The Lunar Review

Winter and the Water Element according to Classical Five Element Theory

Water is one of the elements in the Classical Five Element Theory. All elements have associations with a particular season. Water corresponds to the winter season. 

The Classical Five Element Theory groups natural phenomenon into 5 categories- Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. These classifications represent patterns which consistently repeat themselves throughout the year, in the form of seasons, and in smaller cycles during the day, when the energy powers through specific internal organs at fixed times of the day. 

With this knowledge we can start to understand how the body, mind and spirit interact with the natural world. In this way we can identify any upsets and imbalances which affect our physical, mental and emotional realms.

Ancient Chinese Wisdom tells us:

Men are born on the earth, but life itself is held in the hands of Heaven. When the qi of heaven and earth harmonize, this is called a human being. 

Human beings are the root of heaven on earth.

This means, unequivocally, that humans are a product of the celestial bodies, and being from the same source, we share common attributes. All functions and processes on the earth share an unbreakable bond with those in the heavens. As above, so below.

Water is a particularly sensitive, intuitive and perceptive element so it is imperative people under the influence of water remain as calm and equanimous at all times, as too much stimuli can overwhelm them. When out of balance, they become drained, anxiety ridden, withdrawn and prone to fear.

When they are in balance, they are supremely magnanimous, wise, humble, sensible, and determined. They overcome by flowing around obstacles, or with their tenacious ability to endure to such an extent that eventually any obstacle is eventually worn away, eroded away.

The color associated with Water is black. This is the most prevalent color in the winter time sky, since there is less time during the day for sunrays to bathe the earth. Night is a silent time, when most people retreat from the responsibilities of the day, and enter the Dream world. Black is the void where we can rejuvenate, and prepare to rise again, in the morning.

Black is the absence of all color, which means the absence of light. However the darkest, most still time of year comes is also the most tranquil and generous. Winter allows us to gather our strength in order to prepare for the time of rebirth and renewal that occurs in the Spring. The seed that sprouts with the arrival of spring can only be as strong as the nurturing and succor provided by the protection of winter days.  

Water represents deep mysteries, some which can never be solved, but only felt deeply within one’s inner core. Looking into a pool of water, such as the ocean or a lake, the color can look brown, black or even deep blue. However, when a cupful is drawn up and poured onto your hands, the water suddenly appears clear.

According to TCM, Qi (energy), flows deeply towards the interior of our bodies during winter. It retreats as inward as possible to find safety, renewal, and rest. It’s a time for introspection, slowing down and conserving your resources. 

The weather is cold and dry outside, perfect conditions for storing and preserving things, giving us a clue as how to behave this time of year.

The associated organs are the kidneys and urinary bladder, they are a pair in Chinese Medicine. Every day between 3-5pm, the urinary bladder, and from 5-7pm, the kidneys receive the maximum input of energy and attention from the body. The energy is effulgent, and at its height. It is the perfect time to pay respect to these organs and honor their functions.

This can be accomplished in simple ways by rehydrating with a glass of water, enjoying a salty snack, or taking some time to contemplate. Philosophy and quiet introspection are the domain of Water. Unwinding from the day, through prayer or meditation are humble ways to preserve precious kidney Qi.

The kidneys are the power station, the batteries for the entire body. A person’s stamina, vigor, capacity for wisdom, and the ability to deal with fear and adversity are measured by the energy of the kidneys. 

The urinary bladder is known as the Minister of the Reservoir. Fluid filtered through the kidneys travels to the bladder, where it is stored, and then excreted. The bladder’s function of getting rid of old, unnecessary fluids fortifies kidney qi.

The kidneys govern many critical processes in the body, and hold a particularly critical role in the creation and maintenance of human beings. They store a precious, fundamental substance called Essence or Jing. Essence governs reproduction, fertility, birth, and manages the different stages of our growth.

As children, jing governs our growth of bones, teeth, hair, and brain. After puberty it controls sexual development, reproduction and fertility. As we enter our golden years, the loss of essence leads to aging, when our fertility wanes.

Kidney jing, comprised of kidney yin and kidney yang, is the foundation for all the yin and yang that flows through our bodies. Yin and yang are opposite, but complementary forces, which depend on each other for their existence. They are the foundation for ALL things, including life.

Kidney yin is nourishing, moisturizing, and supplies the material foundation for kidney yang. Kidney yang supplies the heat required to power the kidneys by warming and activating the functions of the organs.

Essence creates marrow, and marrow according to Chinese Medicine, is the same substance that is found in the center of our bones, as well as in our brain, and spinal cord. This makes the kidneys an intrinsic part of our memory, concentration and intelligence.

Essence is also the basis for our constitutional strength, how resistant we are to external pathogens and how fast our recovery time from illness and injury. 

The sense organ related to the kidneys are the ears. They are considered the openings of the kidneys, located on the outside of the body. This is why it can feel like you have an earache when your kidneys are filtering out a heavy load of toxins from your bloodstream. The quality of hearing depends on the quality of kidney qi.

It is stated that the Glory of the Kidneys Manifests in the Hair. So whether it is thick, thin, a lot, a little, or greying, it all reflects the state of the kidneys.

The associated flavor is salty, which means this taste benefits the kidneys and urinary bladder when eaten in proper measure. The Water element is likened to the world’s oceans, being saline and briny tasting. Some very nourishing foods for the kidneys come from the seas, such as seaweed, oysters and clams. 

The kidneys and urinary bladder form a system that filters and excretes the body’s fluids. It maintains a crucial balance between sodium and water. When we sweat, we lose sodium, which is why it is not recommended to sweat much in the winter time.

Salt water retains the ability to soften hardness. Soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salt is particularly nourishing and relaxing in the coldest months, it can even help alleviate severe, debilitating thoughts.

The associated emotions are fright and fear. A sudden fright or shocking incident can cause a person’s hair to literally go grey overnight, or there can be a spontaneous release of urine. 

Prolonged fear, or anxiety, can seriously drain the kidney of its Qi. The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys, ensuring a close-knit relationship between the two. The release of adrenaline directly affects the kidneys.

Therefore it is of utmost importance to recognize a real threat. When danger lurks, our fight or flight response gives us the opportunity to survive the situation. However it is wisdom that prevents us from wasting our resources on scenarios that don’t warrant it. Water in balance, allows us to see through the illusion of danger in order to remain completely aware, yet serene and calm.

It makes sense why the associated sound is groaning. This is the unmistakable sound of desperation. When the resources have run out, the coffers are empty, when even hope is no more. In winter, if faced with shortages and limits, it can have a particularly harrowing effect. Even just the hint of such can set off a crisis.

Perhaps more than any other time of year, sheer will power is necessary to survive. The kidneys are said to house this powerful force, also known as Zhi. How fierce, or meek, is your determination to not just survive, but thrive, in this world?

Another bit of ancient Chinese wisdom states- When Intent becomes Permanent, then we Speak of Will.

What’s in the mind, is in the body. Strong zhi indicates healthy, vitally alive kidneys. Will power is a key ingredient to feed kidney qi. The best thing one can do to strengthen kidney qi, is to overcome a fear, or at least begin in earnest, the task of facing it.

The power of water comes through silence. It can not be forced. It can only happen in stillness. If you are having trouble accessing this energy source, consider sitting in darkness, with nothing but yourself and your zhi.

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