Winter & the Water Element


Peto gardens 2

In this and future blog posts, I wish to share some information with regards to your health and well-being as seen from a Five Element Acupuncture perspective. My aim is to help increase your awareness of Nature’s changes and transformations through the Seasons and how this relates to changes and transformations within ourselves.

Without getting too technical, I will be giving you just enough theory on what is meant by our energy being in harmony and balance with the cycle of the seasons and their own particular qualities – five* great movements of energy, the Five Elements, together with simple guidelines to inspire your days to more balanced and healthier living on all levels.

* The Chinese observed that, in Nature, there were in fact five of these major changes of quality and function of the energy throughout the year, hence the five seasons: Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Autumn and Winter, with their five qualities/elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water.

For those interested but not familiar with Chinese terms like yin-yang, meridians and so on, I would suggest reading first the pages on Traditional Acupuncture on this website, so that you can more easily and better understand what follows.

We are in the season of Winter, so lets look at Winter and its associated Element, Water.

With Winter comes the rain and the snow. These fill the reserves of springs, rivers, lakes and seas, as well as our own man-made reservoirs.  Nature is in her resting season: quiet, withdrawn, deep in the earth and the roots, preparing for Spring. Winter gives the opportunity for relaxation, peace and calm to the cycle of life. It is the time of drawing inwards and guarding our reserves. You also may be deeper within yourself, seeking replenishment, resting, reflecting and being more aware of your senses. It is a sensitive time. Often a time of heightened emotions, something you may have experienced yourself over the Christmas holidays for instance, when meeting with family and friends. Winter is a time to get plenty of rest, good nutrition and sleep. Dream time is very important to replenishing yourself.

Water is the element of Winter. Life came out of the great oceans and it is water that continues to constantly nourish all life. Water is the most elusive and impenetrable of the Elements, resisting definition,  able to hold any shape, but unable to be grasped and held once and for all. Although it may be contained, it will easily find a passage around any obstruction wherever it can. It nevertheless forms the greater proportion of the solid structure of all living things, ourselves included. Without water nothing could live or grow, and there would be no movement or flow – in other words it is essential to life.

Awareness of the Water Element’s requirements is crucial to our health. In us the Element is connected to the Kidneys and Bladder, that work together to maintain the water supply for the body, mind and spirit.

Kidneys are seen as ‘the Storehouse of the Life Force’, especially that aspect of the Life Force associated  with our roots, the energy we receive from our ancestors. When the kidney energy is strong, the potential for healthy birth, growth and development on all levels is possible. We have then a stored power within Kidneys that needs protection during Winter.

Bladder is seen as the ‘Official in charge of eliminating fluid waste’ and it is coupled with the function of the Kidney in helping to store the Life Force. The Bladder is essential to life. If it is not functioning the rest of the system is stressed and poisoned. Adaptability is a key characteristic of the functioning of the Bladder and this is significant on every level.

Due to the recent severe cold, you may have noticed how life has been generally much quieter and slower, the daily round having to adjust to the realities of Winter’s demands to slow down.

Here are some guidelines as ways to conserve energy and resources:

  • times of silence find some time in your day, even if only for a short period, where you can be quiet and not disturbed. Try some contemplation, and even meditation if so inclined. Whatever you try, it needs to be a different experience from the everyday sounds you are subject to, and restorative by comparison. (Ears are the sense organ associated with the Water Element and thus the sense of hearing. Silence also benefits the Kidneys in particular). Notice too that your ability to listen clearly is heightened in these cold, silent months.
  • movement – try moving at a slower pace at points in the day, and sense the conservation of energy in your body, and how it enjoys not being rushed in this season. This might be easy after work in the evening.
  • rest – see what change is possible to bring more rest into your day and night. Here is a quote from the Classic of Acupuncture* : ” (In winter) people should retire early at night and rise late in the morning and they should wait for the rising of the sun”. Not easy with our current way of living and society’s demands upon us, but see what is possible for you and feel the benefits.
  • warmth – keep dry and warm, but also remember Kidneys are actually nourished by the cold climate of winter – enjoy experiencing some of the cold whilst out for a walk for instance. Build a fire in the fireplace. If you don’t have a fireplace, put several candles on a tray and light them, then turn off the lights and watch the candles burn.
  • nutritious foods that benefit kidney energy – again this is a very individual area for you to decide but, classically, it mentions cooked whole grains as an excellent staple, and beans such as aduki, mung and black, or lentils. When very cold, warm your bones by adding cinnamon or ginger to hot cereal for breakfast (our bones and skeleton are associated with the Water element). Nuts, if not allergic, are good as a snack, and of course vegetables in season, in soup form, casseroles, baked or steamed are nutritious and warming. Use good sea salt, which has been extracted by sunshine. If you eat meat, lamb, beef and chicken are all beneficial. Fish and seafood of course, living in the element of water, are also good, especially trout, salmon and sardines, as well as mussels, anchovy and prawns. Cooking for longer, and on a lower heat is the best way to prepare, taking more time, and letting the sound of cooking from the kitchen stimulate the appetite.

If you read this far, I trust it has been informative and helpful. Your comments are of course welcome too.

Richard Royds

Note: These blogs are relevant to each yearly seasonal cycle, and are available to remind one, should he/she wishes to, despite their original date of publication.


* The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Huang Ti Nei Jing Su Wen) – the essential text of Chinese Health and Healing

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