Winter – The Water Element

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Much of Chinese Medicine is based on the theory of the five elements, or Wu Xing. Each element has many associations, including a season, both a yin and a yang organ, colour, direction, taste and emotions. Below is a list of the seasons, their elements, organs and the emotions associated with them.

Summer – Fire  – Heart – Joy
Late Summer (or the end of any season) – Earth – Spleen – Worry or Over Thinking
Autumn / Fall – Metal – Lungs – Sadness
Winter – Water – Kidneys – Fear
Spring – Wood – Liver – Anger

The winter season is associated with water and the kidneys. The kidneys are the foundation of our yin and yang energies, store our Jing (or essence) and govern vital activities like birth, growth, reproduction and development. The kidneys are said to open into the ears, thus our ability to hear clearly is dependent on strong kidney energy. The kidneys also govern bones, teeth, hair on the head, the nervous system and brain.

Strong Kidneys

The kidneys in Chinese medicine are not the same as they are seen in Western medicine. They are not simply two separate organs that sit at the level of the lower back, remove wastes and release hormones. They are en entire organ and energy system that is connected to the rest of the body, is paired with the bladder, and has important functions both physically and emotionally. When kidney energy is strong we are lucid and able to articulate our thoughts and feelings.  Children grow quickly, and have strong bones and teeth. They are smart, learn quickly and can think clearly. Strong kidney energy will also help a person move through the stages of life without difficulty, giving them the ability to adjust to changes and better able to cope with stresses that come along the way. Strong kidney energy also give the ability to take in information and process it effectively as we go through life, to make keen observations and making you seem wise beyond your years.

5 elements Chinese Medicine

Kidney Deficiency

A deficiency of the kidneys often manifests as developmental problems both mentally and physically. In children these manifest as problems with growth and development, such as learning disabilities, physical deformities, and dental cavities. In adults symptoms of kidney deficiency are sore lower back and knees, frequent urination, prematurely greying hair, weak, brittle bones, arthritis, dental cavities, hearing loss and pain in the soles of the feet. Because the kidneys are also the source of our sexual energy, lack of libido, impotence and infertility are signs of a deficiency of the kidneys.

The Water Personality

The Archetype for Water: The Philosopher

A person with a water type personality will have the following characteristics:

  • Sincere
  • Introspective
  • Modest
  • Observant
  • Sensible
  • Lucid
  • Curious
  • Careful
  • Innovative
  • Resourceful
  • Frugal
  • Objective
  • Particular

Below is a description of a water personality in five element theory taken from the book Between Heaven and Earth…

Revelation propels the Philosopher in her relentless quest for truth. She brings to light that which is hidden, uncovering new knowledge, dispelling mystery, eroding ignorance. Scrutinizing life until the meaning and significance of her impressions coalesce into the germ of understanding, she is like an old time prospector with a nose for nuggets, sifting through the gravel of notions and beliefs, tireless in her effort to apprehend the nature of reality. Just as the miner digs through tons of ore before unearthing a single gem, the Philosopher searches doggedly for truth, which, like a diamond, is esteemed not only for its radiant sparkle, but for its abiding hardness as a tool to advance civilization. It takes millennia to crystallize the residual mineral essence of fossils into this precious stone. Time is the pick and shovel of the Philosopher, who exhumes the bones of culture that endure. The Philosopher yearns for meaning that transcends the rudderless meandering of human affairs.

As she offers insight to the world, she relies on her hope that knowledge will be married with wisdom, power and compassion, aware that destiny is the final authority. Able to envision what can be, she is critical of what is by comparison. She discerns the inevitable disparity between apparent and ultimate reality. As the custodian of our memories and dreams, she articulates our aspirations, our ends, but does not define for us the machinery of their realization, our means.

*From Between Heaven and Earth by Harriet Beinfeld and Efrem Korngold

The Water Body Type

There are certain physical attributes that each element portrays. The water body type has a round face and soft, white skin. They love to move and they have long spines. They are loyal to their friends and colleagues and are excellent negotiators. They are sympathetic, slightly lazy and don’t always tell the truth. They are usually quite sensitive and self aware. The strong point for water types is their digestion.

The Kidneys and Emotions

The positive emotion of the kidneys is willpower, so when kidney energy is strong we will have willpower and live life with focus and direction. When kidney energy is weak we are susceptible to fear and anxiety. This works both ways, deficient kidneys can leave us fearful and anxious, and if we experience an excess of these emotions, it can deplete kidney energy. A person susceptible to anxiety, panic attacks or phobias may be suffering with deficient kidneys.

Winter is the best time of year to build up kidney energy. It is a time for a contraction of energies and introspection. Winter is a time to rest, going to bed earlier and waking later. The diet should consist of hearty, warming foods, like soups and stews. The longer and slower the cooking, the warmer they become. Supplementing our “post heaven essence” by eating well, drinking clean water and living moderately will help to strengthen kidney energy. The first point on the kidney meridian is on the bottom of the foot, so walking and running stimulates this point and floods the body with kidney energy – so regular exercise, especially outside is great for your kidneys. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are also a wonderful way to correct deficiency and keep the kidneys strong. So, enjoy the cold weather, and be sure to take care of your kidneys – they will love you for it.

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If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Winter Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here – The Winter Season in Chinese Medicine.

 

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