Winter: The End of a Cycle

As we transition from autumn into winter, we continue the natural seasonal cycle. The process of dropping the last leaves, gives way to the austerity of winter. This is more apparent in colder climates, though it occurs here too on a subtler level.

In Chinese medicine, the organs associated with winter are bladder and kidneys. The associated element is water. The bladder is the reservoir of water and the kidneys distribute the water.

When we consider that 60 percent of the human body is water, we begin to understand the significance of this element and its related season. Water is a large component of blood, lymph, and intracellular and interstitial fluids. It carries nutrients, oxygen and hormones to every cell of the body. Both the kidneys and bladder have roles in filtering out impurities. One need only imagine a person on dialysis to understand the importance of this.

When the body is not storing or distributing its water appropriately, we might have dryness in skin, bowels, or other body parts. Conversely, we could experience edema and swelling, especially of the lower body and limbs. A person might have incontinence or retention of urine, urinary tract infection or kidney stones.

The emotion when water is out of balance is fear. A person could be very anxious about the future. They might guard tightly, afraid to let go, with adrenaline flowing, similar to a deer blinded by the headlights. Others may distract themselves because they don't want to confront a bad situation, They may lack of realistic assessment of their situation, and appear fearless.

In nature, winter is a time of austerity; animals struggle to nourish themselves, and may even resort to hibernation. Resolve, determination and endurance are apparent when this element is in balance. Inability to pull through or inability to rest (an overachiever's determination) can appear when a person becomes out of balance.

The bladder meridian starts just above the tear duct, travels over the head, and ends at the little toe. The kidney meridian starts at the sole of the foot and concludes just below the collarbone. Eye problems, headaches, neck aches and backaches, sciatica, calf, ankle and foot pain can all be indications of bladder imbalance. The proximity of the kidney channel to the genitals and reproductive organs helps us understand how infertility, premature ejaculation and inability to perform sexual activity are some ways imbalance might show up.

In classical Chinese theory, the kidneys are seen as the source of ancestral energy. We can't add to this pre-natal reservoir, Though we can take in daily resources - food, drink, and air. If we don't properly support ourselves daily, we end up pulling energy from our reserves. This is fine to do from time to time, but if done for too long, it can have detrimental effect.

So what are some of the steps we can take to ensure good health in the winter?

  • Drink lots of water.
  • Get lots of sleep. Remember this is appropriately the time of hibernation.
  • Use moderation regarding workload and hours.
  • Use moderation regarding sexual activity. The kidneys pass on the seed but too much activity depletes the reservoirs.
  • Consume appropriate amounts of sea salt.

The taste associated with water is salty. In Chinese theory salt has a descending nature, seen much like the sap of a tree that descends to the interior during cold weather. Salt is also known for its detoxifying properties, and historically has been used as a preservative. Some good examples of salty foods are miso, soy sauce, seaweeds, millet and barley.

Lastly, we might consider relaxing from our stresses by taking a nice hot bath, complete with epsom salts. The element of water has been used throughout time in many purification ceremonies such as baptism. Soaking in the tub can be especially wonderful during this time of year when introspection is so important.

May we enjoy the quiet dark nights, a time to rejuvenate, before the springtime brings the next round of increased activity and growth.


Original article by Judy Pruzinsky Copyright 2008.

Judy Pruzinsky, L.Ac writes articles about acupuncture and health that are published in online and print publications.