“The mysterious powers of winter create the extreme cold in heaven and they create water upon the earth. Within the body, they create the bones, and of Kidneys and the genitals. Of the colours they create the black colour. They give the human voice the ability to groan and hum. In times of excitement and change, they create trembling, and among the emotions they create fear.”
The Yellow Emperor’s Classic
According to Chinese philosophical thought, Tao is the fundamental intelligence which underlies everything. Tao gives rise to qi and qi gives rise to yin and yang. From yin and yang, we have the five elements, water, wood, earth, fire, and metal. It is from here that physical reality begins. The dance of yin and yang, between the elements and qi, give rise to heaven, man and earth.
With its energetic world view, Chinese medicine is alchemical in its nature, connecting the microcosm with the macrocosm. Chinese medicine understands the cyclic interplay between the world around us as yin moves towards yang, winter moves towards summer, and water shifts towards the fire. The elements are not static, they are in constant flux and their dance plays out as much within as it does in the external environment around us. This is the story of our internal alchemy.
We can begin this journey with any one of the elements, but what better place to start than our life-giving waters. This is the element of the Kidneys. Their season is winter and their colour is black, they govern our bones and marrow, our constitution and ancestral lineage. The Kidneys regulate our sex organs, our fertility, and life force. They house our prenatal essence as the Kidneys are responsible for the quality of the DNA and constitution we inherit from our parents, as well as that which we pass on to our offspring. Our Kidneys also house our postnatal essence which depletes with age and death is the eventual outcome when these stores are completely depleted. Whether we live to our fullest potential (or not) is based upon the choices we make and subsequent impacts on our postnatal essence.
Winter is a time when all the fallen leaves of autumn, break down from their vibrant colours into darkness and black as they decompose and nourish the earth. The deciduous trees lay bare and dormant as their energy recedes into their roots. We too mirror this cycle as our qi descends into the deepest aspects of ourselves, our Kidneys and bones.
This is a time of long winter nights dreaming when we may even receive wisdom from our ancestral past. A time to slow down, meditate, and deep sleep. This is the time of yin within in yin, or deepest yin. It is a time of contemplation and sitting still. It's around now that I often hear my clients stating how 'tired' they feel, or 'how much more they want to sleep'. This is completely natural as our qi descends into the deepest recesses of our body and our essence is replenished. Listen to your body for soon it will be time for our qi to ascend and branch out once more.
The Tao states the highest use of personal will is to align ourselves with our 'will of Heaven'. The spiritual aspect of the Kidneys is Zhi which translates to our Will. Zhi is the charge of intention and effort we need in order to meet our goals. It is our perseverance and the effort we need to succeed in our practice and lives.
Water teaches us to adapt, especially during difficult and challenging times. It is water that holds firm on its course and never loses sight of the goal. This element, when balanced and strong helps us anchor within during the turbulent times in our lives. Allowing us to remain steady and constant whilst being able to navigate these emotional waters. Water is the ultimate yin element, in its ability to adapt it is truly stronger than yang. If you ever doubt this just go to the beach and see how water wears down the rock. The Kidneys carry the energy to hold our momentum and stay true to our path. It is this point within ourselves where we are granted communion with our inner sage and guide.
“Water… flows on and on and merely fill up all the places through which it flows; it does not shrink from any dangerous sport nor from any plunge, and nothing can make it lose its own essential nature. It remains true to itself under all conditions.” The I Ching
Signs and symptoms of Kidney disharmony:
Here are six ways to help and strengthen your Kidneys.
1) Your Kidneys are the organ most damaged by stress, finding ways to balance your nervous system will also help and nourish your kidneys, and help you avoid adrenal exhaustion. You can do, Yoga, Tai Qi, meditation and pranayama, Qi Gong, walking, or anything that helps bring your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system into balance.
2) Our Kidneys house our body's Yin and Yang Qi. The right Kidney houses Yang and the left Kidney houses Yin. Therefore, aim to have the right balance between activity and rest. Try and find the right balance of Yang activities which are challenging, exciting, and stimulating with some Yin activities that incorporate rest, rejuvenation, and contemplation.
3) As the Kidneys govern our will so they are impacted by fear. Try and resolve situations that make you fearful (if there are no obvious threats) by stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone. This will help build and strength your will, for it's during these times you can choose to feed and grow the fear or not.
4) The physical realm of your Kidney is your lower back and knees. Stretching and exercises to strengthen your lumbar area and leg muscles are helpful in supporting your Kidney. Build your core to support your lower back. Yoga is a great way to enhance this area of your body whilst engaging in a moving meditation.
5) Black is the colour of the Kidneys, so make sure to include very dark (even black foods) in your diet. Foods such as dark fruits and vegetables, black beans, black sesame seeds, and black walnuts. The water element includes all food from the sea such as fish, shellfish, seaweed, kelp, and sushi. Royal jelly is an excellent kidney yin tonic.
6) Finally, if you have any concerns make sure to see your acupuncturist. They have a number of tools at their disposal and will employ a combination of acupuncture, herbs and lifestyle advice that can be of benefit to you.
Bare-limbed trees announce the arrival of winters cold.
The standing watchers mirror me as my qi sinks deep.
A natural response to nights, long, growing embrace.
That blaze of autumn colour now broken down, returned, composted, to nourish the sleeping earth.
I release, surrender, make space.
Time to hold still with silence and embrace the seed within.
Bibliography and Resources
I Ching, Book of Changes: The Richard Wilhelm Translation, rendered into English by C F Bayes: Arkana, 1989: 13579108642
The Yellow Emperors Classic of Medicine, A new translation of the Neijing Suwen: Maoshing Ni, PhD: Shambhala Publications, Inc, 1995: R127.1.s93Y4513
In the House of the Moon, reclaiming the feminine spirit of healing, Jason Elias and Katherine Ketcham: Hodder and Stoughton: 1995: 07336012185