The Movements of the Five Elements
by Titanya Monique Dahlin
I believe movement to be one of the greatest forms of healing. Movement has helped me time and time again to bring myself back to good health from extreme illness. Memories of trauma can be trapped within our cells for years until they are released by some freeing cure. Sometimes they stay there forever, never learning our lessons but leading to debilitating illness and maybe even death. Pioneer dancer Martha Graham, said that movement and the body never lie. Yes, our bodies hold secrets to everything we need to know, they house our challenges and lessons in life. If we listen to them connecting to the ancient stories within us, mirrored in our very nature, life takes on depth and fullness. We are freed from our own confusion and self-judgment and evolve on our journey in life flowing with more happiness and joy.
Our ancestors knew that movement was a form of natural healing. They danced with the rhythms of nature; this was their religion. They danced to achieve ecstasy and through movement, reach their own God. They shook and shimmied to release their demons and terrible illnesses. As a community, they danced through birth, through death and through every storm in life together. When we dance and move, we tap into the divine mystery that is you. Socrates learned to dance when he was seventy because he felt that an essential part of himself had been neglected.
More than 5,000 years ago, the ancient Chinese knew this veiled secret, as well. They were so connected to nature that they began to realize there were five major rhythms in life that we cycle through and embody inside our bodies, as well. The Five Rhythms they observed were Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal.
As a professional dancer for more than three decades, I began to combine my dance workshops with my knowledge of the Five Elements, while studying many forms of esoteric teaching. My mother introduced the Five Elements (which she calls the Five Rhythms) to my sister, Dondi and I when we were young. She taught Dondi and I about our elemental differences so that we would have compassion for each other, rather than constantly fight as young siblings.
My mother, is holistic health pioneer of Energy Medicine fame, Donna Eden, was one of the first to teach the relationships of The Five Elements in her workshops, around the world and people always want more information from her. The Five Elements have taught me more than any other system out there. Even when I get discouraged by my sister, who is Wood (and on my control cycle), I can also see that she has elements to teach me in my own life as I do with her. I need to create more boundaries in my life, as I am an Earth element. I also believe that I have taught Dondi some elements about softening her Wood attitude, at times. The Five Elements constantly humble and teach me about people. Instead of having negative reactions to people, I understand their element and “meet” them with their own human challenges and react in a more compassionate light.
As far as I know, I was the first to introduce Middle Eastern dance combined with The Five Elements in 1997. I dove into this work, researching both in books and intuitively observing students in my dance classes. A few years later, I brought my sister, Dondi Dahlin, into this work because she had the Wood element that I didn’t have and I felt she was a good Wood to work with. With my creativity and her business sense, we began to develop the Five Element Workshops further than my original concept. We integrated these two ancient art forms to create amazing week-long workshops that we’ve taught at retreat centers as an annual event, first at Feathered Pipe in Montana and then we continued the annual tradition at Omega Institute for more than two decades.
As the Movement Coordinator for the Eden Energy Medicine Certification Program, in this article I would like to address the “whys” of how certain elements are drawn to certain types of movement and how they could incorporate other movement into their lives for healthier balance.
In the first year of the Certification Program, 2006, I was on the teachers “question and answer” panel for the Five Elements and I was asked a question about movement and the elements. This question excited me and I began a research of my own intuition to write this article. Because my most natural form of language is movement and dance, I began to research how each individual element is drawn to a certain form of movement. This information about movement was not taught to me by my mother and so I feel excited to share this article with everyone.
We all have each of the Five Elements within us, but one or two elements can appear stronger in your life than the others and this is what we portray to the world. Through life, we also evolve and flow within the cycle of the wheel, depending on what we are dealing with in our lives – starting projects, gaining strength, parenting, going within, letting go, etc. When one ‘rhythmic energy’ gets stuck and there is no movement, there can be trouble and illness can follow. It’s all about moving through these rhythms, creating a dance through life.
Naturally, you may find yourself gravitating to a type of movement that is just right for your element type. It will harmonize and resonate with your own natural rhythm and you will excel in this type of movement and love it. 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. It not only will balance you to dive into another element’s movement, but perhaps can be the thing that cures physical and emotional wounds in you, as well.
The Flow of the Wheel turns in nature’s rhythm from Winter to Spring, Summer, to Indian Summer and Autumn. The elements of the wheel are represented by – Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal. Water nourishes the Wood, Wood burns to make Fire, Fires ashes decompose to make Earth, Earth crystallizes to form Metal, and Metal, when melted, flows as Water. This is called the “Creation or Nurturing” 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.
We’ll begin with Water. This is the beginning of new projects where one can get very excited. It is also the beginning of life, where we all start as babies that need to be taken care of, carried, in fact, by the elements around us. To me, this is the place of the toddler, where they are learning how to walk and move forward, despite their fears. Fear by the way, is the emotion for Water. 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 Belly dance 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. Sometimes we dance with veils and get into the flow of that watery movement where we dance our inner expressions. Waters like having no form or they like following where the energy goes, so they’re bodies are allowed to move in whatever way it desires.
I have found it very easy for Waters 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 go silent and feel alone, but, this is often what they like, to be alone. Sometimes they feel so lonely and wish there was a life jacket to rescue them. Fear begins to rule their world and then they can get stuck; Working with and bringing in the emotion of Courage is the opposing emotion from Fear. They were under the water in their own world and didn’t realize someone was 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, drink water whenever you are moving energy; it will help the energy flow better. A lack of water will stress the heart, raise body temperature, stop the flow of circulation, bring on fatigue or cloudy thinking, and reduce elimination, especially during movement.
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 their own boundaries. Woods are self-sufficient and can take care of themselves. Anger is the controlling emotion for Woods. They tend to address issues quicker than most and so that anger doesn’t stick with them, but they can hold grudges for a very long time. Forgiveness can be a lesson for mirroring anger issue for Woods. Many Woods find themselves getting involved in some kind of martial arts. It’s great for releasing inner anger issues and this art form requires mastery and discipline, which is something they like within themselves. They also love competition amongst their fellow classmates, as well as competing with themselves. Through martial arts, they can see their accomplishments graduating through different levels of the colored belt system. Most woods tend to continue and become teachers in this movement form or enter competitions. If it is not in this form, they will find competition in another movement or career in life.
Within my Belly dance workshops, I teach the art of the drum solo dance for ‘Wood Day’. Think about being in a room and strong Middle-eastern or African drums are beating. 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. “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, and woods like to have this control in their world. I can see within the bodies and movement of my Wood students, that they can sometimes be stuck in their bodies, especially in their joints. They get tight and rigid in their muscles and can tend to have shorter, square body forms and shorter legs. Sometimes, Woods really feel frustration and anger more than other emotions. If they keep these emotions within their body or mind for too long, later in life they can develop arthritis if they don’t learn to bend and flow and let go. It is funny because Woods really don’t like to move at all and they really just like silence. The reason they like silence, I believe is that they love to listen to their own thoughts. Ha!
Let’s go to one of my favorite elements, Fire! They are like the puppy dogs at a party. They love everyone and they are the life of the party! 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 fall in a heap on the floor in exhausted satisfaction. Dancing is a form of healing to the fire. They really do need to get their emotions out through movement. Fires express themselves through their bodies more than other elements.
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 or a lake nearby to jump in. A perfect ending to a great dance; go jump in the lake! On another note: Fires usually run high with heat naturally.
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. I use wild Gypsy Skirt dancing with passionate attitudes in my Belly dance workshops 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. By the end of the day, everyone is “pooped” and begging me to stop. They need a break and now experience what it’s like when fires burn themselves out. Fires are the element that really needs to be aware of their “adrenals burning out” more than other elements. The emotion that governs Fires is Joy and on the other side is Panic. Fires are addicted to drama and when drama runs high, panic may set in and take energy away from adrenal glands.
The next element on the wheel we come to is Earth. It is the rhythm of the Mother and Earth herself. Earths like to keep the balance and have a sweet connection to everyone in their lives. Earth’s element loves medium-paced music and movements. Everything is nice and easy, not too fast, not too slow. A nice reggae earth 4/4 beat makes them feel at home, 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, then it’s 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 these movements are only with easy slower 4/4 beats. Earth love the ancient dances that include connection. Dances that come from the everyday activities of the people, including celebrations like childbirth, weddings, deaths and sacred passages are all earth related.
These ancient dances are perfect because so many of them were for women to dance through the connections of life and, to celebrate nature around them. One of the governing emotions for Earths is Worry for everyone and everything in their life and the mirroring emotion is Compassion for self. Earths need to bring more self-care to themselves. Signing up for a movement or dance class would be a great place, where they take time away from their husband or families to just to give back to themselves. Earths, who have a little more flesh and curves in their body, also have the lesson to really love and feel good in their body. Belly dance, African and Polynesian dance all are great movement classes for curvier women because the more you have, the better you will move!
So let’s go back to the Five Element Wheel of Life! Water was at the beginning of the cycle, and Metal is at the end of our cycle. It is about endings and letting go and surrendering to aspects of our life that are no longer needed. It is both the end of life when we slow down and contemplate the next stage and the process of dying. 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, breath work and form. Metals don’t like anything that would jar the body too much. They like to be still and contemplate their inner thoughts. Metal rules the mind and so meditation is very good for them. Metals also like to move alone and not have any connection to others. Yoga is perfect because you are on your own spiritual path. Metals usually seek out yoga gurus or become yoga teachers later, themselves. Our lungs and breath are governed by the metal element. Yoga 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 exaltation 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 emotion for Metal is Grief…and they can hold the grief for the world within them. It is very hard for Metals too, to let go of grief within them and movement helps move this energy out. The mirroring emotion for Metals is to Trust the universe and wherever they are on their spiritual path in life.
Now that we’ve identified what movement each element loves, I’d like to tell you about how each element could benefit from different movements. They may not love these movements but they can help them to evolve and balance their elemental blockages thereby prolonging their life and strengthening their health.
Now, let’s take a look at the Element wheel again. This time, we turn clockwise; we notice how elements move into and work with each other. This is also called “The Mother-Daughter Cycle”, in which each element is fed by the one element before it.
We’ll 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, they need to learn to bend and flow in their emotions and body. My mother, Donna Eden always teaches that Woods are to become like a willow tree, learning to bend (letting emotions roll off of them), rather than an old rigid oak tree.
Sometimes when Woods get that anger out of their body, it can shock every other element around them. The Wood stern voice can appear as if they are pointing their finger at you and can make the other elements feel as if they are being yelled at. Woods don’t shout, but speak with a big authority, as if they are a stern mother giving you orders.
Woods need to breathe and think before re-acting. If they were to practice the easy flow movements of Tai Chi, Woods may learn more patience bringing a balance and calmer demeanor when speaking. As well, Woods can be so stubborn and get stuck in their own views about life, that later on, it may be this stubborn quality that may make it more difficult to find a partner. Woods, get yourself in the water!!! Find a Water sport that you like, but get into it! That water is gonna’ feed your roots and make you softer person.
Let’s look at Water. 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. Metal is their “Mother” on the wheel. Hmmmm…let’s look at this. 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 jarring to the Water body. Metaphorically, when they are down in the watery depths of their own ocean, the water’s experience feel as if they can’t breathe or see their way out of difficulties. They create illusions, in their world, like the water ripples themselves. Fear creeps in, which can show up on Kidney Meridian and they can literally freeze in their life and stop moving forward. Movement with breath-work would be a great thing for a Water, as bringing oxygen into their body will literally move their energy allowing for more space in their mind and body. Thoughts and feelings are brought to the surface to re-examine. The Water lesson is to realize that there is a way out of their dark ocean and to swim and stretch to the surface in order to see the light. The Metal energy coming in can makes the Water energy crystallize, so that it’s pliable enough to look at and move towards.
Now let’s 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, but it 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 within them. They can appear as if they think they are “greater-than-thou” and everyone else, as well. They are on such a spiritual solo journey that sometimes they block out the realities of life. The Metal lesson is to learn compassion within their 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, nurturing support. To experience these grounded dances are perfect for getting them out of their heads and into their bodies. 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. Metals have a hard time receiving compliments; just wait till they walk into a classroom of Earths. Ha! When the Metals get into those classes, with all those Earth elements around, they will be supported, accepted and loved.
Ok, now let’s look at the Earth element a little more in depth. The Earth personalities 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 the Spleen Meridian. The “Mother” to Earth is Fire. Fires metabolize 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, Zumba or even Aerobic dancing is great for them. Fire Element is all about blood and circulation, which Earth’s desperately need to move within them. When energy gets stuck in an Earth element body, they tend to have circulation problems leading to possible blood clots and tumors. Do you know the old story that most gardeners know? 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. Where there once was soot, the most beautiful flowers will appear and new life is given to the earth. 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 are also hard for Fires to make and keep. Fire’s lessons are about making a decision, despite all the vacillating possibilities to choose from. Martial Arts have a certain quality of aggression that is expressed outwardly and direct, still maintaining a sense of boundary and discipline. This could be very good for a Fire, which tends to sometimes have shocking out bursts of anger that rage out of control, burning down everyone in their path. Fires are the ones who shout; not Woods. Remember, Fires are dramatic. Many Fires have a sense of un-groundedness to them, as if they could just fly away at any moment and onto the next party. The Wood movement brings focus that helps them get grounded to make the necessary decisions in life. The Wood element provides fuel for the Fire.
What if you are a combination of a “Mother-Daughter” element? Well, how lucky you are! But, as you probably know, as different as you are from your mother, there are always some difficulties, as you try to juggle these two elements together. The magic is always found in the alchemical concoctions, aren’t they? In the Orient, they say that the Sixth Element is “Sympathy for the Self”. So, when we learn the Five Elements, we begin to find a compassion for those around us and our relationships become easier. Make sure you are giving that love to yourself, as well, with the symbolism of the Sixth Element.
The Five Elements are fascinating and I am continually learning their beautiful surprises. I hope that you can, too. I love teaching the Five Elements through movement. It has been my passion for over 20 years! My sister, Dondi has a book about the Five Elements coming out in September, 2016 and I wrote a chapter about Children and the Five Elements within it.
In the meantime, I have a new CD called The Wisdom of the Five Energies, which I think is one of my best works yet! Check out my Energy Medicine store at https://energymedicinewoman.com/shop/
I love teaching these two ancient art forms, the oriental art form of Belly dance with the Five Elements, each more than 5,000 years old and they complement each other so well. If you want to join Dondi and I for our Annual Belly dance in the Five Elements Workshop, mark your calendar! Students who come to our workshops always find that they begin to learn more about themselves and their relationships, even if they have studied The Five Elements with our mother.
Our Omega workshop happens every year in the fall. https://www.eomega.org/workshops/belly-dance-the-five-elements#-workshop-description-block
Titanya Monique Dahlin
All her life, Titanya has researched the spiritual and sacred connections to movement as a healing force and she incorporates and uses a holistic approach to all her teachings.
As an International Middle Eastern dance teacher for over 30 years, Titanya has created Five Element Bellydance incorporating the Chinese Five Element system into her Belly dance workshops since 1996. She later brought in her sister, Dondi Dahlin to help her teach these popular workshops, while empowering women in their own divine spirit and movement at different retreat centers including Omega Institute every year.
“My intent is to help women of any age re-member the power within them as Divine Feminine, as well as to express their creativity through movement while staying empowered and healthy throughout their lives.”
Titanya is also the creator of Energy Medicine Dance! Energy Medicine Dance is a form of movement, based on the work of holistic healer and her Mother, Donna Eden. Since 1996, Titanya has taught and assisted in Donna’ world-wide workshops and is a teacher in the movement coordinator and ceremonial mistress for the Eden Energy Medicine Certification Program. Titanya is also co-writing the new book, Energy Medicine for Kids based on her Mother’s work.
As a Professional Middle Eastern dancer, Storyteller, Award winning Speaker and Actress, Waldorf Teacher and Artist, Titanya brings a unique radiant joy to her classes allowing her students to find their own Femininity and Divine Energy within. Titanya Monique Dahlin has been called “The Story Dancer”, as she is a professional Storyteller and Middle Eastern Dancer and uses ancient movement and stories to connect her audiences to women’s history. Her own one-woman shows, Scheherazade ~ The Veil behind the Blade and The Transcendance of Inanna have enamored packed audiences all over the world.