I’d like to share with you some tips on how to keep healthy and harmonious during the Winter season…
You can listen to my teaching on Winter health here:
You can read the full transcript of my teaching on Winter health below:
In traditional Chinese medicine and Taoism the season of Winter is connected with the Water element and is physically related to the organ and meridian system of the Kidneys and Bladder, and the associated emotion is that of ‘fear’.
Winter is ‘Yin’ in nature – it is inactive, cold, and damp. The cold and darkness of the season encourages us to slow down and conserve and replenish our physical, mental and emotional energy in preparation for the outburst and growth of new life and energy in the Spring!
Taoists teach that you should always align and harmonise your energy with the current season, the translation of this concept is ‘appropriateness’. You can attune to the energies and qualities of the Winter season and the Water element through three virtues: your lifestyle, diet and spiritual health practices.
Nurturing the Kidneys and Bladder this Winter
So I’d like to first review some lifestyle habits to help support you this season…
Winter is all about balancing and harmonising your Water element and protecting and nurturing its associated organs – the Kidneys (which are Yang) and Bladder (which is Yin), in order to maintain good physical and emotional health.
When functioning correctly the Kidneys and Bladder hold onto and then appropriately release fluids. In traditional Chinese medicine, the Kidney is known as the ‘Minister of Power’, and is regarded as the body’s most important store or reserve of essential energy or Qi.
The strong health of the Kidneys is essential so any stored energy can be readily available for use in times of environmental or emotional change or stress, as well as to heal and prevent illness.
The Bladder is referred to as the ‘Minister of the Reservoir’ and is responsible for managing and excreting the urinary waste fluids passed down from the Kidneys.
During the Winter months it is important to nurture and nourish your Kidney Qi as this is the time where this energy can be most easily depleted. As you age, your Kidney Qi energy also naturally declines, so the older you are, the more susceptible you are to the impact of the Winter months.
An imbalance in the Water element or depleted Kidney Qi can affect the aging process, your hair condition, your ears and hearing, and your bones and joints. A Water/Kidney imbalance commonly manifests in a weak lower back, a dull aching pain in the lumber region, or being more prone to lower back, knee disorders and arthritic conditions. It can also lead to sexual and fertility disorders in both men and women.
As an acupuncturist I would always consider treating the Water element and the associated Kidney and Bladder meridians in any Winter treatment plan, especially if the patient is over the age of 45 when the waning of the Water element and Kidney Qi is a natural phenomenon.
Winter Lifestyle Habits: Balancing Your Water Element
So what can YOU do to balance and harmonise your Water element this season?…
Well… resting appropriately will help replenish your Kidney Qi and conserve your physical energy… but this is not an excuse for Winter hibernation!
Always remember that the benefits of resting well should be balanced with the need to simulate and move Qi around the body! So a brisk lunchtime or weekend walk is perfect for improving the circulation of Qi and blood flow, and is also great for topping up your vitamin D levels during these months of diminished sunshine.
You must try to keep your lower back and Kidney area warm during the Winter, and certainly leave any garden digging or general heavy lifting, which can easily put a strain on your lower back, until Spring!
Energetic health practices, such as Qigong or yoga, which encourage the flow of Qi energy around the body and the warming of the core area, are an excellent way to stimulate and boost your Kidney Qi.
Winter Qigong to Support and Boost your Kidney Qi
A simple and very effective qigong exercise for stimulating the Kidney energy that I teach in my classes and workshops at Peak House Practice involves the following steps:
- Start in the opening qigong stance or ‘Wu Ji’ – this means standing with your feet shoulder width apart, softening the knees a little by bending them slightly and tilting your pelvis a forward. You should feel your centre of balance in this position.
- When you are comfortable, lightly close your eyes. Ensure that your weight is distributed between your heel and the ball of your foot, so that it feels a little ‘flat footed’ – the powerful opening of the Kidney meridian called ‘Bubbling Spring’ is located at this middle point in the sole of your foot.
- Now place your hands on your lower back with palms facing inwards. Gently move your hands from side to side, massaging and warming the lower back. If you can’t reach your lower back don’t worry. Rubbing your abdomen about 1-2 inches below the belly button will also work as it stimulates a crucial acupressure point and activates what Taoists refer to as the ‘lower Dan Tien’, which in turn stimulates the Kidneys.
- As you gently massage, allow yourself to visualize a soothing ocean wave flowing over your hands. Imagine that this flow of water washes away any fears, tensions, pain or discomfort in mind and body.
- Another variation on this exercise involves placing your hand as clenched fists on your lower back and rubbing this area more vigorously to stimulate the movement of Kidney Qi energy here. You can watch this particular exercise in my ‘Eight Silken Brocade Qigong’ video on my YouTube channel.
Winter Diet Tips to Balance Your Water Element
Ok, so let’s consider how you can adapt your diet to the Winter season…
Eating in a balanced way and keeping hydrated will prevent a stagnation of fluid in the Kidneys and Bladder and will help support your Kidney Qi.
Avoid raw foods during the Winter as much as possible, as these tend to cool the body. Warming food, such as soups and stews, root vegetables, beans, garlic and ginger, are perfect for you at this time of year.
Salty foods, such as salty fish, should be avoided as they have a diuretic effect on the Kidneys and Bladder. You should also reduce your consumption of chilli peppers, smoked foods or excessive amounts of alcohol if you can.
A healthy diet for strengthening your Water element this season would include:
- Rice (especially brown rice), spaghetti and linseed
- Beans, sprouts and tofu.
- White cabbage, yam, potatoes and mushrooms.
- Beef, chicken, lamb and mussels
- Grapes, grapefruit, melon and strawberries.
Winter Emotional and Spiritual Health Tips
So finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’d like to review some emotional and spiritual health practices that are relevant to the Winter season…
Excessive fear damages the Kidney energy and causes it to descend, sometimes resulting in a loss of bladder control – this is why we often have a tendency to want to urinate when we get nervous!
The Taoist masters teach that if the Kidney energy is weak this also means you will be prone to experience chronic fear. Working on harmonising your emotions and emotional health is therefore the most important thing you can do to support your Water element and nurture your Kidney and Bladder energy.
Even if you ate well, and rested and exercised in a balanced way following the tips I have suggested, choosing to ignore any underlying fears, stress, anxieties or worries you may be holding onto will undermine the benefits of these healthy living practices. The power of your mind and emotions on your physical health and whole wellbeing should NEVER be underestimated!
Many new clients come to me at this time of year because they are affected by what is referred to in the West as ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ (SAD), or they suffer from symptoms of low energy, depression and mood swings during the Winter months.
In Chinese medicine this excessive introspection, or an increase in worry, fear and depression is very much associated with the Water element and an imbalance of the Kidney and Bladder energy, and for some people this can become much more acute right now.
All of the Chinese medicine elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water are interactive, mutually supportive and should be maintained within a loving balance and harmony. I do, however, have a particularly strong affinity to the Water element because of my day to day work as a therapist specialising in treating individuals suffering from emotional imbalances.
A high percentage of my clients have difficulty in balancing and harmonising their emotions of fear and stress because of the powerful and disturbing physical sensations it creates, including palpitations, tightness in the chest, churning in the stomach, dry mouth, headaches, sweating, panic attacks etc.
When you are fearful in this way it encourages the introverted nature that harms the Water element – a physical, emotional and spiritual state of ‘closing down’ and becoming guarded and isolated from the world around you. This imbalance in the Water element will in turn create a disharmony in the fine balance of the other four elements within your body and their associated organs.
The strong relationship between the Water element and its associated Kidney and Bladder organs, and the Fire element and its associated organs of the Heart, Pericardium, Small Intestine and Triple Burner, are particularly important.
The Fire ~ Water relationship is often closely connected to symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress and so, as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and counsellor, understanding and harmonising the relationship and balance between these two elements is often part of my treatment plan with clients.
Emotional Self-Healing this Winter
There are many things you can do to strengthen your emotional health and balance your Water element this Winter. As the season of stillness, Winter is a great time for personal meditation and reflection.
The colder weather encourages you to slow down and this opens up opportunities for making time for deeper thought and bringing to the surface any unresolved emotional matters. Acknowledging, owing and creatively addressing the origins of any stress, worries or fears that you may have reflects the Wu Wei process of self-discovery and self-healing that I work through with my clients: ‘Find It, Own It, Change It’.
So, when you next encounter external situations, issues or people that generate the physical ‘red warning lights’ that you may label as ‘fear’, you can begin to manage and eliminate these feelings by meditating on the personal beliefs and thoughts, what the Taoists refer to as ‘TE’, that are at the root of these emotions.
Christmas, with its changes of routine and the new expectations and demands it may bring, can be a particularly challenging time for many people. If uncomfortable and unwanted emotions or fears surface for you over the Christmas period, my message is for you to lovingly address these in a way that is truthful, honest and done with your highest integrity.
There is NO enemy inside, you have a choice, so choose your higher-self. This intention and action will nourish your Kidney, Bladder and Water element using your own Wu Wei Wisdom.
You came from a place of love not fear,
you will return to a place of love not fear,
you ARE love.
Taoist blessings for a wonderful Winter Season
Yi Tao Qi Tao,