Winter: Cultivating Reserves

When I was a kid, snow days were a treat – a precious day off. I remember eagerly awaiting the announcement that my school was closed, releasing me to an unexpected mini-vacation. As an adult, I still look forward to snow days as a respite from the busyness of life’s obligations. More importantly, I have deepened my appreciation of winter as nature’s designated time to turn completely inward, slow down, rest, and recharge. Winter reminds us that life requires be-ing as much as do-ing. It summons us to our caves just like the bears, so that we can hear nature whisper: “Hush now, go deep inside and store your energy for the coming year. Connect to your source.”

In Chinese Medicine, winter is the seasonal expression of our Water element. In the physical realm, we know how vital water is to life. Without it, we die. Humans, and our earth are composed of about two-thirds water. Blood circulation, lymphatic flow, immune function and elimination of waste are dependent upon water as the medium through which everything passes. On an energetic level, the Water element is the well within us where we access our essence and from which we draw our potency. In other terms, the Water element is similar to the seed. It contains the embryo and the immense potential energy for the creation of a new plant. All life cycles – birth, growth, reproduction and development are propelled by our Water element.

Kidneys and Bladder: Our Deep Reserves

The ancient Chinese understood our anatomy and physiology in relation to the organ systems we understand today. However, they also recognized mental and emotional capacities associated with each of the organs. The Kidneys and Bladder energy belong to our Water element. In addition to their hysiology related to filtering and excretion of fluids, this pair is responsible for storing our deep reserves of energy and potential, and for the wise use of that energy.

When we have strong Kidney and Bladder energy, we are fluid on every level. We are able to go with the flow and have enough “juice” to meet the demands of life while respecting our limitations. We possess clever skill and ability to conserve and expend our resources (be it money, time, physical stamina, etc) much like an athlete knows how to pace himself when running a marathon.

Water energy empowers us with the wisdom that we will survive winter and gifts us with the faith that spring will indeed follow. The Kidneys and Bladder are our reservoirs for courage and strength of will. Lacking these reserves, we may experience the emotion associated with the water element: fear. While some fear is appropriate and causes us to take due care, an imbalance in our Water energy may result in inappropriate fear that
paralyzes us and blocks our ability to function. Panic attacks, anxiety, and phobias can indicate a distressed Kidney and Bladder energy.

Knee and low back problems can also point to a disharmony in our Water element. The pathways of the Kidney and Bladder traverse the knees and the back and these areas often become triggered when our Water element is deficient, or obstructed. Fear can cause us to become “weak kneed.” Overwork or excessive physical labor or activity can drain our Kidney and Bladder energies, literally breaking our back.

Acupuncture points along the Kidney and Bladder meridians (pathways of energy on the body) can be used to revive that part of us obscured by fear, fatigue, and uncertainty. Greater Mountain Stream, a point on the inside of the ankle, taps into vast healing reserves. The calming and nourishing effects of this point can address lumbar pain, kidney disease, anxiousness, heat conditions and sleep disorders.

A number of other Kidney points, located on the chest, such as Spirit Seal, Spirit Burial Ground, and Spirit Storehouse, can help resuscitate and restore the resigned or exhausted spirit. These points offer the reassurance that we are OK. We always have access to inner fulfillment and peace, no matter what the circumstances.

Using Winter’s Wisdom for Health

  • Rest.
    This is nature’s season for rest, repair, and regeneration. The Nei Ching, oldestknown document of Chinese medicine, advises: “[In Winter], people should retire early at night and rise late in the morning, and they should wait for the rising of the sun.”
  • Journey inward.
    Seek to learn more about yourself through meditation, reflection, and reading. Limit external stimulation. Switch exercise routines and activities to more inwardly focused ones such as yoga or Tai Qi. Nurture the “seeds” in your life, knowing that in due time they will sprout.
  • Choose more “warming” foods.
    As the temperature drops, the body needs to generate more warmth. Include more cooked foods, quality oils and complex carbohydrates in your meals. Slowcooked soups and stews containing root vegetables, and warming spices like ginger, cinnamon and cayenne are a good way to feed yourself in the spirit of the season.
  • Focus on what’s essential.
    Make time to deepen your relationships with others and yourself. Find ways to cultivate your ability to follow your gut and reassure yourself in times of uncertainty.

References:
The Five Elements and the Officials, J.R. Worsley
The Clinical Practice of Chinese Medicine, Lonny Jarrett

Becky Thoroughgood is a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbologist practicing in Harrisburg. She earned her Master’s Degree in Acupuncture from the Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Traditional Acupuncture Institute) in Laurel, MD.

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