Healthy Habits Newsletter

Stay informed with a FREE regular collection of information, advice, research and interesting bits from the world of Chinese medicine and beyond.

Get our newsletter

Burn the Fire Bright

I’d like to share with you the analogy of a fire within the body, representing life, and the importance of taking care of that fire for health and longevity.

Where does this metaphor of a fire within come from? It has actually been used in Chinese medicine North Sydney for a very long time. Five element theory is one of the earliest, and still one of the foundation concepts of Chinese medicine.


The elements – fire, earth, metal, water and wood – mutually support and control each other. Optimal health is the perfect balance between these five aspects of the body.   While, theoretically the elements are all of equal importance, fire has traditionally been given a special place. Firstly it is a bit different in that it is the only immaterial element.

Secondly, the fire element is the ultimate Yang element. If Yin is your material form, Yang is the warmth and life and function given to that material form. Without Yang there would be no life.

Thirdly, within the hierarchical structure of the organs in the body, at the top, governing everything, is the emperor organ – the heart. The element assigned to the emperor is fire.

Within this analogy fire represents life. To burn the fire bright means to live a rich and satisfying life. It means using the fire and enjoying its light and warmth.

A benefit of having a stronger fire is greater resilience against threatening external factors – like wind or rain. This represents our physical resilience. When the fire is stronger it is able to “burn-off” pathogens, environmental influences, and the temporary intake of poor quality fuel, more readily.

The fire also represents our emotional strength. A strong fire is happy, content, satisfied, enthusiastic, socially active, and creative. A weaker flame represents depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction, and withdrawal.

How do we increase the strength of our fire? We need to use it, and we need to ensure that we provide it with just the right amount of good quality fuel so that it burns efficiently.

Use the fire – Using the fire means being physically and mentally active – raising our metabolic rate. While we want to be active, it is important is avoiding activities that cause the flames to flare excessively, prematurely consuming the available fuel. This includes the use of stimulants, recreational drugs, alcohol, and excessive sexual activity. The flare is temporarily pleasurable, but when occurring often, will rapidly exhaust the fuel supply. A healthy fire has a slow steady burn without sudden flares.

The right amount of fuel – The level of physical and mental activity should always be in line with amount of fuel we are feeding the fire. We obviously can’t expect too much from the fire when there is little fuel. That aside, there will always come a point where fuel supply simply cannot keep up with demand. This is where excessive physical exertion or mental overwork starts to deplete the body. It highlights the importance of getting enough mental downtime, physical rest and enough quality sleep.

The opposite of not enough fuel, of course, is too much fuel compared with our level of activity. This is much more common in our society. Dump a heap of wood onto a small fire and it will smother very quickly.

Good quality fuel – The last aspect of a healthy fire is fuel quality. Poor quality fuel will pollute the fire, causing it to smoke. Poor quality fuel is rich greasy fatty foods, simple sugars, high energy low nutrient foods, highly processed foods and artificial additives.

High quality fuel is whole foods with low levels of processing, low calorie high nutrient foods, seasonal fruit and vegetables produced without agricultural chemicals, and food free from artificial additives.

I like this analogy of a fire representing life. It provides a nice visualisation for how to enjoy life, and protect it, and even how to extend it. We should make full use of what we have and enjoy life to the fullest. To be able to do so we need to balance activity with inactivity and eat the cleanest most nutritious food we have access to.