Winter governs the water element, or Zhi. It is the dormant season, when all life force burrows deep in the bosom of the earth. It is a gestational time of replenishing the wellspring of life so that when spring comes, the gathering energy will burst forth with new growth.
The color of the water element is black, its direction is north, its flavor is salty, and the associated organs are bladder, adrenals and kidneys. There is also a strong correlation between the water element and our reproductive organs. The Zhi connects to our first and second chakras as well as to the planet Mercury. The hours for bladder are 3 to 5 p.m.; kidney is 5 to 7 p.m.
According to 5-element theory, our kidneys govern our vital life force energy. The Zhi, or spirit of kidney energy, connects to the unified field of consciousness and our instinct to perpetuate life and “surthrive”. It gives us courage to ally ourselves with what the Chinese refer to as the Tao (the “Way” or primordial nature of the Universe) and our innate wisdom.
Our kidneys regulate water metabolism, our sex organs and fertility, bones, teeth, hair and hearing. In other words, kidney energy is incredibly important to our health. Most Americans have some imbalance in their kidney energy because of our diets and high stress lifestyle. Excesses and addictions of all kinds (sex, drugs, work, over-training in sports), constant stress, trauma, childbirth and heavy menstrual bleeding can all lead to kidney depletion. On an emotional level, unsteadiness, fear and an unwillingness to face our spiritual pain are all symptomatic of disconnection from the deep wisdom of our bodies and our relationship to life itself.
While kidney issues can manifest any time of year, the winter is our season to take extra care with them. Meditation, adequate rest and exercise like gentle yoga, qi gong or tai ch’i are all extremely helpful. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also provides remarkable and extremely effective herbal and acupuncture protocols for tonifying and strengthening our kidney essence. Keeping our lower backs warm and well covered during the winter helps protect vital kidney Zhi.
We can also eat foods that enhance the water element and aid in healing our kidney energy. Salt is key to kidney balance, but it must be noted that table salt is quite damaging. Replace it with sea salt, which should be used judiciously. The following foods are beneficial and are connected to our kidneys (and as is true with all things, should be consumed in moderation).
Grain: Barley, buckwheat, black rice
Vegetables: Beets, burdock, asparagus
Beans and Pulses: Adzuki, black beans, black lentils
Sea Vegetables: arame, dulse, Irish moss, kelp, hijiki, nori, wakame, kombu, spirulina
Fruits: blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, purple and black grapes, watermelon, black raspberries, mulberries
Fish: blue fish, caviar, scallops, oysters, clams and mussels
Nuts: chestnuts, black sesame seeds, walnuts
Condiments and Seasonings: tamari, shoyu, miso, tekka, gomasio, umeboshi, salt cured pickles (these last two are also sour)
Chinese Tonic Foods: Reishi (ganoderma) mushrooms, Cordyceps mushrooms, Schizandra berries