In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) the law of the Five elements is based upon the cosmic cycle of birth, growth, harvest, death and renewal which has been an important aspect of human experience for millennia. This law describes the ongoing, repetitive cycle and how they mutually create and destroy each other in an endless dance.
In the creative cycle with ki (chi as in Tai chi) moving clockwise, water nourishes wood, wood feeds fire, burned wood turns to ash and creates earth and earth then disintegrates into the minerals of metal. On the left side from water to fire, the ki is upwards, ordered, expansive and potent (Yang). As the cycle moves around, the energies run down and become more inward and still (Yin) in preparation to move upwards again.
The control cycle, with the ki moving in a clockwise direction on the lines of the inner pentacle is when the creative aspect of the cycle becomes limited. Water controls fire, fire melts metal, metal cuts wood, wood contains earth and earth limits and controls water. The two cycles work together as without the control cycle the creative cycle would over produce and without the creative cycle the control cycle would endlessly limit production or creativity and the cosmos would dwindle to nothingness.
Each of the five phases corresponds to a particular natural element - water, wood, fire, earth and metal and each of these elements have their own strengths and qualities in nature that can be cultivated in us as human beings. For example, to flow through life like water, to be as flexible as the trunk and branches of a young tree (wood), to ascend like a glowing flickering fire, to be as grounded as the earth and be as defined as metal.
Along with the overall 'feel' of an element each one has it's own characteristics and associations which can point you in the direction of that element. Everything from color, the seasons, taste, time of the day, emotions and physical condition can offer an insight into the expression of the unconscious psyche. For example if you are consistently drawn to the color yellow it could suggest an imbalance in your earth energy. A voice that 'shouts' even though it is not loud would draw you towards wood energy. A salty diet would lead you towards a water imbalance and persistent ulcers on your tongue would suggest a need to look at your fire energy.
I find that whilst giving Shiatsu images and sensations may arise that can show me which element is 'around' at that time and for me these 'clues' guide me towards the necessary quality of touch that enables healing to begin at an unconscious level. The sense of fear may be wanting an earthy reassuring touch whereas anger might be needing the focused directness of metal. By listening to your bodies wants and needs with the right touch and intention, Shiatsu can awaken and rekindle these energies.