SEASONS OF THE BREATH:
WINTER AND THE WATER ELEMENT
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the season of winter is connected with the water element. Its power is deep and yin. The water element is the deepest principle governing the wellbeing and continuity of our lives. It connects us with the deep mysteries of life and death through our ancestral inheritance and the major developmental cycles of birth, childhood, puberty, adulthood, midlife, and old age.
To be in harmony with nature’s rhythm during winter, we need to gather our energies, replenish ourselves, build up our vital qi (life force), and stay warm.
It’s also an optimal time to spend some “soul time” to connect with the richness of our inner world, to see what needs clearing out and what can be newly seeded in our lives.
Winter is also a good time to be even more aware of conserving our energies and resources, and not to deplete or stress ourselves through excessive active, outgoing (yang) energy. Like nature in her resting period, this is a time of inwardness, reflection, quietude and rest.
It’s a great time to build up our inner resources on all levels, and to keep ourselves moving towards the promise of new life in springtime.
OUR ENERGETIC BANK ACCOUNT
The water element represents the energy storage and conservation that forms the basis of our over-all vitality on energetic and physical levels. This has direct impact upon our mental and emotional states. According to TCM, we all come into this life with a certain amount of capital to spend. This is the life essence (Jing) which we have been given through the genetic line of our parents and ancestors.
Throughout our lives, we withdraw from the reservoir of our life essence. It’s very much like spending what we have out of our savings account. But do we re-invest or rebuild our account? There is no automatic way in which interest is accrued if we are only spending our reserves. The wise have taught the importance of building up our reserves consciously and not just spending carelessly. Listening to our body’s changing needs, cultivating healthy life style habits, energy cultivation, and spiritual practices are important skills to fine tune to prevent depleting the storehouse of your vital essence.
THE WATER ELEMENT AND OUR ORGANS AND MERIDIANS
Physically, the kidneys and bladder organs, which deal with the body’s water metabolism, are also involved in regulating the functions of different energy centers and parts of the body. Included in the domain of the water element are the reproductive organs, urinary tract, spinal column, the back, the brain, the bones, bone marrow, teeth and ears.
The most important energetic center in the body that stores the vitality of our essence is the tantian (lower heaven), located under the navel in the lower abdominal area. The lower abdomen is also connected with the lower back and a number of important energetic points referred to in TCM as Ming Men, (the Gate of Life), Guanyuan (Gate of Origin) and Qihai (Sea of vitality). This is why the lower abdominal area is such an important place of healing and focus during qigong (energy cultivation) practices.
There are several meridians (energy channels) which have a strong influence upon the multi-faceted functions of the kidneys and bladder. The bladder meridian itself, running from the head, neck, the length of the back, hip, posterior leg and feet has a connection with all of the body’s organ systems through key associated points ( back shu points). These points and surrounding areas transport qi (life energy) to the organs and have a direct effect and communication with them. Additionally, the central channel, called the Du Mo, which runs through the spine and affects all of the spinal networks, has a powerful impact on the central nervous system and the mental-emotional patterns associated with the organ systems.
THE WATER ELEMENT AND OUR EMOTIONS AND PSYCHE
As the water element is the receptive, feminine, dark and hidden aspects of our psyche, it includes the unconscious and our emotions. While the water element can be related to the emotions in general, specific emotional imbalances associated with water element weakness include fear, phobias, general anxieties, timidity, and weakness in willpower
Water needs to stay in harmonious motion. If it is blocked or held in, we can experience lethargy, heaviness, tiredness, and lack of motivation in the body-mind. Like nature’s rhythms and cycles, we also have emotional cycles and rhythms – sometimes harmonious and sometimes not. There are times when the rivers and streams flow freely, there are times of flooding, times of placid and crystalline stillness, droughts and aridity, and churning oceans and turbulent waves.
But when the water element in our bodies, minds and emotions is balanced, this allows fluidity and flow, and we are able to rest deeply, nourish ourselves and each other, and experience awe at the sheer mystery and wonder of this life. And then what we need most during these chaotic and uncertain times of this global pandemic is possible: we can slow down, come to ease and trust in the many unknowns in life.
We have the possibility and tools to take charge of our wellbeing, and to be pro-active in our health care needs. Let’s take the time and responsibility to nourish the water element, and to reflect deeply upon our inner lives and what we truly value.
May we plant seeds of faith, hope and love in the darkness and barrenness of winter for the flourishing of new life in spring.
In closing this blog, here is a passage I read today from The Sage’s Tao Te Ching, by William Martin:
The physical atoms that make up your body
Have been completely replaced
In the past nine years
Yet you remain
You may feel the effects of age
But your spirit is always renewed
In each and every moment
Remember this when you are tired or ill,
Let each breath renew your spirit.