Traditional Chinese Medicine: Finding Stillness In Water This Winter

With the knowingness it will still be a while till summer, you may be inclined to hunker down – hibernate if you could – or at least slow down your pace and spend more time attending to your inner world. While fall is the time to get your affairs in order, winter is the time for introspection. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) winter is associated with water: the element with the characteristics of a philosopher.
Marije is a yoga and meditation teacher.
water element tcm
Marije is a yoga and meditation teacher.

This article explores the meaning of the water element in TCM.

The Water Element in TCM

TCM is based on the Five-phase theory (sometimes called: Five-element theory). This theory suggests that there are five elements in nature that cycle in phases through the seasons and our organs: Earth, Water, Wood, Metal and Fire. The five elements represent energies that succeed each other in a continuous cycle. Being aware of this cycle and recognizing the relationship between the elements is essential for maintaining (or creating) optimal balance in our physical body as well as for mental and emotional health. In order to maintain this optimal health we also need to support an unobstructed flow of Chi through the meridians in our body, and keep a generative balance between the elements. This is why it is helpful to have an understanding of how the seasons and the elements are related.

Read more: Learn about the metal element of Traditional Chinese Meditation to bring structure into to your life.

The Philosopher

The water element has introspective qualities; it is often referred to as The Philosopher. This element fosters modesty and sensibility. Water is associated with wisdom, stamina and endurance.

It is quiet until overwhelmed; too much activity, overdoing anything and too much focus on the outer world will deplete water and leads to imbalance. When water is out of balance we will have difficulty with social situations, trusting and being confident; we will become withdrawn and detached, or will loose a sense of self-awareness.

The Organs

The organs related to water are the kidneys and urinary bladder. According to TCM, the kidneys store our essence energy (called: Jing), which is our source of vitality, resistance and longevity. The kidneys play an important role in the proper functioning of our endocrine and reproductive system; they are considered the source of creation. An imbalance in the water element, affecting the kidneys, can therefore lead to issues concerning growth, libido and stamina. 

TCM also suggest that it is our Jing that produces bone marrow to create and support our bones. A lack of vitality because of depleted kidneys may therefore have a degenerative effect on our bones, specifically the lower back and knees.

Water And Fear

The emotion associated with the water element is fear. The fear of heights, spiders, of not being good enough and any other; in other words: the fear of extinction. In TCM, emotions are simply considered expressions of energy. Energy is neutral and our emotions are therefore not inherently “good” or “bad”; they are what we make of them.

Chronic fear can deplete our kidney chi and deficient kidney chi can result in feelings of fear. It works both ways. Taking quiet time to connect with the fear and allowing it to be there to give it space is a potent way to balance kidney chi and the water element.

Read more: In Hindu, Ayurvedic, Hatha Yoga and Tantric Yoga traditions, chi is referred to as prana. Learn what prana is and how to feel it.

Guided Meditation: Give Space To Fear

In TCM, the water element is associated with fear. Practice with this guided meditation:

  1. Give Space to Fear Marije Paternotte 20:32

Yin Yoga For The Water Element

In general, introspective practices like meditation and Yin Yoga are good ways to support the water element and stay balanced in winter.

Read more: Explore the history and benefits of yin yoga for your body, mind and soul.

A simple Yin Yoga pose that affects the kidney meridian and so enhances chi flow into the kidneys is Butterfly Pose:

  • Start in a seated position with legs extended; 
  • Bend the knees and bring the soles of the feet together. The legs make a diamond shape;
  • Place the feet at some distance away from the groin, allowing space in the hip joint;
  • Let the spine round forward and the head come down towards the feet; 
  • The hands can rest on or by the feet;
  • Don’t pull on the arms to come down, but rather let gravity do the work;
  • If the neck needs support, place a yoga block, a bolster or a folded blanket under the forehead.

It is recommended to hold this pose for three to five minutes. To get out of it:

  • Inhale and slowly roll the spine up to a straight position; 
  • Place the hands under the knees to help the knees back together;
  • Hug the knees into the chest with the arms and take a few breaths;
  • Then lie down on the back with legs extended, to notice the effects of Butterfly Pose.

Essential Oil For Your Water Element

The use of essential oil is also an effective way to support our emotions and overall wellbeing.

Juniper Berry essential oil encourages to face our fear. It acts as a catalyst by helping to access and address those fears and issues which have long been avoided. Juniper Berry teaches that there is nothing to fear when we acknowledge and accept all aspects of the self. This is a great oil to diffuse during the night while sleeping.

Basil essential oil is an excellent ally to improve fatigue, low energy, being overwhelmed, and the inability to cope with life’s stressors. It brings rejuvenation of vital forces after long periods of burnout and exhaustion. Basil essential oil can be applied over the kidneys (lower back) or under the feet.

Sandalwood essential oil aids in quieting the mind, and offers support with meditation and spiritual practice. Applying a drop to the forehead or crown of the head invites a sense of peace. This oil can also be inhaled straight from the bottle or diffused in a diffuser before, and during, meditation.

The Water Element in TCM: Find Stilness In Your Day

Understanding what your body – and mind – need during the winter months will allow you to stay balanced and healthy. Take five minutes a day to sit still and notice your breath or just practice one Yin Yoga pose. Spending some time journaling, taking a hot (foot) bath with lavender oil and Epsom salt (add 5 drops of oil to 1 cup of salt before putting it in the bath) or quietly drinking a cup of your favorite tea without doing anything else are simple ways to support yourself and keep the water element nourished.

Meditation. Free.