Winter, Water, and Reflection

This blog post was first published in December 2013.  It has been updated with tidbits of how to connect with this element and it’s associations, and enhanced with another reflective video at the end.
Water is the first of the Chinese Five Elements as well as the last, it is the turning point that marks the end as well as the beginning.  How so?  Fall (Metal element in Chinese medicine) is the preparation of the dormant stage of winter we are currently in;  the leaves that changed colors last month have now fallen but are compost to nourish new growth in the spring.  During the whirlwind of 2016 and now into 2017, do you feel you are able to hibernate right now?   Are you one to crave hibernation or are afraid of it because it feels like spiraling down a dark hole and hard to come back out?
Some of us are being pulled by the events happening in the US at the start of 2017 and may struggle to balance our desire to be active in our community and serving others and also taking time to replenish and retract inward.  It may be increasingly difficult to do just one and not the other.  The time has come to do both.
Here are some suggestions for self care in tune with the Water element, so one can more quickly expand and retract without feeling overwhelmed:  Make note to reflect, meditate, or have a meaningful conversation with another person, make a conscious effort to slow down your pace of walking, breathe deep when you are in the bathroom and taking a shower, say thank you to the water you drink, create a ritual with water, don’t rush if you don’t have to, let yourself sleep more, feel how warm cooked soups, stews, and freshly blended/squeezed juices taste and feel to you.  This is the season for focusing on balancing our Water element, but the following information is also beneficial for health maintenance and longevity.

The associations of the Water Element in the body are connected to the Kidney and Bladder organs and meridians, which have the following physiological functions in Chinese medicine:

  • Kidneys are the source of the body’s vital energy, the “pilot light”, both the Yin and Yang
  • Kidneys store essence, which refers to the body’s DNA and genes, as well as sexual drive and function
  • Kidneys rule the bones and teeth
  • Kidneys manifest in the head hair and open into the ears as hearing
  • Kidneys are also called the Kidney-Adrenal glands, which in modern Western perspective encompass the adrenals as well as the whole endocrine system.
  • Kidneys helps with the deep inhalation of the Lungs
  • Kidneys control the quality and quantity of urine
  • Relates to winter season, the temperature is cold, the food flavor is salty, connects to the low back and knees
  • Kidney energy becomes depleted with prolonged fear, fright, and trauma especially during childhood and teenage years, overwork, excess physical activity, chronic disease, all addictive behavior including excess sexual activity, multiple close births and excess blood loss for women, a lack of discipline and encouragement during childhood.
There are two ways that the Water element can be out of balance in Chinese medicine diagnosis:  a deficient Kidney Yin condition or a deficient Kidney Yang condition.  One may exhibit a dominance of either Kidney yin or yang deficiency, but can experience symptoms of both; in the general population, Kidney deficiencies may start to show up around age 35 or older as adrenals start being taxed and Kidney essence starts to decline.

Deficient Kidney Yin condition is distinguished by:

  • Pain and ache in the lower back and knees
  • scanty, dark urine
  • red tongue
  • feeling of fever in the afternoon
  • flushing of the cheeks
  • insomnia, especially waking up in the middle of the night with difficulty falling back asleep
  • night sweats, hot flashes
  • feelings of heat in the palms and soles of feet
  • infertility, premature ejaculation, anxiety, palpitations, prematurely gray hair, feeling “tired and wired”

Deficient Kidney Yang condition is distinguished by:

    • chronic fatigue and exhaustion
    • cold limbs with difficulty getting warm
    • frequent urination daytime or night time
    • edema/water retention in the lower limbs
    • achy knees
    • diarrhea, especially urgent in the morning
    • poor appetite
    • difficulty losing weight over a long period of time
    • infertility, low libido
Both the Kidney Yin and Yang deficiencies are like “burning the midnight oil” or “running the engine near empty” consciously or unconsciously.
What are ways to nourish Kidney energy from Chinese medicine perspective?
  • Start with lifestyle habits that nourish and strengthen the GUT/Digestive System.  From the Chinese medicine Organ/Element association, we refer to this as the Spleen system. For more information on Spleen energy, visit this previous blog post Spleen: The Mother of all Elements.
  • Cultivate deep breathing habits through regular exercise, joyful movement and/or meditation
  • Additional ways to balance Kidney energy specifically include consuming dark fruits and vegetables such as red grapes, prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, blue corn, eggplant, seaweed, mushrooms, squash, black sesame seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, kidney beans, black beans, cinnamon, romaine, escarole, endive.  Roasted meats, slow-cooking foods, bone broths, miso soup are also great Kidney tonics.
Was this blog too much information to absorb?  No worries =)  Just watch these two videos of water, breathe in how they make you feel and replay that feeling in your mind’s eye throughout the day or come back and watch them again.  You will naturally embody the energy of water.
Our licensed acupuncturists are skilled and happy to work with you with acupuncture, Chinese herbs and dietary recommendations to help you understand how to support your Water element and its associations.  Call us today to schedule your appointment.
This is a video of a creek from a hike on the first snow in Durham of 2017, view it from YouTube to get the full sound effect of the water and watch the snowflakes:

What Is Qi Gong?

“To study and at times practice what one has learned, is that not a pleasure?”  -Confucius
lilan qigongQi (pronounced CH-EE) is the Chinese word for “life force or life energy”.  It is the inherent power that flows through all living things, including inanimate objects like mountains and rocks.  For humans, having healthy Qi involves having an abundance of vitality but also having the Qi flow smoothly and unimpeded through ones body.
Gong is translated as “work”, but not with a solely negative connotation as modern society often uses the duality of “work vs play”.  Gong here relates to the benefits gained through continuous practice; I like to say “the pleasure of focused attention”.
So Qi Gong means working with life energy, learning how to control the flow of qi in body, mind, and spirit to improve health and wellbeing.
My earliest exposure to the practice of Qi Gong was from my father.  I was living in Honduras, so I was in middle school.  I’m not sure what prompted him to teach me some of these ancient Chinese techniques, but I clearly remember the core lessons: horse stance, the importance of both feet feeling stable and connected to the ground, resting the tip of the tongue on the top palate to connect the body’s energy line from tailbone to head, and correct posture for proper flow of Qi.  I remember liking the lessons even then.
It is no surprise, looking back now, that I have made Chinese medicine my practice and my life, of which Qi Gong and the understanding of Qi is a bit part of. That was over 20 years ago and I’m still practicing the basics, as well as having learned a lot of other fun Qi Gong exercises that I look forward to sharing in class.

Reflection from student in the spring 2015 series: “I really am glad i was able to get a nice foundation in the Qi Gong. It was such a nice way to fully shift out of the work day. Sometimes I stay in work mode, so I really noticed the difference from how I felt when walking in vs. leaving. I taught it to my mom this weekend and hope to do some videos for her so she can remember.”