As we move into winter, daylight becomes less and we naturally move more inwards.
The theory of Chinese Medicine follows the law of the 5 elements (see image below) that make up everything in our world, including us! They outline the natural flow and balance maintained by the relationship between them. The water element correlates with the season of winter, the time to restore and prepare for the bursting energy of spring. It is a time for storage, while spring is a time for birth.
Water is nourishing. In regards to the yin and yang concept, this element it is yin *within* yin, meaning maximum yin. Like the darkest, middle of the night is the utmost yin time and the peak midday sun is the utmost yang time. Winter also experiences the shortest day of the year, where we have the most darkness.
Remember that YIN is restorative, it is substance, it is darkness, cold, slow, rest, moving within. It is the material and in relation to human life it is the *physical* body. YANG is the energetic aspect – life force, drive, the metabolism that moves the physical body.
The water element is the source of our strength, warmth and physical energy. Without resting during this phase we cannot recharge properly to reach and maintain our health potential. The organs of this element are the kidneys and bladder as well as our reproductive system. The kidneys are the yin organ of the water element while the bladder is the yang organ. Together they control our lower water ways therefore are responsible for urination (fluids in the upper body are ruled by the lungs and fluids in the central body by the spleen). Fluid retention especially in the lower body at the feet and ankles, frequent urination and nocturia (urination during the night) are common symptoms of an imbalanced water element in relation to their fluid metabolism function.
The kidneys are regarded as our battery pack and store our essence (or jing in Chinese) – essence is the true ultimate you. That which can also produce another being – in males this is sperm and in females this is our eggs. This can also be understood as DNA. They rule sexuality and all aspects of growth, maturation and development, especially during pregnancy and during our younger years.
Interestingly the kidneys produce marrow which is housed in our bones and fills the brain (regarded as the ‘sea of marrow’). Therefore the kidneys play a large role in producing new blood cells which are made from the marrow, the process of ‘hematopoiesis’. This process starts during the early development of an embryo, again highlighting the link between the kidneys and their strong role in development, maturation and growth.
The kidneys are responsible for maintaining strong bones (again to do with marrow) and teeth, healthy and good quality hair growth and hearing, as the sense organ of the water element is the ears. The kidneys rule the body regions of the knees and lower back.
The water elements flavour is salty. Among many functions salt helps remove acid produced by cells to maintain a healthy balance, which is one of the main roles of the kidneys themselves. If this balance is not maintained our nerves, muscles and several other body tissues cannot function correctly. Salt also helps regulate fluid metabolism and therefore affects our blood pressure. See the connection here again with the blood and fluids – the salt and the kidneys. I talk about the amazing and important benefits of salt here, and why it is our friend not foe.
In Chinese Medicine it is believed that the kidneys are prone to being deficient rather than in excess when imbalanced – which highlights that their physical and energetic functions are easily overworked, depleting them. We can think of our essence (jing) being like our reserves too – a reservoir. We don’t want to deplete this reservoir. Things like burning the candle at both ends, or overdoing anything really can deplete our stores and affect the kidneys.
Each of our organs have a yin and yang aspect. The kidney yin represents the fluids and essence (yin being the material / substance) while the kidney yang is the root of transformation and movement (yang being the drive / force). The kidneys (like the spleen) dislike cold, so cold foods by nature or temperature deplete the yang aspect of the kidneys and therefore disrupt its ability to warm the yang of the whole body.
The colour of the water element is a dark deep blue or even black and the flavour of the kidneys as mentioned is salty. We can imagine the power of the water element as the deepest ocean. Water can take many forms – it can be soft, gentle and calm or can be strong and forceful moving anything in its path, often the path of least resistance. It is the element that connects all living things, making up 70 – 80 % of the human body and the planet. This is a great example of microcosm and macrocosm. Our cells are mini versions of our whole body which is a mini version of the earth.
So how can we support and nourish our kidneys and help balance our water element, especially during their time of winter ??
Here are 5 ways :
Move slower, rest more.
We are in charge of how much we pack into our days. Check in to see where you can make more space and time.
This is a great time of year to get a strong night routine in place. Aim to reduce computer and phone use before bed and opt for some soft gentle music or curling up on the couch with a book instead. This is also a beautiful time for games or puzzles with family. Choose gentle weights, gentle stretches and gentle walks for your physical exercise. And opt for styles of yoga like yin or slow flow. Beach walks or being around water sources like streams or creeks is a beautiful way to ground and recharge this element. And good sleep is vital during this time to help us restore and recharge.
Keep warm. Especially your lower back (where the kidneys are housed) and your feet. The kidney acupuncture channel is the only organ channel that has a point on the sole of the foot. This means it has direct access to the earth and can easily bring cold into the body and up to the lower back and into the kidneys. We defiantely don’t want this during the cooler months so rug up. Using a hot water bottle on your belly or lower back at night is also a nice boost. If you’re prone to achey knees try using a bolster under them, raising your feet at the end of the day and using a herbal liniment and heat packs or bottles.
Using a magnesium oil is a great way to boost our magnesium levels (most people are deficient in this) while avoiding the digestive tract. Magnesium taken orally can disrupt the gut as one of its many functions is to relax smooth muscle. Taking it topically (through the skin) ensures the body can absorb it quickly, easily and transfer it to where it is most needed at the time. Through this way the body will only take how much it needs. Magnesium is great for relaxing the nervous system, supporting muscles and improving sleep. I opt for magnesium chloride in topical form as this is the easiest to cross the skin barrier to be absorbed (there are many forms of magnesium).
This is the perfect time to declutter your mind (although it’s always good to do!). As this is the season of storage make sure what you are storing in your mind and body is what is serving you and get rid of the rest. As always I strongly suggest writing things down to remove them out of the physical mind and body. You can declutter emails, old contacts or any other random things which may be using up space or energy.
Utilising gentle breathing exercises like box breathing and belly breathing are very restorative and grounding. Gentle water and ocean sounds can be used especially at night if you struggle with sleep. Soft music throughout the day is soothing and helps calm our nervous system. I have numerous playlists which I name ‘soft’ etc to set a slow and nourishing pace.
Doing meditations like this one are perfect.
Warming, hearty, moistening and nourishing foods. Slow cooked and roasted dishes have a more warming and deeply restorative nature, opposed to steaming for instance which creates a lighter nature.
Stews, gentle curries, dahls, soups, roast root veggies, mashed veggies.
Kidney beans, adzuki beans, potatoes, black lentils, black quinoa, seaweed, eggplant, tamari, miso, walnuts, tahini (sesame paste) – especially the black one, blackberries, blueberries. Utilise warming spices too like cinnamon, cumin, clove, star anise, Chinese 5 spice, ginger powder, garam masala and stew fruits like apples and pears.
This is also the season where the weather changes can affect our immunity. Drinks like a hot toddy, miso with fresh shallots, and adding fresh ginger, garlic and lemon to meals or drinks will boost immunity and help our exterior fend off any external weather changes by helping to also regulate our exterior (our skin) – which is our protection from the outside world.
Declutter your home.
This is important all year round as we move through season changes, not just in spring. Living more minimally and having things in their place allows good energy flow which positively affects our relationships, health (body and mind), money flow and energetically opens space for exciting new opportunities.
And to help get a deeper rest and feel refreshed make sure your sleeping space is supporting you.
Utilise soft lamps all throughout your house. Choose soft furnishings like cloth curtains, cushions and throws to warm your home. Encourage good air flow during the day.
The water element correlates to glass, mirrors, vases with water, water features, and darker colours like deep blue shades, black and purples. You can also add decorative pieces to your home utilising these colours in the form of flowers, fabrics, crystals or candles.
The emotion of the water element is fear affecting both organs although in particular the kidneys. The bladder is also affected by long standing feelings of suspicion and jealousy. This can also be seen in children who experience nightmares and bedwetting.
As mentioned this is the perfect time of year to stop storing some things that no longer serve you. In regards to emotions check in to any fears or unresolved emotions like jealousy, bring them to the surface and let them go. Jealousy is an interesting emotion and often on closer inspection it is something we feel we are lacking within ourselves. Determine what it is and know that you can never be compared to anyone else. We are all so individual from our daily experiences. There is just one YOU. And you are enough. If the jealousy is from comparison ask yourself what it is you want that another has.
We get out what we put in, so if you want something, be clear about it, ask for help, figure out what you need to do to have this, work your butt off at it and importantly trust that by doing all the previous steps you can have whatever your heart desires.
So happy winter beautiful souls!!
I hope this information resonates with you, and you can restore and recharge during this cosy time of year, replenishing your water element and boost your kidney energy.