Blog by Melissa and David Sokulski, L.Acs.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Treatment Tuesday: Winter, Water, and the Kidneys

In honor of all this snow, today I'll talk about the five elements, specifically the water element, which corresponds to winter.

There are five elements -- both out in nature and in our bodies -- which are interrelated and interdependent on each other: fire, earth, metal, water and wood.

One relationship is the mother-child relationship, or generating cycle, shown by the arrows forming the outer circle in the graphic to the right. Metal is the mother of Water, and Water is mother of Wood. Another is the controlling cycle: the arrows forming the inner star. Water controls (puts out) Fire, and Earth controls (dams) Water.

According to Paul Pitchford in Healing With Whole Foods, "Winter is the end of all the seasons. To unify with winter, one emphasizes the yin principle to become more receptive, introspective, and storage-oriented; one cools the surface of the body and warms the body's core....It is a time to rest, to meditate deeply , refine the spiritual essence, and store physical energy -- in the form of a little added weight -- for the cold season. Even though the slow yin processes predominate, one must stay active enough to keep the spine and joints flexible."

(More on yin and yang in an upcoming Treatment Tuesday.)

Here is a quote from an ancient text, called the Inner Classic:

The forces of winter create cold in Heaven and water on Earth. They create the kidney organ and the bones within the body...the emotion of fear, and the ability to make a groaning sound.

For a full chart with all the elements with their correspondence, click here.

The third pulse on each wrist is associated with the kidneys. The kidneys are the root of all yin and yang in the body. It also holds the jing, or essence, that we pass on to our children. We always think of supporting the Kidneys when someone is pregnant or trying to become pregnant. As we age, the qi (energy) in our kidneys decrease, but our wisdom increases, which balances it out. In many cultures, especially ancient Chinese culture from where this philosophy came, elders were respected, and ancestors taken care of with prayers, offerings, and reverence.

General symptoms of Kidney imbalance include:
  • all bone problems, especially those of the knees, lower back and teeth
  • hearing loss and ear infections and diseases (such as Meniere's disease)
  • head-hair problems -- hair loss, split ends, premature graying
  • any urinary, sexual and reproductive imbalances (such as infertility or inability to carry a pregnancy to term)
  • poor growth and development of the mind and body; alternatively, premature aging
  • excessive fear and insecurity


The Kidneys are also the source of vitality, resistance to disease and longevity, called jing or essence. We are born with "congnital" jing, passed down to us from our parents. This jing is irreplaceable and serves us throughout life. When it runs out, life ceases. However, "aquired" jing can be obtained by food and can magnify the activity of even small amounts of congenital jing.

Jing deficiency can show up as

  • growth or development impairment
  • birth defects
  • slow physical or mental growth
  • weak legs and bones
  • impotence and other reproductive problems
  • early senility
  • dizziness
  • loose teeth
  • loss of head hair
  • ringing in ears
  • weak, painful knees and low back.


We can preserve our congenital jing by avoiding harmful habits, such as:

  • stress, fear, insecurity, overwork
  • according to ancient Chinese texts: too much semen loss in men or bearing too many children in women
  • toxins in food and water
  • intoxicants such as alcohol, drugs, coffee, tobacco
  • heavy metals such as mercury, lead and aluminum
  • excessive sweet-flavored food
  • too much dietary protein


There is no such thing as excess jing! You can't have too much vitality. The following are suggestions to help build jing. The suggestions must be followed carefully, though. Certain foods may be more harmful than helpful if there is digestive weakness, or may be inappropriate depending on people's constitutions. If you have any questions, it's best to see a practitioner of Chinese medicine. This list is taken from Healing With Whole Foods (so for elaboration or more infomation on anything listed here, please see that text):

  • Micro-algaes such as chlorella, spirulina and blue-green.
  • Solomon's seal, almonds, raw milk, clarified butter (ghee.) These foods build bones and act as nutritive tonics.
  • Nettles
  • Royal Jelly and bee pollen
  • Chinese herbs like dodder seeds, prepared rehmannia, deer antler, tortoise shell, chicken and mussel
  • Foods which tonify Kidney energy in general, especially dark foods, beans, seaweed, millet, black sesame seeds, black soybeans, mulberries, raspberries, strawberries, walnuts.
  • Spiritual practices


Enjoy the snow, the rest of winter, and hopefully this was helpful!

~ Melissa Sokulski, L.Ac.
The Birch Center for Health
Pittsburgh, PA

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