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Acupuncture Blog

Practicing Winter Wellness and the Solstice
by MaryFatimah Weening L.Ac.
December 2023

As we move towards the winter solstice on December 21st, we find ourselves at the peak of winter and the water element phase according to Five Element energetics.

This time of celebration tends to be one the busiest seasons of the year. To offer the perspective of Chinese Medicine, I wanted to send a gentle reminder that that this is also the time of "yin storage", recovery, and taking time to restore what we call the kidney "battery" in Chinese Medicine (CM).

The understanding of these organ systems explained here is about their energetic function, which is distributed from the organ itself via the meridian pathways where the acupuncture points are located.

The organ systems associated with the current water (winter) phase are:

Kidney (yin) & Bladder (yang)

The classical text which much of Chinese Medicine is based on states: "The Kidneys are responsible for the creation of power. Skill and ability stem from them."
(Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine)

The Kidneys are considered the "root" of our constitution and are likened to the "storage battery" that we tap into for energy throughout our entire lives.

Kidney yin and yang is the root of yin and yang for the entire body.

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Ways to check in with the health of your water element:

According to the meridian clock, kidney energy peaks from 3:00 - 5:00 PM. Tiredness during this time often indicates the need for kidney/bladder support. Health in the water/kidney elements can be assessed by the presence of certain symptoms, such as:

-chronic back pain
-adrenal fatigue
-chronic fatigue
-dry throat
-frequent urination
-pain in the soles of the feet
-feeling cold often
-neurological imbalances
-anxiety (related to fear-based thinking - the emotion of the kidney when out of balance is fear - in balance it can show up as freedom, trust, faith...there is more than one possibility and will look a little different for everyone.)

The Kidney Channel starts on the bottom on the foot and travels medially inside the legs, to the abdomen, and into the chest. It's ending at this area (around the heart, is partly why anxiety is among the "out of balance" symptoms.)

The Bladder Channel starts at the medial canthus of the eye (next to the bridge of the nose) and travels over the head to the back of the neck, down the entire back, down the legs, to the pinky toe, where it meets with the starting point of the Kidney channel. The Bladder channel is the longest on the body with 67 acupuncture points!

You can see why back pain, neck pain and general tightness in the body can often point to a Bladder Channel imbalance. Like water, the bladder channel can tighten up or freeze in response to upset or trauma, and that tension pattern can become a regular pattern if not released.


How does the water element show up in our lives on other levels?

The health of the water element is reflected in our ability to rest well, to have sustained energy (kidneys are about energy + storage), to practice inward reflection and contemplation, to use resources wisely, to be comfortable in stillness (kidney qi relates more to listening), and to align with our inner knowing (the kidneys are said to contain our life's blueprint).

Side note: It's not about achieving a static state but using these elements as guideposts to re-center and re-balance.

Chinese Medicine sees the person as microcosm of the world. Outside, much of nature is in hibernation. This is ideally the time for our bodies and minds to also take some time to do the same and re-charge from within.


PRACTICES AND FOODS FOR WATER PHASE HEALTH

These nutrient-rich foods will help nourish the kidneys, providing you with energy and endurance.

-Bone Broth
-Salmon
-Tuna
-Black Sesame seeds (black sesame seed gomasio)
-Lentils
-Millet
-Oats
-Quinoa
-Cabbage
-Sweet Potato and other root veggies
-Dark Leafy Greens
-Cinnamon, Ginger (with signs of cold such as cold hands and feet or easily chilled)
-Asparagus (with signs of dryness i.e dry throat)
-Mung beans (with signs of heat especially)
-Plenty of water and hydration, electrolytes, and/or water with humic extract such as ION water (available at the clinic)
-Soups of all kinds with mineral rich broth (include veggies, greens and grains)
-Modes of food prep: steamed

These are some practices that can also help nourish yin:

-Keeping regular hours of sleep in winter

-Keep your feet and low back warm (the kidney channel begins at the sole of the feet)

-Walking in nature, and really taking it in (think listening to winter birdsong)

-Meditation

-Qi Gong

-Journaling

-Yin Yoga

-Acupuncture + Moxa (warms the Kidney Channel, drives out cold)

-Gentle stretching and other mind/body therapies


Even if meditation or stillness does not come easily, simply making the intention to cultivate inner stillness in your life and sitting with that intention will shift your daily experience. Prayer is also an act of surrender and trust, and this is inherently yin.

Notes and questions to reflect on for this time to align with the water/winter phase

Take stock and acknowledge your accomplishments this year and challenges that you moved through. Navigating challenge is part of the water element as whole we have been doing a lot of that!

Consider how you used your resources and how you might want to keep that the same or shift some aspects for the upcoming spring.

Look at how you recharge in your life - and perhaps how you can make more space for those practices.

If you are not feeling rested or grounded, exploring the emotions or reasons behind those experiences and allowing space to release them (acupuncture treatments can help with this.)

The kidneys are said to open to the ears, so also taking stock of what sources of information we listen to and the quality of our listening is part of tapping into this time.

If you like, create an intention for the spring that aligns with what you know you would like for your own path forward.

According to The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, "the kidneys nourish the bones and the marrow; the bones and the marrow strengthen the liver" (Veith, 24). The liver energy is associated with the spring, so what is cultivated in winter directly impacts our health in the spring (yang) time.

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