As Autumn gives way to Winter’s chilly darkness we should feel an urge to slow down and rest more. Winter is a time of reflection and introspection, a time to rest and conserve your Qi, rebuilding our strength for Spring’s rapid burst of new life. Most cultures traditionally believed that we should live in harmony with the seasons. Finding the natural ebb and flow of the seasons and the weather. Some of this was common sense and necessity. Lives were truly dominated by the elements – simply catching a cold could be life threatening. Today, those of us living in the industrialized world, suffer less from the extremes of weather. We stay warm and snug in our heated homes, or cooled cars, and you could eat a pineapple any time of year in any climate. Things have definitely changed. Yet learning to harmonize with each season, understanding its blessings and its virtues can make a huge impact on our overall health and well-being. 

2020 is year where we need to hunker down more usual – grab your blankets, knitting needles and pull out your favorite books. 

The 5 Element Theory of Asian (Chinese) medicine carefully observed the natural phenomenon and flow of the seasons. Each season was assigned an element, organ system, quality, sound, taste and emotion (to name a few categories). These correlations became guidelines for everything from when to go war to identifying disease patterns in the physical body.

Winter Correspondences

Season Winter
Element Water
Color Blue, Dark Blue, Black
Sound Groaning
Climate Cold
State of growth Death
Odor Putrid
Flavor Salty
Yin organ & time Kidneys: 9-11 pm
Yang organ & time Bladder: 7-9 pm
Body tissue Bones, Marrow and Brain
Sense organ Ears
Emotion Fear
Soul Zhi (will power)
Vice Fear or a lack of fear that is harmful
Virtue Wisdom, intention, courage

Let’s dive deeper –

Season – The winter solstice corresponds to the beginning of Winter in the solar calendar. As the shortest day of the year, it’s dark and cold – maximum Yin.  It is the season of death and depending on where you live, most plants have moved their energy inward to slumber – waiting.  On the very next day after the solstice and the peak of maximum Yin we start to see a little more Yang. There’s a little more light as we start to move towards spring’s warmth and light will awaken us. During the winter months it is important to nurture and nourish and to look within. Many of us find ourselves increasingly busy during winter. Holidays and parties can place stressful, many people battle with depression during the colder months. Current economic situations even play a role, as many people fear for savings and reserves – a characteristic of the Water element.

Element – Water.  The mother of life in the body, vital Water is enlivened with the same minerals that are present in our bodies. Sea vegetables (from clean sources) are rich in the same macro and micro minerals that our body needs.

Color – Blue, dark blue and black. We can identify Water element people by a dark blue hue under their eyes. Blue and black foods like forbidden rice, fungus, blueberries, dark berries, black beans also nourish the Water element organs.

Sound – Groaning. Gravel tone in the voice…think Cronkite or Kissinger.  It’s a lack of Yin fluids nourishing the throat, creating a dry, grating sound created by friction.

Climate – Cold.  The Kidneys and Bladder loathe the cold and they are vulnerable to it. Cold’s nature is to tighten and constrict. It locks up muscles, slows down Qi and Blood, and causes sharp pain.  It is particularly bothersome for women and girls during their menses when they become move vulnerable to cold due to Blood’s movement. Obstruction of cold in women can lead to cramping, painful cycles and infertility. Reynaud’s syndrome, is an example of extreme stagnation and obstruction caused by cold. Cold attacks the lower back, and hips which is the residence of the Kidneys. I recommend wearing extra layers or a haramaki over the back if during cold weather. Check out Warm To The Core.

State of growth – Death.  The end of life, which then gives way to new life and growth. It’s not a wonder that the dark winter months can bring out fear, depression and a sense of our own mortality. Looking inward and spending time in deep, meaningful meditation is key here.

Odor – Rotten and putrid – like the smell of urine. Urine is the fluid excretion that is generated under the control of the Winter element organs.

Flavor – Salty.  The flavor of the ocean.  Read more on Winter foods.

Yin Organs – The Kidneys. Our precious Kidneys are the The Root of Life & Sealed Storage within the body.  Guard them well for they are the foundation for all Yin and Yang (Water and Fire) for all organs.  They are also very busy organs that have a lot of functions according to Asian (Chinese) medicine.

Kidneys  are the Root of Life–Store the Jing (Essence) – This refers to the Kidney’s function of storing the essence which is partly derived from the parents and established at conception.  What is Essence?  You are born with it, baby.  Essence is the energy derived from the parents at the mom and father at the moment of conception based on their essence. Thick and fluid like, essence is stored in the Kidneys as Jing.  A small portion of essence is required for every function in the bod – we call this active part Yuan Qi.  If the parents essence is weak, a child’s Kidneys will also be weak. This may manifest as poor bone development, mental retardation, a pigeon-chest, weak back, incontinence, enuresis, loose teeth, or thin hair.

The entire body and all of the organs of the body need Jing in order to thrive. The Kidneys, because they store Jing, bestow the potential for life activity. They have therefore a special relationship with the other organs in that they hold the underlying material of each organ’s existence and are the foundation of each organ, the life activity of each organ ultimately depends on the Kidneys Jing and Yuan Qi.

Fight all you want but Kidney Jing will decline with age.  Most signs and symptoms associated with old age are due to deficiency of Jing. How fast you age depends partly on what you were given (Mom and Dad’s Jing at conception) and how you lived. Were you born with a weak or strong constitution? Did you cherish what you were given or did you burn through it with excessive lifestyles, use of drugs, illness, too many births, too much sex?  Yes, there is too much or too little sex…but that’s for another blog.

The Kidneys govern birth, growth, reproduction and development – These processes are controlled by the original essence which comes from the parents and further maintained by the acquired essence from the food and drink that you ingest and transform.

The Kidneys control the whole of the genitourinary area and the uterus – All urinary tract, sexual and reproductive functions are under the control of the Kidneys. Any problems ranging from UTI’s to failure to conceive would be treated predominantly through addressing the Water element organs. 

The Kidney’s special relationship with the Heart – Water and Fire.  The Kidneys and Heart have a unique communication between them.  The Heart harbors the general soul (Shen), and the Kidney harbors the Zhi, it is the combination of these two that creates consciousness.  A split in this relationship is seen in most forms of mental illness, mania and depression patterns.

What weakens the Kidneys – Physical overwork over a long period of time will weaken, mental overwork under conditions of stress, a lifetime of work under conditions of stress, lack of relaxation, long hours of work, excessive mental work, lack of appropriate physical exercise, drug and alcohol use, chronic illness and poor nutritional habits including eating hurriedly and skipping meals.

Common Kidney patterns – Kidneys lies deep within us are well protected. However, by the time disharmonies reach the Kidneys it’s not one aspect of the organs that are compromised.  If Kidney Yang is weak, Kidney Yin is also weak. We look at as which pattern is most out of balance and work to rectify it while supporting the other aspects of the Kidneys. The following patterns are by no means the whole picture, but they will give you an idea.

Kidney Yang deficiency –  This is a lack of warmth and fire in the system.  Lack of drive, low body temperature, adrenal and thyroid exhaustion or dysfunction, infertility, low libido, high blood pressure.  A classic Kidney Yang pattern is the type A personality that goes and goes and goes, until they collapse and we end up with a chronic fatigue pattern. Read on Kidney Yang Collapse.

Kidney Yin deficiency – A lack of adequate fluids to nourish other organs and keep fire in check. Hot flashes, night sweats, menopausal symptoms. It is also common in many long term chronic pathologies like tuberculosis and other wasting and thirsting syndromes.

Kidney Jing deficiency – Any congenital disorder, slow growth, issues with bones, marrow, spine and brain. If you have Kidney Jing deficiency, both Kidney Yin and Yang are deficient as well.

Yang Organ – Bladder. The Kidneys rely on the Bladder to remove the “dirty water” from the system and to keep the Lower Burner region from becoming too soggy.  In return, the Bladder requires warmth from the Kidneys to have the ability to process, store and properly excrete urine. Long held resentment and embitterment lead to Bladder issues like UTIs.

Tissue – Head hair, bones, teeth and marrow. Abundant hair grows well, will be healthy and glossy-weak, thin, brittle, dull and falls out.  Alopecia?  It’s a Kidney Jing deficiency pattern in Chinese medicine. Jing, or acquired essence, forms marrow, which supplies the bones, the spinal column and forms the brain.  The brain is called the Sea of Marrow, a pretty off the wall concept in western medicine,  until they discovered that the Kidneys really do make the marrow.

Sense Organ – Ears. They even look like little Kidneys and are a road map to the whole body.  Any ear issues, including deafness, are treated through the Water element. Tinnitus? A low rushing tone like the ocean is a Kidney pattern.  High pitched tinnitus is a Liver rising pattern, often related to Kidney Yin not nourishing Liver.

Emotion – Fear is the emotion of the Water element.  It causes the Qi to sink rapidly in the body and can cause loss of Bladder control and bed wetting. Winter is a time that depression can affect many.  It can be very important to bring in the blessings of the season and also mingle them with the joy, the color red and the sound of laughter from the Fire element, which can help the Heart and Kidneys connect. Bundle up and go play in the snow, or light your space with some candles and warm colors.

Soul – Zhi (Purr that out… zhrrr).  Zhi is your willpower and drive to live! If lack Zhi, you may plan and envision the most amazing things (a Liver/Wood virtue), but you may not have the drive to enact your dreams and plans.  You just kind of fade away.  The Zhi also gives us the ability to be introspective, to reflect and remember.  This skill is a willful focus of our consciousness to look within. In short if you have strong Kidney energy, you have a strong will…there will be no stopping you if you set your mind to something.

Virtue and Vice – Water is our depth, our beginning and it corresponds to our life purpose, wisdom, intention, willpower and priority.  In vice, Water is about inappropriate fear and security.  Water craves assurance and reassurance.  We look at the person’s relationship to fear, if they are lost in fear, or whether completely lack fear and take undue risks. Water out of balance craves constant reassurance, yet still wonders if it will be okay.  In virtue, we are cautious with risks, build resources and stores to meet our most needs.  We have the courage to look within ourselves and discover what is most important to us.  It gives us the courage to let go and move into the abyss of the unknown.  Who am I? Why am I here?  What am I going to do about it?

You needed a journaling idea, right?

May you have an introspective winter.