It’s all about moving through these rhythms in life. When one “rhythmic energy’ gets stuck and there is no movement, there can be trouble, and illness can follow.

     Here is how the Flow of the wheel goes ~ In nature’s rhythm, it is Winter, Spring, Summer Indian Summer and Autumn.  The elements of the wheel are represented by – Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal. Water nourishes wood, Wood burns to make Fire, Fires ashes decompose to make Earth, Earth crystallizes to form Metal, and Metal when melted flows as Water.  You can all look on your Five Element Chart for this.  It has a few names.   It is called the “Creation or Nuturing” cycle or “The Mother-Daughter” cycle.  We will only be talking about the “Flow” or “Creation” cycle in this article, as they refer to movement.


         Let’s begin with one of my favorite elements, Fire!   (Sorry, I’m not starting with water, which is wear I should start, since it is the baby of all elements and actually begins the wheel, but I’m not. Ha!)  Fire element loves to move and dance, fly and jump.  They connect well to movements like Aerobics, Salsa or fast African dancing. They love to dance wildly moving into frenzy, until they heap on the floor in exasperated satisfaction.  Dancing is a form of healing to the fire. They need to get their emotions out through movement. You often see fires flailing their arms about wildly when they dance.  This is good for them. Think of flames of a forest fire going everywhere.  This dance is easy for them. What’s difficult is that they can get very hot when dancing, so they need to have some water nearby; A perfect ending to a great dance. When I teach my Moving Five Element class, at the beginning of the day, the students love the energetic movements of fire. They laugh, they smile and they dance freely with wild abandon.   By the end of the day, everyone is “pooped out” and begging me to stop. They need a break and now experience what it’s like when fires burn themselves out.  In my dance workshops, I use wild Gypsy Skirt dancing with passionate attitudes on Fire day. Skirts are flying and there is high energy in the room. We dance passionately to Latin beats and everyone is swept away in this friendly and fun energetic atmosphere.

        The next element on the wheel we come to is Earth. It is the rhythm of the Mother. She likes to keep the balance and a sweet connection to everyone. Earth’s element loves medium paced music and movements.  Everything is nice and easy, not too fast, not too slow. A nice reggae earth beat makes them feel at home; a beat where they can sway with the beat of mother earth herself. The rhythm and movements are comfortable.  There are no surprises and everyone is smiling and love is in the air. If they are dancing outside and barefoot, all the better. Connecting to nature through movement is natural to them and they feel alive. Earth element people love to make sure that everyone is well taken care of and they also like to connect to each other through the dance.   In my dance classes, we use the Belly Dance, itself.  Hawaiian dancing is also another wonderful earth dance and some forms of African or Brazilian, but only with easy beats.  These dances are ancient and come from the everyday activities of the people, including celebrations like childbirth, weddings, deaths and sacred passages.   These ancient dances are perfect, because so many of them were women’s dances dancing for women through the connections of life and celebrating nature around them. Earth’s love this symbolism.

        Metal Element is about endings and letting go.  It is the end of element cycles, surrendering aspects of  our life that are no longer needed.  It is both the process of dying and the end of life when we slow down and contemplate the next stage. The Metal Element person gravitates towards movements that stretch their lithe, lean and thin bodies such as yoga or ballet. They also like to have a sense of order within the room. In Yoga, they are following a series of set movements and usually there is no music involved, only stillness and form. Metals don’t like anything that would jar the body too much.   They like to be still and contemplate, such as in meditation. They also like to move alone and not have any connection to others, so in Yoga, it’s perfect because you are on your own path. Metals usually seek out yoga gurus or become a yoga guru themselves. Our lungs that breathe are governed by metal element. Yoga is perfect because it uses both breathing techniques and meditation.  The Archetype for the lungs is the Angel and it is the last meridian on the element wheel. She breathes out everything that is bad detoxifying the whole system and then breathes in all that is good. Metal is also the last element in the wheel of the cycle.  The angel resides between the worlds of life and death, and as she breathes in and lifts up above the earth, she opens her lungs wide to a new world.  As she releases her breath, she comes back down to earth, and holds this dear earth close. The lesson is to hold dearly on the relaxed exhaltation what you love and release it all with outstretched arms to the heavens on the in-breath.  Releasing our breath is the last thing we do when we die.

        The next on the wheel is Water.  This is the beginnings of new projects where one can get very excited.  It is also the beginning of life, where we are all babies that need to be taken care of, carried, in fact, by the elements around us. The Water element person, of course, gravitates towards the Water.  Anything to do with water is great for them, swimming, boating, canoeing, water aerobics. The water lifts them up and carries them, so to speak. They also usually need to be living next to a body of water in some form or another.  Think of a slow body of water and how it moves.  This is like the fluid movement of Tai Chi, which waters seem to fall into and find themselves doing easily.  In my workshops, on “Water Day”, we dance our emotions to what we may be experiencing in the moment or we choose a wide variety of movements and flow through them in improvisation.  Waters like having no form, so that they are allowed to move with whatever their bodies want to do.  For water, I have found it very easy for them to go into this world of moving their emotions, because sometimes, the words just get so stuck in the depths of their souls that no one seems to be able to reach them.  They feel alone, but, this is often what they like, to be alone.  Sometimes they feel so lonely and wish there was a lifejacket to rescue them. They were under the water in their own world, that they didn’t realize that there was someone there for them, all along. Improvisation with movement is a great expression for them, although it sometimes needs some coaxing to bring it out of them.       Speaking of Water, I want to make a reminder to drink water, whenever working out.  A lack of water will stress the heart, raise body temperature, bring on fatigue or cloudy thinking, and reduce lack of elimination, especially during movement.

       And now we come to the element of Wood. This is the stage in life that symbolizes the rebellious teenager, to me. Woods are great at setting boundaries (and breaking them) and being self sufficient and taking care of themselves; even getting anger out of their body is easier for them than most.  Many woods find themselves getting involved in some kind of martial arts.  It requires mastery and discipline, which they like within a class room setting.  They love competition, and what do they do in martial arts but graduate through different levels with the colored belt system.  Most woods tend to continue and become teachers in this movement form or even enter competitions within Martial arts.  If it is not in this form, they will find competition within another form.

       Within my workshops, I teach the art of the drum solo dance for ‘Wood Day”.  In order to move with the rhythms of the drums, each movement needs to accent the drum beats.  This isn’t about flow and glide. When you move your hips from right to left, I explain about hitting the sides of a box.  My sister, a wood adds, “Now, think about breaking that box!”  It is about thrusting your hip out and knowing how far to place it.  The drum solo is about boundaries and control like woods.  They can sometimes be  so stuck in their bodies, especially in their joints, you can see it.  They get tight and rigid in their muscles.  They even tend to have shorter square like body forms. Being so thick, like an oak, they are cut off from their feelings, and later on in life, can develop arthritis.

       So, now that we’ve identified what movement each element loves, we now come to what each element could benefit from, but might not love.  These movements can help them to grow through their element blocks and prolong and strengthen their health.

       Let’s take a look at the Element wheel again.  As we turn clockwise, we notice how elements move into each other.  This is also called “The Mother-Daughter Cycle”, as I explained before, in which each element is fed by the one element before it.

        Let’s start with Wood and go backwards, counter-clockwise around the wheel.  The “Mother” to Wood is Water.  Because woods can get so stuck and rigid in their attitudes and bodies, bodies, they need to learn to bend and flow.  Becoming like a Willow tree, they learn to bend (letting emotions roll off of them), rather than an old Oak tree that is rigid and stiff. Sometimes when woods get that anger out of their body, in their wood way, it shocks every other element in its path. Their stern voice which can appear as if they are pointing their finger at you, makes the other elements feel as if they are being yelled at. If they would move into the movement of Tai Chi with easy flow, they would learn patience and balance in order to know how to speak to the other elements.  As well, Woods can get so stuck in their own visions and views about something, that later on in life, this could make it more difficult to find a mate (if they haven’t).  Get woods in the water!!! Find a Water sport that you like, but get into it!  That water is gonna’ feed your roots.

       Let’s look at Waters.  Waters tend to go so inward in their own worlds, where it’s just so hard for them to even speak about their feelings, that no one can reach them. Let’s go to their“ Mother” on the wheel and we see that it is Metal.  Hmmm.  Well, Waters tend to hold a lot of water in their skin, almost to the point of edema (Bladder Meridian). The movement of Metal is Yoga, which is all about stretching the muscles and limbs.  The meditation aspect of Yoga is also good as it brings them out of their inner world, but it isn’t as jarring as other ways.  Metaphorically, when they are down in the depths of the ocean, the water’s experience feels as if they can’t breathe or see their way out of difficulties.  Fear creeps in, which can show up on Kidney Meridian. Breathing is a reminder to them and through this, their cells begin to move and oxygen is distributed through their inner world. Thoughts and feelings are brought to the surface to examine. Their lesson is to realize that there is a way out of the dark ocean and to swim and stretch to the surface to see the light. Metal makes the water crystallize, so that it’s pliable enough to look at and move towards.

       Now we examine the element of Metal. Metals can detach from people and can cut off from even their best friends, at a moment’s notice. Large Intestine Meridian which is governed by Metal is about letting go. They might form a hard exterior, like armor, which protects them from being hurt, yet also does not let anyone in. Metal element is ruled by grief, and sometimes they can avoid the expressions of grief and try to stuff it down.  They can appear as if they think they are “greater-than thou” and everyone else as well.   Their lesson is to learn compassion and community.  Who best to teach them this than their “Mother”- Earth?  Metals need a movement that brings them more into flow and a connection to nature and out of their heads as  they can get detached from nature as well.  Belly dance, Hawaiian, even African and Reggae dancing can bring them back to their mother connection. Earth gives up ore and salts from the ground in order to create metal. When Metals dance on the earth, they can be fed this unconscious nuturing support from it. To experience these body orientated dances is very good for them and can bring them out of their heads. Being in a movement class where there is a connection to others will be hard for them, almost like a conservative person going to a nude beach, but this is what they need.   Besides, when the metals get into those classes, with all those earth elements around, they will be supported, accepted and loved,  Metals have a hard time receiving compliments; just wait till they walk into a classroom of Earths. Ha!

       Okay, let’s look at Earth. Earth’s tend to hold a lot of fat around their bodies, which makes them round and curvy.  It is harder for them to metabolize food or situations so this can show up on Spleen Meridian.  The “Mother” to Earth is Fire.  Fires metabolize their situations really quick, so it makes sense for Earth element to do something that is out of their comfort zone. This will enable them to learn the rhythm of change as well as invigorating that Spleen meridian. Earth’s need a form of activity that helps them speed up their metabolism, so African, Salsa, or even Aerobic dancing is all great for them. Fire Element is all about blood and circulation, which Earth’s desperately need to move within them or it just gets stuck and can form blood clots and circulation problems. Do you know the old story that most gardeners know of?  After a torrid fire where everything gets laid waste and the earth is black with soot, wait till the next spring and you’ll be surprised. Now, where there once was soot, the most beautiful flowers will appear and new life is given to the earth from that fire. The Earth is renewed through the power of Fire.

       Next we have Fire element.  The “Mother” of fire is Wood.  Fire elements tend to be very scattered and disorganized in their life, their emotions, and sometimes even their relationships. It is very good for them to go towards a movement like martial arts, which is organized and disciplined.  It brings about boundaries, which is also hard for fires to keep.  Fire’s lessons are about making a decision, despite all the vacillating possibilities in life to choose from. Also, Martial Arts have a certain quality of aggression that is expressed outwardly and directly, still maintaining a sense of boundary and discipline. This could be very good for a fire, which tends to have sometimes, shocking out bursts of anger, that rage out of control, burning down everyone in their path.  Many Fires have a sense of un-groundedness to them, as if they could just fly away at any moment, onto the next party.  Ha ha! The Wood movement brings focus that helps them get grounded in order to make that decision in life. The Wood element provides fuel for the Fire.

       Taking the elements in their personality roles, they have a relationship to each other.    I’ve noticed that each of  the “Element Mothers” that deal with their “Element Daughter” counter-parts, have a frustration with them when they can’t quite move into what their daughters need.  They also have a longing to wish they had what their daughters have.  My sister, whom I teach these workshops with, is an intense Wood and she loves it.  She constantly wants more Fire in her life, but when she’s around them, she can only take them for a short amount of time and then they exhaust and frustrate her.  Ha ha, me and Mom are Fires!  Yes, she does tend to teach us many things.

        Now, what if you are a combination of a “Mother-Daughter” mix, well how lucky you are!  But as you probably already know, as different as you are from your mother, there are always some difficulties, as you try to juggle these two elements together.  The blessings are always found in the poisonous concoctions.

And if you are feeling as if you can’t find your own movement (although I don’t believe it), remember the Orients say that the Sixth Element is “Sympathy for the Self”.

There you go!   I love teaching the Five Elements through movement.  One can experience so much more. If you’d like to find out more about my five Element workshops, contact me below. The Five Elements are fascinating and I am continually learning their beautiful surprises. I hope that you can too.

Titanya Monique Dahlin is of course, Donna Eden’s daughter, but also so much more!  She is a multi-dimensional artist creating “Energy Medicine Charts for workshops;  a  trained Waldorf teacher, professional Middle Eastern dancer, Polynesian dancer, professional story teller, professional speaker with national awards and award-winning stage actress. Known for her mythological dance dramas and one-woman stage productions, such as Scheherazade -The Veil Behind the Blade, she empowers the feminine spirit and captivates the audience worldwide with empowering messages of healing and mesmerizing dance.    Throughout the year, Titanya assists holistic health pioneer, Donna Eden in her Energy Medicine workshops leading her own popular form of movement, Energy Dance! Titanya has been incorporating the Chinese Five Element system into her belly dance workshops since 1996. Combining her teachings with her belly dancing sister, Dondi, they teach together at annual resort workshops in this very unique style.  She is also an animated character in the popular new age video game, Journey to the Wild Divine.  Visit her website at: www.TitanyaSpirit.com