The Depths of the Water Element will Keep you Balanced this Winter

by Inger Giffin, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac.

 

Being in tuned with the Water Element keeps us balanced in winterIt’s the midst of winter and all is elusive…the days are short and dark, the fields barren.  Not much occurs on the surface, and when we are in rhythm with the patterns of nature, our lives reflect this dormancy as well.  In this time of rest, and especially in our do-ing culture, it is all too easy to underestimate the subtleties of power and transformation that are brewing beneath the surface.

According to the Taoist roots of Chinese Medicine and 5-Elements acupuncture theory, we are now in the season associated with the Water Element. When asked their favorite season, most people proclaim “Summer!”.  Who doesn’t enjoy hanging out in that time of Fire, of parties, celebrations, and sunshine?  But ask who loves winter, and you’re mostly met with sullen answers filled with longings for spring.  So let’s look towards the power of Water, and draw on it to help us through this often trying season.

Water is depth.  It is associated with the transformative processes of life, death, and rebirth.  Many philosophers are Water types, who are quite pleased to spend their days engulfed in quandaries into the nature of existence.  They understand that something deep and intense is happening beneath the surface–something unknown, and they seek to bring this awareness and acceptance into their daily existence.  Many, in times of profound emotion, report dreaming of being engulfed in waves, or drowning in the ocean’s waters. It is natural in these times of intensity to be overwhelmed with fear, and indeed fear is the emotion associated with Water.  But when our Water element is balanced, rather than living in fear, we are able to be in the philosopher’s state of awe, and can ponder the unknowns of life and death without being swept away by overwhelm.

Physically, the Water element is about our growth, development, and reproduction, and is related to the Kidneys and Bladder organs, and to our bones.  It is common for issues related to these organs to arise or worsen during their peak season, and indeed, I treat them more in my acupuncture practice during the winter months.  For example, during the winter people may experience more dramatic issues with frequent urination.  Because the Kidneys store our vital life force energy, or Qi, fatigue is common in winter.  When this Qi is depleted, such as in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or adrenal burnout, it is hard to even find the energy to carry out our daily functions.  Also related to our Kidneys are sexual energy (there can be impotence, low sex drive, or infertility), “grasping the lung Qi” (there can be asthma or shallow breathing), and temperature regulation (there can be extreme cold or heat, as in hot flashes).

Follow these tips for balancing your Water element in the winter:

  • Food Therapy:  focus your meals around foods which balance your kidneys.

For those prone to cold (potential yang deficiency): warming spices such as cloves; fenugreek, fennel, and anise seeds, black peppercorn, ginger, and cinnamon. For foods, eat walnuts, foods in the onion family (garlic, onions, chives, scallions, leeks), chicken, lamb, trout, and salmon. Stay away from all raw and cold temperature foods in the winter, and eat a ton of warming soups, stews, and casseroles.

For those prone to heat (potential yin deficiency): I used to recommend the following TCM yin nourishing food prescriptions: Millet, barley, tofu, string bean, black bean, black soybean, mung bean and its sprouts, kidney beans, and seaweeds.  However, as I’ve changed over to a “seasonal-medicinal-modified-Paleo” approach (combining Paleo with balancing food prescriptions based on a person’s TCM constitution); I now just recommend mildly cooling foods such as small amounts of raw salads, lots of colorful vegetables, and a ton of cooked greens. Most fruits and non-starchy vegetables are yin nourishing, so go to town on the veggies!  As the weather heats up and fruits and summer veggies come into season, you can focus more on eating these foods uncooked; but for now, keeping them cooked will both supplement your yin without damaging your digestion and qi. (Generally in the winter acupuncturists don’t advise much raw food at all, but for those with heat signs, some can take more of these foods than a person prone to cold…watch how you feel; if raw foods cause bloating or abdominal discomfort, that’s a sure sign that you should be sticking with cooked).

  • Address feelings of fear and overwhelm through using the 5 elements: The element that “controls” Water to keep it from getting out of hand is Earth, which is about grounding, nourishing, and receiving.  The stronger your Earth element is then, the stronger an ally it is in preventing feelings of fear from paralyzing you.  Take extra care in winter to prioritize activities and time with those who are especially nourishing and fulfilling to your soul.
  • Spend time near water: Sounds too simple to be effective? Remember, Water is about subtleties…about what’s happening beneath the surface without our “efforting”. Patients have reported profound realizations after doing their “homework” of spending quiet time near the river.
  • Schedule some acupuncture appointments to help gain greater awareness of your own state of balance, and to deal with Water or Kidney/Bladder health issues: Treatments received to address those issues during this time of year will have enhanced effects.

We must look a little deeper to find the magic of winter, but beckoning the power it contains, we find that come spring, we are nourished and filled with what we need to get out there and make our place in the world once again!

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