The Water Element in TCM
The cold, darkness of winter drives us to seek warmth. Dark periods always drive us toward deeper depths of ourselves. Rest, meditation, and practices that help refine our spirits help us align with the winter season and water element. The darkness represents yin energy. “Yin and Yang cannot be separated. There is no dark without light.” Yin is sinking, condensed, hidden and internal. The period of yin transforms into yang. Without the quiet of winter we cannot effectively transform to the more active months of spring and summer.
Each element in the Chinese Medicine system has characteristics that mimic our organ systems. In TCM, winter is associated with the kidneys which hold the body's energy. One of the main principles in TCM is when you are in harmony with your natural environment, you will be healthier mentally, spiritually and physically. The water element is about harnessing kidney energy through proper hibernation. It is ok to hold onto a little weight, during this time. But it is also important to find ways to gently move through the season to keep the joints and spine flexible. Tai qi, qi gong, yoga, and daily walks gently keep our body systems circulating and healthy.
Signs of Disharmony
Feelings of imbalance can be due to deficiency or excess in the body. Phycological symptoms of kidney imbalance can feel like isolation, absentmindedness, detachment, fear, or survival mode. Physical symptoms like rigid joints, weak knees, lower back pain, can also be due to kidneys. Some of us may even experience tinnitus or other ear issues. As well as any premature aging, hair loss, split ends, premature graying. Any urinary, sexual, and reproductive imbalances. Poor growth and development of the mind and body. Excessive feelings of fear and insecurity.
Fear can be deeply rooted and insecurity can linger under the surface. A little fear is healthy, it is an instinct that protects us. To much fear can weaken the kidneys and block love. When stressed the kidneys can disfunction and fail to remove excess water, which can extinguish expressions of love and joy. In psychotherapy we try to identify these insecurities but it is hard to identify and dismantle if the kidney-adrenal complex has not been renewed. Restoring the kidneys helps lift the dark clouds.
Chinese medicine describes the kidneys as the “palace of fire and water” When you have healthy kidneys you act calm, courageous, and gentle, accomplishing tasks with little to no stress, and you feel balanced between assertive and nurturing.
The Senses and Tastes of Winter
The ears are the sense organs related to the kidneys. Hearing problems are treated through the kidneys, and even massaging the ears a few minutes every day helps strengthens the kidneys. The quiet and stillness of winter allows us to hear more of the world. This forces us to slow down, rest, and relax. Observing your natural surrounding without headphones can be a vital daily practice during this time of year.
Our appetite in the winter is stimulated by sound of food warming up. Our bones are associated with the kidneys. The foods we eat this time of year help with all dental and bone problems when we focus on strengthening the kidneys. The key is to keep warm, mentally and physically. Practice eating foods cooked low and slow like stews, daily bone broth, black or kidney beans. Walnuts and organ meats also nourish the kidney system. Then end the evening with a foot soak, meditation, and then go to bed early.
Salty is the flavor related to the kidneys. Proper intake of salt, not in excess. Try adding sea vegetables, steamed salty greens, seafoods, and mineral-rich broths to rebalance and heal the kidneys. Salty foods to add to meals can be miso, soy sauce, , millet, barley, and Celtic sea salt added to food. Avoid processed salty foods like chips and crackers. Too much salt can tighten the water organs and can cause coldness and overconsumption of water which can weaken other organs.
The salty and bitter taste promote a grounding quality and bring the heat deeper into the body. Bitter foods to add to your diet can be lettuce, watercress, endive, escarole, turnip, celery, asparagus, alfalfa, carrot tops, rye, oats, quinoa and amaranth. Bitter herbs can be added too. Like chicory, burdock, horsetail, and chaparral. Small regular amounts of bitter foods and herbs help nurture our organs.
Kidney Yin Deficiency
Kidney yin is essential for nurturing, moistening, supporting, stabilizing, and building tissues.
Symptoms of deficient kidney yin is dizziness, ringing in the ears, dry throat, dry mouth, fever, low backache, weak legs, involuntary seminal emission, sweating, thin, fast, radical pulse, and a red tongue.
Emotional characteristics of proper kidney yin looks like calm, receptive, and grounded. Deficient yin can look like agitation, irritation, nervousness, insecurity and fear. The personality is unstable and dependable. Often due to unacknowledged insecurity with a tendency to move from one problem, place, or relationship without addressing the root cause.
The kidneys supplies fluids to the rest of the body. If there is yin deficiency in the kidneys it can affect the yin organs; the liver, heart, and lungs. When these organs are deficient they pull from the kidneys which can deplete them. This can also cause liver excess which is when the liver draws cooling and calming energetics from the kidneys when it is overheated and congested.
Foods that nurture kidney yin include millet, barley, tofu, sting beans, black beans, black soybeans, mung bean, kidney beans and most other beans. Kuzu root, melon, blackberry, mulberry, blueberry, huckleberry, water chestnut, wheat germ, potato, seaweeds, spirulina, chlorella, black sesame seeds, sardine, crab, clam, eggs, pork and cheese.
Animal products should be consumed in moderation to avoid stimulating the liver and causing heat or stagnation that drains kidneys.Animal protein such lamb, eggs, duck, lamb, and bone-in meats are the most direct way to receive the constituents of certain yin essences important to the kidneys. Bone marrow nourishes the kidney because this is the system that governs our marrow and bones this is especially beneficial for people wanting to prevent or heal osteoporosis. Bone broth is nutrient dense and contains many essential minerals.
Recommended herbs are marshmallow root, rehmannia root, mandarin, asparagus root, aloe vera gel, and silver colloid.
Kidney Yang Deficiency
The spleen-pancreas supplies kidney yang which supplies energy for proper digestion and absorption. Yang nutrients enriches the kidney yang. Kidney yang deficiency cannot be cured until the digestive fire is improved. The kidney adrenal function when activated by its yang and qi attributes grasps and absorb the qi by the lungs. If kidney qi is lacking it may be hard for a person to inhale deeply and can develop asthma or shortness of breath.
Warming, energizing, and controlling functions of the kidneys can become inadequate. The adrenal glands are attached to the kidneys which contribute to our energy, warmth and sexuality. Symptoms of yang deficiency look like cold extremities, pale complexion, weak knees and lower back, lack of sexual desire, mental lethargy, poor spirit, irregular menses, clear vaginal discharge, sterility, frequent urination, clear urine, inability to urinate, edema, asthma, lack of will power and direction, and an enlarged pale tongue. The person can have a tendency to be inactive, indecisive and unproductive.
Foods and spices that warm the kidney yang are cloves, fenugreek, fennel, anise, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, walnuts, black beans, onions, garlic, leek, quinoa, chicken, lamb, trout, salmon.
Nuts like walnuts, almonds, and chestnuts strengthen the urinary system. Concentrate on warm hearty soups made from broth. Use less water and cook things for longer periods of time in lower temperatures. This infuses food with heat to keep the body warm during the colder temperatures.
Avoid cooling foods and fruits, raw foods, excessive salt, and use seaweed cautiously. Coldness due to lack of kidney yang looks like hot flashes, night sweats, menopause symptoms, hot palms, and feet can be due to lack of kidney yin.