The Solstice marks the official start of Winter here in the Northern hemisphere. The short days of Autumn have brought us to this darkest day, and now we gradually begin to see more light in our days once again. Though we’re heading back toward lighter days, this season remains a time of coldness and darkness, and it’s important to conserve our energy to remain healthy throughout the next three months.
The Water Element & Associated Organ Systems
Winter in Chinese medicine is ruled by the Water element, the most yin of the five elements (water, earth, fire, metal, wood). Yin represents rest, stillness, coldness, night, nourishment, consolidation, and contraction. The Water element influences the health of the Kidneys – one’s primary source of energy and vitality. The health of the Kidneys can manifest in the hair, lower back, joints, ears (hearing), sexual drive and function, reproduction and bones/teeth. An imbalance or weakness of the Kidneys can lead to problems in these systems.
The Urinary Bladder is also associated with the Water element, and serves as the paired organ to the Kidneys. It is responsible for storing and excreting the waste fluids from the kidneys.
Fear is the emotion associated with the Water element in Chinese Medicine. While we tend to think of fear in the negative sense, it can also be viewed as a very healthy emotion. Fear allows us to remain alert to the situations surrounding us – an important element of survival. Constructive fear can guide us away from situations that might not be serving our greatest potential.
When the Water element and it’s associated Kidney organ is out of balance, fear can become pathological. This can manifest as intense phobias or chronic anxiety. If you are suffering from anxiety and fear, acupuncture and botanical medicines can help to bring your Kidney function back to health.
When the Urinary Bladder is out of balance, depression, fatigue, and difficulty adapting to new circumstances can occur.
Try to practice self-acceptance: observe your fears without judgement, to allow them to move through you rather than getting stuck. When fear “freezes” us, this can lead to hopelessness. Be kind to yourself, and learn to gently witness and accept your emotions (like you would with a dear friend), rather than getting consumed by them.
General Tips for Staying Healthy
This is no time for ice water! While it is important to stay hydrated during Winter, eating and drinking cold foods and liquids is contrary to the season and will weaken your system. Instead, drink plenty of warm liquids (cinnamon & ginger teas are excellent for this time of year!) and eat warming foods such as hearty soups (especially bone broths, which is a powerful tonic for the Kidneys), roasted root vegetables, squashes, black beans and red adzuki beans. Fish and shellfish are a great choice for protein.
Also, dress accordingly. In Chinese Medicine, the neck and shoulder areas are especially important to keep bundled and safe from wind to avoid getting sick. The lower back houses the Kidneys, so it is prudent to keep this area warm to prevent damaging the source of your vital energy!
It is best to follow the rhythm of the season and increase your periods of rest. Go to bed early, and sleep in if you’re able to. Inward activities such as writing, meditating, and reading are excellent for this time of year.
While yes, Winter is an important time to slow down and reflect, you shouldn’t stop moving altogether! Now is a good time for fluid-movement exercises such as Tai Chi, qigong, yoga, and dance.
In Winter, nature slows down and hibernates in preparation for Spring. We can follow nature’s cue and use this season to turn inward. Winter is an excellent time for exploring the deeper issues in our lives. Use the natural stillness of this season to meditate and reflect on where you’re at, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. Winter is also a great time to pay attention to your dreams. Try writing them down and see if you notice any patterns!