With winter solstice upon us, I felt it would be the perfect time to reflect on the season of winter, the season that corresponds to the Water Element in Five Element Acupuncture. Winter is a time to hibernate and reserve our energies, in contrast to the long action packed days of the summer. Life slows down in winter and nature seemingly takes a rest, it’s a time for conserving energy for the year ahead and making an effort to go to bed earlier just as we would have naturally in centuries gone by before the era of artificial light. Winter is the most Yin time of the year, and for many it can be the most challenging time of the year especially for those effected my seasonal affective disorder.
In Five Element Acupuncture, the Water element consists of both the Bladder and the Kidney; and amongst other correspondences, the Kidney governs the bones. It’s by no surprise that during the time of the Water element (winter) that illnesses involving bones (such as osteoarthritis) can worsen in the cold and damp whether. Complaints that involve the bones may be an indicator of a deficient Water element. The Water Element also corresponds to the emotion fear. Consider the necessary primal drive and fight to survive winter in nature as animals that hibernate, we once too relied on our ‘storage’ of foods to survive the winters. Anatomically there is a strong connection between the kidneys and the fear hormones... adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenal glands sit above the Kidneys and interact with the kidneys through the secretion of aldosterone from the cortex. The Hypothalamus pituitary adrenal operates by adrenaline acting on the hypothalamus which increases cortisol via the pituitary gland. Therefore, excessive fear and phobias may indicate a Water Element disharmony, as might the absence of fear which could be equally as concerning to an individual.
As you would expect, bladder and urinary issues may point to an imbalance with the Water Element, however the Water Element governs many functions in the body beyond the physical organ. The Kidneys govern teeth and head hair in Chinese medicine, if a person is loosing hair too young, or if the teeth are failing, brittle and poor quality we would consider the health of the Water Element to need supporting. A person who is ageing prematurely would indicate a depletion of Kidney energetic, in cosmetic acupuncture there is a focus to support the water element and prevent premature ageing. Another reason to support the Water Element in cosmetic treatment is to treat the aetiology of dark circles under the eyes, a classic tell-take sign of a Kidney imbalance.
Clinically both my patients and I see the benefit in attending seasonal acupuncture treatments, we change tremendously throughout the seasons and so can our medical complaints. Many conditions are aggravated by seasonal changes, and the mutability of the complaint can sometimes tell us a great deal more information about the complaint than of the complaint itself. We are not immune from environmental influences, as domesticated beings it’s easy to forget that we live and function in accordance with nature’s will. Medical complaints may aggravate and ease with the seasons from the obvious (such as hay fever) to the less obvious (headaches, palpitations, eczema). The organs Kidney and Bladder also have a corresponding time of the day, according to the ‘Chinese clock’ which is a 24 hours clock that indicates each organs optimum functioning time, the 2 hour period for the Bladder is 3-5pm and the Kidney is 5-7pm. Many report an energetic drop in Bladder or Kidney time, which tends to fall shortly after lunch and extends to after the working day.
What can you do to live in harmony with the season? The Su Wen encourages us to live in harmony with the seasons to cultivate and maintain health, in winter this would involve preserving and protecting our energy (rest and hibernation). It’s important to keep warm in winter and wear a scarf to protect yourself from external pathogens (colds and flus). For those who really suffer with the cold, a haramaki (Kidney warmer) would be a great edition to your wardrobe which can help to maintain core temperature and is worn under garments. It’s a time to eat seasonal vegetables, casseroles, soups and ditch the salads. Winter is also a reflective time, a time of quietude and self-recollection. One should retire to bed earlier, reduce stress, caffeinated beverages and reduce excessive stimulation of televisions, mobile phones in order to regulate and restore the adrenal function.