Winter has most definitely settled in, which means that the Traditional Chinese Medicine Five Elements, represented by Water, has stepped into its power. The energy of Water is in its Yin phase, a phase in nature reflected in sleepy hibernation, the quiet dormancy of wintertime, big and long night skies, short days. Nature has been retreating – having the wisdom to realise that in the plummeting temperatures and short, dark days, vital resources need to be carefully conserved. It’s a time for waiting and resting.
In Winter, the season of Water, the energy of nature withdraws deep into the earth, storing vital nutrients – the energy is downwards, like the natural flow of water. Yet this quiet, unshowy Element, in its floating state of rest, contains within itself the potential for growth and for regeneration.
“…when one stays in darkness long enough, one begins to see.” C.G Jung
It is the Element and season associated with the very source of life and the determined will to survive, even against the odds. Nature’s process is mirrored in our own bodies, the fluids we take in which flow downwards – when our body is in harmony we are able to keep and store what we need to nourish our very core, restoring our Jing or Essence – which is the TCM* terms for the very source of living substance and growth for which we and all organisms must pass; from birth, to growth, to decay and death.
According to TCM*, the Essence, which is stored deeply in our Kidneys (one of the meridians associated with the Element of Water), is responsible for growth, reproduction and development, formed at conception, it determines our constitutional strength and resistance to disease. The Kidneys produce the Marrow, which in turn is produced from the Essence, and is made up of the bone marrow, the spine, the brain, the teeth and the nails. As well as storing the Essence, the Kidneys also have a vital role in controlling water; separating body fluids and waste. According to TCM, the Kidneys house the aspect of the psyche known as the Will (Zhi) – this is the spirit from which we derive will-power, stamina, strength and courage.
When in balance and good health: When our body, mind and spirit is in harmony, the downward pull of Water grounds, calms and steadies us, fortifying our spirit and giving us courage to brave the winter months, to find the will-power to forge ahead but also to rest and care for ourselves, quietly and mindfully. Physically, our bodily fluids flow without stagnation, cleansing and expelling toxins as necessary.
When out of balance and in poor health: However, when there is disease, when there is disconnection and a wrestling tension between our body, mind and spirit, a sense of powerlessness, a lack of motivation, of apathy can pervade. Physically, Ki (or Qi) is weakened, thus resulting in a sore, achy lower back, weak knees and legs, our bodies not having the capacity to control ‘water’, this can lead to problems such as water retention or possible bladder infections. These are by no means the spectrum of disease that can result, but the common denominator is a disharmony in the fluid, downward movements in our body.
How do we bring the qualities of Water into our daily lives? Inviting quiet, caring, compassionate and restful practices over the winter months when the Water Element is in it’s full force will help our mind and body to move more freely, feel softer, nourished, fortified, courageous and motivated for when nature announces Spring. After all, we only have to consider what our wise furry friends are doing right now in their mid-winter slumber! Below I suggest some natural and effective tools that can help us to connect to the rhythm of Water while as the same time, nourishing, warming, and strengthening our mind, body and spirit:
Daily winter practices:
Clothing: Wearing clothing that nourishes and supports the Water Element, these could include:
- Woollen socks: Keeping feet warm and snug has more benefits than you might have imagined! Our feet are home to a gamut of important Acupuncture points, coddling these points both in warmth and with self-massage, will benefit the energy of the Element associated meridians (Kidney and Bladder)
- Haramaki (hara warmer): You can buy a specially designed harakami, although a shawl or warm piece of fabric will be perfectly adequate. It is paced around the hara – or lower abdomen. The intention is to nourish the Ki (Qi)of the Kidneys and support a fatigued and aching lower back; this is also just incredibly comforting and I would recommend finding a fabric that feels soft and supportive
- Blue: Wear the colour blue – any beautiful shades of the colour that captures its ‘floating’ and ‘flowing’ state
Essential oils – the natural, living, ’vital‘ power of oils have the capacity to invigorate, energise and strengthen our bodies and minds. There are specific essential oils that embody the qualities of Water, they are able to support those systems that are under more pressure as the weather takes a downwards turn and temperatures plummet. Using the wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine, we realise that the Kidneys, being the primary organ that stores our Essence (as described above) and controls water (bodily fluids) and, if working harmoniously, they ensure the vitality of our bodies, protecting us from such conditions as adrenal fatigue, ‘water’ related issues such as oedema, a deep sense of fear and lack in confidence and apathy.
Here are a few essential oils that can work beautifully to strengthen the Kidneys and help you embrace the Water elements; Juniper. Cedarwood, Thyme and Geranium (please note these a just a few suggestions, there are many more!)
Here are some ideas on how you could use the Water oils in daily life:
- Blend your favourite combination into a massage blend to help invigorate achy muscles, use a 1-2% dilution in a good quality vegetable oil such as sweet almond (aromas are an inherently personal choice – this is an excuse to put your sense of smell into practice). Get in touch if you need more advice.
- Use a diffuser to cheer up your home, your little cosy space that you practice in – a wonderfully gentle yet effective way to absorb the magic of oils. Meditate or read quietly in this space while the oils are diffusing.
- Using a specially created Water roll-on perfume, ‘Courage’ on specific Acupuncture points (more details on Acupuncture points below!)
- Create a room spray to help rid any sense of apathy and to gently energise our mind, body and spirit. You can create this with a combination of hydrosols such as Cedarwood and Geranium.
Acupuncture points & self-massage – there are a few very effective acupuncture points that, combined with Water essential oils and self massage, can help to nourish, stimulate and tonify the Water element. The points, or ‘tsubos’ belong to the associated meridians (energy pathways) of the Water element, Kidney and Bladder, both meridians run their course in the back and predominantly lower areas of the body including the feet, so these areas of the body are where we can work. Any self massage, using a blend or Courage roll-on perfume, tapping, holding the feet in particular, connects with the meridians so please don’t feel intimidated if you are not familiar with the point themselves or struggle to find them. Most importantly, remember the qualities of the Element – Water in harmony is courageous, motivated, softly and quietly flowing.
- Taixi, known also Great Stream and Kd 3. This is a powerful ‘source’ point on the Kidney meridian – it helps us to reconnect to our original Qi – a deep reserve of energy that we were born with, a source of Qi that serves as an energy reservoir for life. The wonder of this point is that it can support us in realising our potential in the Universe by connecting us with the qualities of the Water Element; courage, will, determination, perseverance through the harsh winter weather. To locate Kd 3: The point is behind the inner ankle bone. Find the tip of the ankle and move your finger backwards until you are in the deep hollow between the ankle bone and the Achilles tendon, feel for a tender spot and gently hold.
- Yongquan, also known as Bubbling Spring and Kd 1. I love the aptly name point ‘Bubbling Spring’ – mirroring the quiet vibrancy of the Water Element within us, although still in our bodies, it is not passive, it has the potential to ground us, to help us put one foot forward and have the courage to do so. It is the only point found in the sole of the foot, claiming its deep connection with the earth. This is one of the most equally calming and grounding points in our body and is wonderful to massage before bedtime. To locate Kd 1: The point is located between the second and third metatarsals, about one-third of the distance between the base of the second toe and the heel. Be gentle this can be a very sensitive point and deserves compassion and care.
- Tianzhu, also known as Celestial Pillar and Bl 10. A point that’s wonderful for people who spend far too long in front of a computer screen and on their mobile, and as a result suffer with persistent neck pain, headaches and dizzy spells. However, Bl10 has a deeper capacity to evoke the qualities of Water, especially ‘Courage’, deliciously supportive for anyone whose life is impeded by chronic fear, from an overwhelming sense of anxiety possibly accelerated by an immense workload. The point helps to clear the mind, bringing a burst of fresh, pure air and a clearer path to the future, helping us to stand tall, holding head high with confidence and impetus.
Yoga inspiration: The Water Element likes stillness, quiet and restful space – finding a deep inner space in our body, mind and spirit and reflecting this in a daily practice, whether 10 mins or 60 mins is not important, it is the ‘still’ quality that will connect you to the power of the element and give you the support you need. Firstly get together some props including a cosy blanket, bolster, eye pillow and small cushion, make your space like a delicious warm nest. A few practices you could try:
- Viparita Karani or Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose. Not only is this pose supporting your Bladder meridian which runs the course of your spine, it is deeply restorative for the nervous system, allowing you the rest you need. It is also beautifully supportive for weary legs, knees and a sore and achy lower back. To get into pose: Lie on your back with your sit-bones as close to the wall as is comfortable for you. From there, you extend your legs up the wall, so that the backs of your legs are resting fully against it. It can feel really good to have blocks under your hips to elevate them, a weighted cushion on your hara (lower abdomen) and a strap securing your legs together so that you can fully relax and release into the pose, without having to exert effort to hold your legs up. I recommend practicing this pose for at least 10 to 15 minutes before bedtime.
- Yoga nidra. This is such a wonderful practice to help you to connect to the essence of the Water element and to support you in stillness and peace. This link takes you through to a collection of free yoga nidras, generously shared by the Yoga Nidra Network.
Thank you for reading my Winter/Water musing. I am posting this blog on Winter Solstice; a day to bathe yourself in warmth and light – candles, fairy lights, a roaring fire – so get ready now, wear your cosy socks and Haramaki and allow the qualities of Water to gentle pour into your mind, body and spirit – restoring, nourishing and preparing you for the sun to return! I hope some of these practices support you too, or at the very least, give you food for thought – please so make comments or get in touch with thoughts or questions.
To end, I am sharing this beautiful poem by Mary Oliver, as for me, it confirms something so special about the Water Element and the season of Winter – we are enough, there is nothing more we need to do, just be present to the possibilities.
With respect for the power of the Elements. Namaste. Fen x
Winter by Mary Oliver
And the waves
from their snowy throats
as they come
leaping over the moss-green
glass-green roughage –
as they crumble
on the incline
whatever they carry
in their invisible
icy and plump
with waled shells,
for the gatherers
who come flying
on their long white wings –
who comes walking,
who come muttering:
coins of the sea
in my pockets
and plenty of the gulls
and the wind still pounding
sea still streaming in like a mother wild with gifts –
in this world I am as rich
as I need to be.
*TCM: Traditional Chinese Medicine