The Spirit of the Water Element

The Spirit of the Water Element                                                                                  by Kat Barber

The Spirit of the Water Element, Kat Barber R.Ac.   Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in Ferndale, Michigan in Ferndale, MI

Another New Year has arrived and with it, a Michigan winter is upon us. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, every season has a corresponding element that reflects not only the qualities of that particular season in nature, but within us.

What does this mean? Let’s take a look at how the winters paired element – Water – manifests externally and internally within us through the Kidney organ system.

During winter the earth becomes a seed as nature appears frozen and barren. Freezing temperatures produce snow and ice that cover the ground as a protective barrier for the potential of what is to emerge in the Spring: new life and growth.

At this time of year, the Winter promotes depth, contraction and reflection, as we slow down, seek warmth, nourishment and connection in our lives and homes. Winter is a time of stillness and quietude; nature’s energy having turned inward. Ultimately, Winter reminds us to go deep, utilize our reserves wisely and to reconnect to our inner being.

THE WATER ELEMENT

The winter is associated with the Water element. In nature, water is cool/cold, translucent, cleansing, fluid, flowing and fresh. Water can manifest as a single droplet, a stream, a river, a wave or an ocean. From a small trickle to a tidal wave that overwhelms all that lies in its path, water has the potential to create life and death. The environmental condition that affects the Water element is cold and can affect us both externally and internally. The organ system associated with the Water element is the Kidney which controls water metabolism and maintains homeostasis in the body through the removal of liquid waste and toxins.

KIDNEY ORGAN SYSTEM

In Western medicine, the kidneys regulate water metabolism and stabilize the heart and blood pressure. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Kidney organ system is also said to be responsible for healthy reproduction, teeth, bones, and bone marrow. Because Chinese medical scholars considered the brain and spinal cord to be extensions of the bone marrow, the Kidney is thought to control the skeletal structure and function of growth, development, intelligence, perception and memory.

Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that the Kidney organ system operates similar to a pilot light within the body, mind and spirit. Known as Kidney Fire, this function regulates the body’s water metabolism of removing toxins, producing and storing urine for excretion through the bladder and sending warmth and energy to every cell in the body. Emotionally, Kidney Fire provides the potential and will power needed to overcome life’s obstacles and move forward to accomplish our goals in life.

VIRTUE AND TRANSFORMATION OF THE WATER ELEMENT

Cold is the nature of the Water element. The nature of cold is to be contracted, frozen, frigid, inflexible and guarded. How does cold damage the healthy functioning of the Water element? By inhibiting the Kidney Fire within us which fuels our inherited potential, our resources, our storehouse into the world. Cold may prevent us from manifesting our potential because the Water element freezes like ice, preventing us from accomplishing our goals.

The virtue associated with Water is wisdom. In the face of the unknown, wisdom empowers us to navigate through life, around the next corner, when we don’t know what will happen next. It is then that the spirit of the Kidney organ system, our will power, rises up and cultivates wisdom in the face of the unknown, otherwise known as fear. Excessive fear which can also manifest as anxiety, can prevent us from tapping into our deep potential. Lack of fear can lead to recklessness through repetitive depletion of our inner resources, leading to burnout, fatigue and feeling frozen in life.

“Wisdom is the virtue that empowers us to stand firmly in the face of the unknown, facing our fears.” Lonny Jarrett. In transforming our fear of the unknown into wisdom by utilizing our inner resources wisely, we are able to access our Kidney Fire, our potential that cultivates our wisdom and transcends our fear.

When the Kidney (and Water element) are out of balance, this can manifest health conditions both physically and emotionally.

SYMPTOMS ASSOCIATED WITH IMBALANCES IN THE WATER ELEMENT

Low back pain—chronic or acute
Knee pain and weakness
Urinary problems
Fatigue and shortness of breath
Vertigo or dizziness
Poor libido
Fertility issues
Kidney stones
High blood pressure
Poor memory
Premature aging
Anxiety, excessive fear, paranoia
Cold, guarded, frigidity
Inflexibility and resistance to change
Insecurity
Lack of will power
Recklessness
Depletion of inner resources

As we age, we lose water and our bodies begin to dry out. Our bones and hair become more brittle, our skin loses its elasticity, our minds lose their flexibility. While acknowledging these changes, Traditional Chinese Medicine provides us with tools to help augment the water reserves within us.

Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine and Autumn

Fall is officially here in Michigan. The leaves are not only turning intensely vibrant colors, yet dropping from the trees. Days are becoming shorter as nights grow longer. There’s a crisp chill in the air, as nature prepares for the next cycle of life. As fall transitions into winter, many people are prone to a mild form of depression that is affected by the change of seasons.

Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine and Autumn, Kat Barber R.Ac.   Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in Ferndale, Michigan in Ferndale, MI

Along with a depressed mood, one can experience irritability, headaches, poor sleep habits, fatigue, increased appetite, cravings and an inability to concentrate. These set of symptoms form a condition commonly referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Seasonal affective disorder affects over ten million people in the United States each year, two-thirds of which are female. While the true cause is not known according to western medicine, it is thought that decreased melatonin levels due to limited exposure to sunlight in the fall and winter months contribute to SAD.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, everything has a yin and yang aspect: opposing forces that also complement one another and form part of a greater whole. Yang relates to activity, warmth, and brightness whereas yin relates to nourishment, passiveness, cold, and darkness.

In terms of the seasons, the start of the yin cycle begins in the fall when the amount of daylight gradually decreases. There is a tendency towards isolation, sadness, and grieving. For individuals whose constitution (due to gender, genetics, environment, and lifestyle) is more yin in nature, these feelings may be even more pronounced. In addition, it is natural to experience an increase in appetite and cravings that provide a quick source of energy that can be stored as fat in the body. Our bodies use a lot of energy during this time of year to maintain warmth. It is also normal to feel more lethargic, as well as emotionally and physically sensitive. Stress, a lack of sleep, and poor nutrition can deplete the body’s energy sources further and increase the chances of experiencing not only depressed mood, but decreased immunity.

Acupuncture and other modalities of TCM can be helpful for those who experience seasonal depression as they can bring the body to a more balanced state. In TCM, energetic imbalances are closely associated with chemical, mental, emotional, and physical manifestations in the body. Treatments can address the associated symptoms of SAD by decreasing stress and inflammation, improving circulation, regulating body temperature, improving sleep quality and regulating mood.

The following are some suggestions to help you manage seasonal ups and downs:

  • Keep physically active. It’s important to be mindful of not overstraining oneself during this yin time of year. Light cardio, walking, gentle stretching and yoga are great options.
  • Take a walk! Getting outdoors and connecting with nature and the season helps be in the present and embrace the cycle of change.
  • Allow time for rest and reflection. Whether taking time out to read, meditate or just doing nothing, it’s important to foster a sense of quiet and calm to recharge our batteries. Guilt free!
  • Establish healthy sleep habits. Preparing for bed as a ritual to be enjoyed by unplugging from electronics, going to bed at the same time nightly and unwinding from the day’s events can support healthy cortisol levels and balanced hormones for improved mood.
  • Essential oils are wonderful self-care for seasonal depression! Rosemary, black spruce and/or frankincense essential oils used in a diffusor throughout the day help calm the central nervous system, promote improved memory, focus and concentration and a stabilized mood.
  • Eating according to the season is a natural way to help balance physical and emotional well-being. Warming and pungent foods and spices that help increase circulation and metabolism are great choices during the fall. Preparing meals with earthy spices, root vegetables, squashes, apples, pears, grains, legumes and lean animal protein reflect the bounty of harvest while feeding our bodies with what’s in season.
  • Create connection. Although the tendency to become more inactive and isolated is reflective of this time of year, it’s also important to communicate with those close to you so that you can nourish your personal relationships and maintain a healthy and positive outlook on life.
    There’s no separation between nature and us. We are a reflection of the seasons by embodying the same relationships within that occur in nature.

By finding value in these seasonal changes and within ourselves, we can cultivate a more balanced and healthy lifestyle that supports body, mind and spirit.