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The Spirit of the Water Element

by Kat Barber, R.Ac.


The Spirit of the Water Element, Kat Barber Acupuncture in Royal Oak, 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 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.


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.


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.


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
Lack of will power
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.