By Hayley Stobbs R.Ac, CNC
Earth expresses her utmost yin and water element qualities during winter season, as atmospheric intervals of rain, fog, and cool temperatures influence our internal atmosphere. From an energetic perspective the microcosm of our organ functioning reflect the macrocosm of the earth’s seasonal processes. The part that is our kidney system reflects the larger deep-rooted, sustaining, and inward nature of winter’s resting energy. Relatively, kidney energy and its relation to processing water within winter become more susceptible to becoming drained or replenished at this time of year.
This post highlights how to be with winter as an opportunity to embrace slowing down and conserving so that we may freely flow forth with seeds of potential into Spring and make manifest the active energy that it has to offer. We’ll focus on kidney processes in harmony and disease, mental-emotional correspondences, and how to take care of your kidney health, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
“The Kidneys are the organ of doing and striving. . the root strength from which one rises to challenge of urgent need. . This is akin to bursts of adrenaline and the ability to rise and perform in stressful situations. ” – Jason Robertson
BEFORE WE BEGIN: Clarifying the Chinese Medicine term ‘Organ’
When acupuncturists refer to a specific organ we are describing a system of interrelated physiological functions and senses, meridian and paired organ processes, mind-body-spirit aspects, and cosmic-seasonal resonances that collectively refer to one’s inner-external state of balance and patterns. This is unlike western medicine, which focuses on physiological functions related to anatomical structures in health and disease.
THE KIDNEY SYSTEM
The kidneys are of rooted regard as their primal and catalytic yin and yang energies are the fundamental spark for the health of all the other organs.
Here is a review of its main functions & relations:
Catalyst for birth, growth, mental and physical development.
Controls minister fire (ming men, gate of life), regulates fire-water balance, warmth and energy. Fire-water balance, kidney essence, sexual function and reproduction (below), parallels metabolism and endocrine function in western medicine.
Rules sexual function, the genitals, sex drive, and reproduction. The endocrine system reflects these functions.
Stores jing. Jing is a deep-rooted prenatal and postnatal energy reserve, also referred to as essence and constitutional vitality. Jing holds ancestral predisposition, longevity, and is the driving force for epigenetic potential; how diet and lifestyle can influence the expression of physical genetic inheritance and mental-emotional well-being.
Produces marrow via kidney essence (jing), which fills bones, nourishes brain, and helps to make blood. Bone marrow contributes to healthy immunity, bones, and teeth, whereas spinal marrow supports mental development and hair growth.
Rules the bones and teeth. Bones are an extension of teeth.
Governs water and water transformation. Receives fluid and holds qi from lungs and then evaporates it back moistens the lungs.
Controls inspiration and grasping of qi from lungs, therefore assisting with respiration and energy circulation within the body.
Opens into ears (middle ear bones and ear drum) and manifests in head hair. Keep in mind blood quality (available nourishment via spleen health) is also a reflection of hair health.
Controls the anus, role of elimination by colon, and urethra.
Spiritual or psychic capacity: Residence of the Zhi spirit (willpower), relating to ambition and the spark to do something in one’s life; ability to take on challenges, intentional striving, and steadfastness. To investigate and restrain from impulses.
Related to the low back and knees.
Related to the emotion fear and the states of terror and shock. This relates to the nervous system and vagus nerve functioning.
Kidney Imbalance Manifestations
The following symptoms and conditions may be reflective of kidney yin, yang, or qi deficiency patterns:
Hormone and reproductive imbalances, adrenal fatigue or exhaustion, low sex drive, ejaculation disorders, poor physical and/or mental development, low back pain weakness, knee symptoms, teeth or bone problems (arising at a young age), insomnia, water retention or edema, night sweats, premature aging, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, chronic constipation or diarrhea, chronic illness, chronic cold body temperature, dryness, incontinence, bedwetting, cystitis, menopause symptoms, poor memory, tinnitus, anxiety or chronic fear, dark circles under the eyes.
EXPLORING THE KIDNEY MENTAL-EMOTIONAL REALM
The emotion fear may be brought forth more readily during winter due to the yin forces of the winter season and its associated water element. Fear can both injure the kidney system and/or arise within due to a kidney imbalance. With this interconnectedness brought to light you can see that treating the kidney-adrenal system can efficiently help to calm fear, while managing mental-emotional health through deeply relaxing practices such as meditation will benefit the kidneys.
It’s common in our culture to think that fear is weak, powerless, and shameful. What one experiences as fear or trauma may be harmless to another, and this is where judgment can override understanding and compassion for the unique individual. There is a duality to every emotion, and as I’ve experienced this my desire to spread this awareness grows. Here are some examples of how fear can support or drain kidney energy and its associated water element.
“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.” – Marianne Williamson
Fear + kidney health in balance:
Experiencing the natural cycle of fear as an initiator transitions from awareness of a threat, to feeling a fear, to the mind considering solution, action, safety, and/or acceptance.
Fear allows us to survive. It kicks in our instinctual abilities as humans to be alert, to protect, and to reproduce.
Vigilance is fears virtue, which is the action or state of care, caution, and prevention.
As a form of creation, for example, fear of illness produced new medicines and healthy proactive preventative habits.
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” – Marie Carie
Fear + kidney health imbalance:
Fear as a block, leading to getting stuck in sympathetic nervous system ‘fight or flight’ mode while not being able to complete the cycle of fear (see above).
Catastrophizing, paranoia, looking for re-assurance 24/7, shock, phobias, hysteria, agoraphobia, and panic attacks.
Fear leading to chronic agitation, nervousness, scatterdness, ungroundedness, and dormancy.
Lack of faith or not believing in one self.
Overly trusting to feel safe. For example, looking to ‘magical qualities’ in others rather than listening to intuition, expert advice, and a balanced outlook.
Suppressing fear and replacing it with anger, hiding it as a solution to not feel shame, and habitual heightening of fear to drown out love and joy. In this last scenario one may feel they are unworthy and that love is unsafe due to past experiences of being hurt.
Avoidance of situations that produce an adrenalized state or addiction to produce an adrenalized reckless state without caution.
Fear as a root cause to illness, and suffering as identity in which one subconsciously holds value to hiding or disengaging from conflict or other sources of pain. Chronic fear produces physiological changes – to the adrenals, hormone health, gastrointestinal system, circulatory system, muscle tone, water metabolism, and mental function.
Overworking; inability to stop and rest, or, complete lack of drive.
Over-stimulation from excess screen time, sex, and/or drugs, food and drink (coffee, sugar).
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” – Marianne Williamson
Moving Through Fear to Love
Investigating physiological contributors and noticing feelings associated with concepts or stories (false notions), increases awareness. Once we are aware we can choose to think and act with love, and to reach out for support, so we can move through feelings with a sense of safety and understanding. By investing in feeling or unraveling, rather than suppressing feelings such as fear, we can learn to use loving methods to help us to transform, resolve, and/or to accept. As this occurs an understanding about ourselves and the world at a deeper level manifests with wisdom.
Self-care and self-love habits are solutions to emotional suffering. Read on to explore some nourishing rituals and routines and stick to a few that resonate with you.
“Place the fearful mind into the cradle of lovingkindness.” – Pema Chodron
Mental-emotional-spiritual kidney + water element nourishment:
Deeply relaxing winter routines and self-love reflective work benefit healthful kidney energy, its innate essence, and interconnected organs. Choose a few of the following that resonate with you to practice.
Slowing down and embracing the being energy of winter silence, rest, and mystery.
To reflect inward through journaling and meditation to nurture concentration, awareness, clarity, and inner peace. I recommend the HeadSpace App or Tara Brach’s free online guided meditations, The Five Minute Journal, and Byron Katie’s ‘The Work’ worksheets. Keep in mind that sometimes it’s easier to start and progress with meditation in a group setting. Explore local yoga studios and meditation centres to learn more.
To feel safe and empowered.
To have faith; to believe in yourself.
Facing and feeling your fears (healthfully) with curiosity, as excitement and opportunity, while being comfortable with uncertainty and change.
Abiding to one’s moral values.
Seeking quality guidance and wisdom.
Understanding, listening, responsiveness to needs and feelings of others.
Transforming the cycle of ancestral mind-body patterns and trauma through counselling and daily cleansing rituals such as: meditation, journaling, and expressive dance or yoga (see physical nourishment for the kidneys, below). Read The Body Keeps The Score for further insight.
Reflecting on work-life balance and making shifts to support each.
Embracing play as purposeless activity that you enjoy. As Daverick Leggett explains, “Reclaim innate spontanaeity through simply playing -- play may be said to be the natural expression of kidney, so finding adult version of playfulness often left behind in childhood nourishes the kidney.”
“To nourish yang aspect of the kidney you need adventure; life needs to provide an edge of excitement where there is challenge and the will towards life is awakened -- this may mean finding more motivation in work or daily life, or it may mean taking an adventurous holiday or spontaneous gettaway every now and again.” – Daverick Leggett, Recipes for Healing
Supportive Kidney and Water Element Quotes, Mantra, and Meditation:
“In the infinity of life, where I am, all is perfect, whole and complete. I believe in a power far greater than I am that flows through me every moment of everyday. I open myself to the wisdom within, knowing that there is only One Intelligence in this universe. Out of this One Intelligence comes all the answers, all the solutions, all the healings, all the new creations. I trust this power and Intelligence, knowing that whatever I need to know is revealed to me, and whatever I need comes to me in the right time, space, and sequence. All is well in my world.” – Louise L. Hay
“God/Universe, spare me from the desire for love, approval, or appreciation. Guide me to do the inner work of self love, approval, and appreciation so I don’t suffer to seek it through others.” - Byron Katie
I am safe and protected.
I trust life’s unfolding; I am divinely guided.
God/universe, show me the way.
I have the power to choose (thoughts, words, actions, habits, attitude).
I will rise to challenges the best I can with what I have.
I’ve done hard things before, I’ve got this.
I am gentle with myself.
May I be love and love
May I cultivate the love within me
May I be filled with compassion
May I be safe and protected
May I be happy and healthy
May I give and receive
May I be courageous and confident
May my life unfold with ease
HOW TO PHYSICALLY TAKE CARE OF YOUR KIDNEY SYSTEM
If our body-mind acclimatizes to the rhythms of winter’s way in its depth, kidney energy in turn becomes more supported. Therefore, to enhance the wellbeing of our winter-kidney relationship, there are certain self-care rituals to be aware of practicing. Taking care of your kidneys physically has a positive effect on interconnected mental-emotional health, so take note of how established self-care rituals trickle within your ability to raise awareness and heighten mental-emotional agility.
Note: Keep in mind that with specific individual patterns of symptoms the intent may be to utilize certain opposing seasonal diet and lifestyle remedies to reach equilibrium first. Consult with your acupuncturist to discuss which foods and cooking methods to focus on for your constitutional energy.
Rituals to Nourish & Rejuvinate:
Choose a subtle mindful-movement exercise to support flexibility of the spine and joints, nervous system health, and kidney energy balance in the body. Restorative yoga, tai chi, or qi gong are all good options.
Do not work out hard during winter. Focus on stretching, moderate strengthening exercises such as pilates to support the low back/core kidney connection, rebounding, and walking. The yang aspect of the kidney may benefit from letting go with enjoyable, upbeat exercise – try African dance, Zumba, or expressive dance at home.
Book in for deep tissue work such as cupping and deep tissue massage to move deep deposited emotional experiences in the body. To support deep kidney rhythms: acupuncture, moxa, cranio-sacral therapy and reiki are of benefit.
Stay warm, cozy, and dry. Always wear warm socks and/or slippers, and keep your low back warm, to ensure you don’t drain kidney energy through potent points on your feet and back.
Have less sex during winter to conserve essence and explore connecting with your sensuality, for example, dance, a bath with candles, self massage, creative writing, and savouring dark chocolate.
Take salt baths with a kidney supportive essential oil, choose from: sage, frankincense, geranium, jasmine, juniper, rose, or sandalwood, and follow up with lathering your body with an organic moisturizing body lotion.
Do a warm oil hair mask weekly: 2 – 5 tablespoons coconut and 1 - 2 tablespoons avocado or jojoba oil + 2 – 3 drops rosemary essential oil. Warm in a small saucepan and apply with a condiment applicator. Wash out after 20 minutes.
Self-massage any tender points on your body and feet.
Go to bed early and rise at or just after sunrise.
Food + Drink to Support Your Kidney & Essence Energy
Do not over-load your body with drinking water and excess salt intake as both can harm the kidneys. Drink warm water and teas throughout the day and use pinches of Himalayan or grey celtic salt instead of conventional salt.
Eat a wide variety of seasonal, nutrient dense, warm, and slow cooked foods. Light a candle and enjoy. Optimal kidney nutrition provides catalytic power to support the spleen’s function of transforming and transporting nutrients and fluids into available energy.
Eat three meals per day to support kidney-adrenal health, with 1 – 2 snacks if necessary. Largest meal of the day can be at noon when yang energy of the sun is at its peak. Dinner can be eaten right before or at sunset, between 5 – 7 pm. Kidney energy is at its Chinese medicine circadian clock peak during this time so eating a light meal that is cooked and warm will support and strengthen this energy. Refrain from eating after 7 pm as the body’s biological clock (circadian rhythm) goes into rest, digest, and cleanse mode, and insulin response naturally declines.
Kidney supportive foods include natural salty foods, seasonal winter bitter foods to support the kidney-heart-mind, and dark coloured plant species, which move warmth inward and downward to nourish deep kidney and essence reserves. See this post for more information.
Foods to focus on: Asparagus, Celery, Winter Greens, Fennel, Leek, Parsnip, Turnip, Sweet potato and yam, Sea Vegetables, Lemon/lime (esp. peels), Black Radish, Blackberry, Blackcurrant, Elderberry, Cherry, Cranberry, Mulberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Dried Fig, Aduki Bean Miso, Black bean, Almond, Walnut, Chestnut, Sesame Seed, Quinoa, Wild Rice, Egg Yolk, Goat/Sheep Dairy, Shellfish, Chicken, Duck, Lamb, Venison, Bone Marrow, Olive Oil, Ghee, Nettle Tea, Dandelion Root Tea or Coffee, Herbamere salt, Himalayan or grey sea salt, Aniseseed, Basil, Caraway, Chive, Cinnamon, Clove, Dill, Horseradish, Oregano, Parsley, Black Pepper, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Kalamata Olive, Blackstrap Molasses, Coconut Aminos or Gluten-free Tamari. Supplements: Chlorella, Vitamin D.
I hope my post has given you insight today. If you’re interested in nutrition and acupuncture I’d be happy to guide you along. Please visit www.vcaspa.com to book online or call 250-590-4341. To learn more about my acupuncture practice, follow @hayley_stobbs on Instagram.
Wishing you love & vitality,
Hayley Stobbs R.Ac, CNC
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Leggett, Daverick. Helping Ourselves: A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics. Totnes, England: Meridian Press, 1994.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing With Whole Foods. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 2002.
Hicks, Angela; Hicks, John; Mole, Peter.Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture.Churchill Livingstone, 2011.
Robertson, Jason D. Applied Channel Theory In Chinese Medicine. Seattle, Washington: Eastland Press Inc., 2008.
Van Der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, And Body In The Healing Of Trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Random House LLC., 2014.
A. Levine, Peter. Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma. Berkely, California: North Atlantic Books, 1997.
Hayley Stobbs shares general Chinese medicine, nutrition, and health information solely for informational purposes of the reader. The contents displayed are not intended to offer individual medical advise, diagnosis or treatment. Information by the blog author is not a substitute for medical care and if you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider first and foremost.