A few months ago, I wrote a post on the Metal element and its predominance during the fall season. I love writing posts like this because Chinese philosophy and its concepts give us such a rich understanding of the universe. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you can find it here and it will give you a good framework for this post, which is dedicated to the Water element.
Temperatures have dropped, days are shorter, and you can’t deny that winter has settled in for its residency in the concert series that is seasonal change. In Five Element Theory, the dominant element of winter is the Water element. As with any of these elements, understanding their nature helps us to live our lives in ways that promote health during the current season, as well as those to come.
The Water element is associated with the kidneys, which in Chinese medicine are associated with longevity, vitality, and reproduction. The energetic movement of the Water element is downward, and if you look at a visual representation of the the Five Element generating cycle- the cycle that explains how each element generates another- it is located at the bottom, that is to say, it’s another way of showing how water is the basis of all life.
Of all of the elements, water is the most Yin. The most basic explanation of Yin is a concept that is dark, cold, still, and substantial. Contrast this to the bright and moving nature of Yang. While some of you reading this might not like winter (and I used to be one of you), when you understand Yin and the Water Element, you see that even the energy of winter gives us a way to nourish our health.
It is said in Chinese medicine that the kidneys also govern storage. In a Qigong context, this means storage of our vital energy. So in wintertime, we do things to facilitate storage. The Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine, the first text written on Chinese medicine thousands of years ago, says that in winter, we go to sleep early and rise later, we allow ample time for rest and reflection, we keep warm and eat warm, nourishing foods (I’m looking at YOU New Year’s juice cleanse). The kidneys store all of this as dormant energy to be used when spring comes.
During this time of year in the acupuncture clinic, I chuckle when people tell me plaintively of their desire to sleep more and earlier, as if something is wrong with them. I use these concepts to educate them on why they feel this way and help them understand that this is totally okay.
I used to hate winter so much that I spent the whole autumn bemoaning its inevitable arrival without enjoying the beauty all around me. While I’m still certainly not a fan of ice storms and scraping my windshield off in the mornings, I view it as a necessary part of a cycle and one where I harness its energy to slow down, cuddle up, rest, and fill up my tank for the year to come. During the winters where I’ve forced myself to be over-productive, I’ve paid the price come springtime.
So, cozy up! If you’re a die-hard extrovert, burrow under a blanket and make some video calls to friends, you’re still nurturing your Yin and your Water Element. If you want to learn more about Qigong and Five Element theory, check out my upcoming classes and sign up to learn skills that will enrich your life for years to come.