According to traditional Chinese medicine, each season is associated with a particular element. Winter is associated with water element, the source of all life. Although it is a time when the trees have lost their leaves and the earth is cold and hard, there is still life lying dormant, just beneath the surface.
Bugs are sleeping underground, waiting to emerge in the springtime, and the trees are storing energy in preparation to send out new shoots and leaves. Winter is a time to rest, take stock and recharge your batteries. It is a time of stillness, but also a time of great potential with the promise of new life just around the corner.
Because of this, it is very important that you take care of yourself throughout the winter. By adopting good habits now, you will be replenishing your energy reserves and preparing your body for a healthy year ahead.
The Kidneys in Chinese Medicine
Winter and the water element are associated with the Kidneys in Chinese medicine. The Kidneys have many important functions within the body. They are responsible for birth, growth and reproduction, and also govern the aging process among other things.
In Chinese medicine, the Kidneys are said to store a substance known as “essence”. Essence is partly inherited from your parents at birth. It then gradually declines over the course of your lifetime, causing the classic signs of aging.
If your parents were strong and healthy at the time of your conception, then your essence will be plentiful and you will be well placed to live a long and healthy life. However, essence is also influenced by all the things that you do from birth onwards. Diet, exercise and lifestyle all have an effect, and the decisions you make throughout your life will either preserve your essence or cause it to be used up more quickly.
You can take care of your essence by eating a healthy, balanced diet, getting enough sleep, taking regular exercise and keeping a good work-life balance. Things that cause essence to burn up more quickly include a poor diet, smoking, alcohol and drugs, and excessive sexual activity.
As well as storing essence, the Kidneys are seen as the source of all yin and yang within the body. They provide all of the other organs with enough warmth to carry out their physiological functions, while cooling them to prevent overheating. The Kidneys are also said to govern water as they are responsible for expelling liquid waste and controlling urination.
Other functions of the Kidneys include maintaining the health of the bones and the brain, opening into the ears to aid hearing, and keeping the hair thick and strong. The Kidneys are also said to house willpower, and are often seen as a physical and emotional driving force, giving us the motivation we need to push forward in life when the going gets tough.
Taking Care of Your Kidneys
With so many important functions, it is obvious that you should be taking good care of your Kidneys. Here are some suggestions to help you ensure that your Kidneys stay healthy throughout the winter and the rest of the year.
It is very important to stay warm throughout the winter months to keep your Kidneys functioning well. Wear layers when you go outside, and pay special attention to the Kidney area and the lower back. Be sure to choose sweaters that are long enough to cover your whole back, and if it is especially cold, you can even wrap a scarf around your waist. This is particularly useful if you suffer from lower back pain or are trying to get pregnant.
According to Chinese medicine, you should go to bed earlier and get up later during the winter months when it is cold and dark. This may not be very practical in reality, but you can take steps to ensure that you are getting enough rest by going to bed when you are tired and treating yourself to a lie-in at weekends.
The Kidneys do not function well if your body is too dry, so be sure to drink plenty of fluids, even in winter. Avoid activities that make you sweat, and if you do, be sure to rehydrate afterwards. You can also keep your home hydrated by using a humidifier, placing small bowls of water next to radiators or allowing laundry to air dry naturally indoors.
Eat for Your Kidneys
The best foods for nourishing your Kidneys are dark or black in colour. Some good examples are black beans, black rice, black olives, soy sauce, blackberries and blueberries. It is best to cook meat slowly on the bone, and small fish with edible bones are also very good for your Kidneys. Bone broth is another great Kidney nourishing food. It is simple to make and packed with nutrients. It is also beneficial for your Kidneys if you add a little salt to your meals. Choose a high quality, natural sea salt and don’t overdo it. If you suffer from high blood pressure, talk to your doctor first.
Book an Acupuncture Appointment
Winter is the perfect time to treat yourself to a relaxing acupuncture appointment. Your acupuncturist can choose points to support your Kidney function and keep your body warm throughout the colder months.
Try Chinese Herbs
There are many different Chinese herbs that nourish the Kidneys and supplement essence. Your acupuncturist will prescribe the most appropriate blend for you depending on your individual constitution and symptoms.