‘Still Waters Run Deep’ – WINTER, THE SEASON OF STILLNESS, THE SEASON OF WATER
Much of Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the theory of the Wu Xing or Five Elements. Each element has many associations including a season, an organ / organ system in the body, body part, associated emotion, color, taste, sound, etc. The Winter season is associated with the element of Water and the Kidney and Bladder organs.
Winter is by nature a time of quietude and stillness, and the most introspective of all the seasons. If Summer is the most Yang of all the seasons, Yang being the energy and heat from the sun, the life force and fire that invigorates us, then Winter is the most Yin, the cold that slows things down, allowing our activity and thoughts to go inward. Winter teaches us that the only way to fully enjoy the powers of the season is to surrender to it and learn from what it has to offer us. During this time, nature may appear to be barren and dead; the trees skeletal and bare, the landscape covered with snow, all outward signs of life seemingly disappeared, however, there is still important work going on deep down, underneath the surface. This is the energy of winter, dormant and powerful, not just in nature, but also within ourselves; for it is in this state of deep resting that vital energy or ‘qi’ is collected and held in reserve. In the cold and dark, we are asked to look inward and examine the depths or our being. In doing this work, we are better able to preserve and store this energy that will enable us to burst forth in the spring and grow to our fullest potential, just as a seedling bursts forth from the soil through the first thaw of spring.
The challenge for all of us during this time is that we live in a modern society that is more ‘yang’ in nature, one of continual striving and exertion, often expecting instant results and immediate responses. But nature has another way of being; everything in its season. In winter nature is at rest and so too should we, for it is in this rest that we replenish ourselves. The legendary Yellow Emperor, considered to be the founder of Traditional Chinese Medicine, states in his ancient text The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, “In winter all is hidden. Winter is the season of retirement into depth, because of the cold outside. At this time you must not disturb or disperse the yang (Fire, active) energy so that you can allow the yin reserves to be re-established within you.”
Our inner depths can be a place where we can sometimes be afraid to journey, so in this season of cold and darkness, we can often overcompensate by trying to fill it with what appears to be light. We celebrate the holidays, eat and drink heartily, fill our social calendars and generally try to avoid the solitude that winter can call us to, without realizing that the entry into our inner selves is most accessible energetically during this time of year and that we are missing an important opportunity to connect with our deepest and truest self. So it is very important to balance our merriment with taking some time to rest, to be quiet and to honor the stillness of the season.
Making sure we have abundant reserves within give us courage and strength of will. When we lack these reserves, it can manifest the emotion that is most associated with the Water element and that is fear. While fear in small appropriate amounts is essential for recognizing imminent dangers, providing care and caution in situations where it is needed, more commonly the fear associated with a distressed Water element is fear of failing, fear of not having what it takes to meet a challenge that lies ahead, fear of being unable to complete what we’ve envisioned, fear of not being prepared for challenges we may have to face. Speaking metaphorically, it’s the same fear as if we haven’t stored enough away to survive the winter. Not taking proper care during this season may cause these fears to come up more intensely in the Spring season. If we have followed nature’s lead and taken a winter rest, we emerge into spring with restored energy, clear vision, and a sense of purpose.
Water makes up about 60% of our adult body weight, yet it has no shape, and takes the form given to it by its container. It can be solid as ice or flow like a river or manifest only as a mist or vapor. It is the most yielding of all of the elements, always finding the path of least resistance to move around any obstacle, wearing away even the hardest rock over time. Water is the most Yin of all the Five Elements and is represented in the body by the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder which rule water metabolism and maintain homeostasis in the body. There are acupuncture points along Kidney and Bladder channels (pathways of energy) that can be used to help assist in filling our reserves and accessing those places deep within ourselves where our real courage, strength and wisdom reside.
Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that the Kidneys (also known as the Storehouse of Vital Essence) operate like a pilot light that can spark light within the entire body, mind, and spirit. Kidney Fire then helps to separate the pure aspects of Water from the impure. The contaminated parts of Water are transported to the Urinary Bladder for elimination, while the pure parts are transformed into a mist, which is circulated freely throughout the body sending warmth and energy to every cell. In thinking about this energetically, it is the Kidney Fire that provides the driving energy and will power needed to overcome life’s obstacles and press forward to accomplish our plans and visions.
The Kidneys also house our vital yin or cooling system that provides all of the structures within the body and mind with lubrication. As we age, we lose water and our bodies begin to dry out, bones and hair become more brittle and our minds may lose their accustomed flexibility. While acknowledging these changes as a part of life, Traditional Chinese Medicine also gives us numerous mental, physical and nutritional tools to help nourish the kidneys and boost the water reserves within us, effectively slowing the progression of the inevitable.
How to Keep Healthy and Happy During Winter
• Get Lots of Rest: This is the season for rest, repair and rejuvenation and is imperative for our next season of growth. In the Winter, it is important to work on sleep habits, and one should go to bed earlier at night and rise later in the morning.
• Practice Self Love and Acceptance: Everyone has fears and at times these fears can paralyze us so that we feel stuck or hopeless, but observing our fears and moving through them without judging them can help liberate us from them. Instead of attempting to always overcome our fears we can learn to accept them without judgment, in doing so we can move forward with more self-acceptance and awareness.
• Take Time to Listen to your Body and Practice Self Care: Winter is a time of quiet, where you should be able to hear the voice inside yourself a little clearer. So LISTEN! Listen to your body, listen to your mind and listen to your heart. Take time to replenish your reserves, which will be needed in the seasons to come. This is a time to recharge, a time of receiving, not doing. Be patient. Winter is a time to go within, when your inner being comes closer to the surface. This would be a good time to start keeping a journal to record your feelings, thoughts and dreams, and to just record them, not over analyze them. You can look at them again in the Spring to see is any of the images or thoughts convey an deeper message to you.
• Nourish Yourself: Nourish yourself with acupuncture treatments, yoga, massage, or any healing modality that helps you access that energy deep within. Nutritionally it is important to nourish yourself with warm foods and drink lots of water; winter sucks the moisture out of your body. It is very important to hydrate by drinking at least 8 to 10 glasses of fresh water daily. Eat warming foods such as root vegetables, whole grains, and small amounts of meat or fish protein. If you are a vegetarian, eat more beans, nuts, and tempeh. Bone broths and soups are great immune boosters during this time
• Keep Warm: Prepare for the weather, and dress accordingly. Chinese medicine says pathogens can enter the body via the ‘Wind’ points on the back of the neck and shoulder area so keep this area protected by wearing a scarf and keeping your neck covered.
• Enjoy the season with the people who mean the most to you: Winter days and nights are an especially good time to deepen bonds with those closest to you. Keep gatherings simple and relaxed, because there is not as much outward activity going on to distract you, these can be some of the most meaningful conversations and moments with friends and family.
Most importantly, enjoy everything that winter has to offer, within nature and within your inner self.