We are now in the midst of Winter. The season is cold, dark, and quiet. Winter is for us, as for all of nature, a time on internal work: meditation, containment, concentration, and storing our energy. We use this season for rest, and for the replenishing of our reserves, gathering strength for the year ahead. Like the seed that cannot sprout until it has gathered sufficient strength, our ideas and plans cannot manifest if our energy is dispersed or drained.
In Chinese medicine, the element associated with Winter is Water. Let us talk a little about water and its associations. Water can take on many different qualities in nature. It can take the form of a stagnant pond, or powerful rapids. It can be a smooth flowing stream, or water raging out of control. The water element can show up like this in all of us. When our water energy is balanced, we are a calm lake or stream. Our energy is moving, neither stagnant or overflowing. When we are out of balance, we may become a flooding river, or when immobilized with fear, a frozen creek.
The organs associated with winter are the kidney and bladder. In Chinese medicine, when we talk about organs, we are talking about the energetic aspects of the organ in an individual, not about Western anatomy and physiology. The kidney, in Chinese medicine, are the root of the life force energy or Qi. The kidneys create the fire and warmth to sustain bodily functions and to provide energy to the other organs. The bladder controls the expenditure of energy. You can look at the kidney as being the the bank account, and the bladder as the ATM machine. The acupuncture points along these pathways of energy can be used to fill the reserves and awaken that place within us where our real strength, courage and wisdom lie.
Abundant reserves within us give us the courage and strength of will. When we lack these reserves, we may feel fearful. In Chinese medicine, the emotion of fear is associated with the element of water and the season of winter. The emotion of a distressed water element is fear of not having enough of what it takes to meet the challenges that lie ahead, fear of being unable to complete what we have envisioned, or fear of not being prepared for what we might have to face. It is as if we do not have enough stored away to survive the winter.
How does an imbalanced water element show up in an individual? In Chinese medicine, the individual is viewed on levels of the body, mind, and spirit. Dis-ease often manifests on more than one level. On a physical level, one may feel fatigued, lacking energy (the energetic bank account or ATM depleted). Water also lubricates the body. We are, after all, 85% water! With lack of lubrication comes stiffness. Do your bones or joints hurt more in winter? Are you more anxious? Thoughts, ideas, muscles and joints move easier when they are lubricated.
In terms of the mind and spirit, do you feel like you want to do things but you simply cannot? That you seem to be stuck on the sofa with your mind saying “I should do this, or I should do that”, but you simply cannot get up enough energy to get it going? Or maybe you seem to be going all the time—frantically moving from one thing to another –always running about but never truly getting much accomplished.
Within the energy of water lies our will, our ability to keep on keeping on. So what can you do? My number one advice is to remember to take time to relax completely for at least 30 minutes during the day. This means to kick back, listen to music perhaps, but definitely relax your body and mind.
Acupuncture is not just for pain. It addresses the underlying condition and is used to balance the whole person. You cannot separate the body and the mind—balance one and you balance the other. Emotional blocks can be moved and physical symptoms can be cleared as a person is brought back into healthy balance. Just some of the areas that acupuncture addresses; the digestive, reproductive, immune and respiratory symptoms, anxiety, depression, that annoying “stuck” feeling and, of course, physical discomfort.
To maintain the fire of the kidney, a winter diet ideally would be warming and substantial with more whole grains, less fruit, and lots of steamed or baked vegetables, especially root vegetables. Soup is a great addition to the diet during winter as it is easy on the digestive system and keeps our inner fire warm. Warming herbs and spices like ginger, chili peppers and cinnamon are wonderful additions to your diet this time of year.
Exercise such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong are very good for inner balance, as they build strength, improve immune function and cultivate Qi (energy) through breathing, meditation and slow movements. If you have lower back pain, you may find that rest, warm foods, and activities that support that support your inner balance may supplement your water energy and diminish your symptoms. Remember, the kidneys and bladder are governed by water. Give them all the help you can by drinking more water.
Finally, if you receive acupuncture, winter is a great time for a tune up. If you do not receive acupuncture, winter is a great time to start building your reserves.