If you’ve kept up with your workout routine this far into 2014, you deserve some serious kudos. Workouts sculpt a strong body to fight Winter colds – and blues. Exercise rewards us with well-known health advantages year-round, but there are deeper, seasonal secrets to whole health that have little to do with a hard body or nutrition.
Chinese Medicine teaches us that Winter is the season of the Water element, and that it pays to give special attention to Bladder and Kidney health.
Water. Kidney. Bladder. It’s not a stretch to imagine that these 3 connect in some way, right? Each one plays a role in your health that’s far deeper than even today’s science or medicine can explain.
Let’s start with Water. Here’s an element that, in nature, has the ability to change from liquid to gas to solid, effortlessly. It’s an absolutely essential element that’s adaptable, powerful enough to change entire landscapes and indispensable to survival. Elements in nature, like Water, reflect traits or energies that we can cultivate for good health. When you take on the qualities of the Water element, you become fluid enough to take the form your life requires – whether that’s a busy professional, a serious student or a compassionate caregiver. A strong Water energy gives us strength, motivation and determination.
I always picture Winnie the Pooh’s Eeyore as the classic deficient Water element type. This lovable storybook character lumbers along with his head down, muttering his worries in a mopey, glum, monotonous voice. He’s anything but excited and seems to resist change and new ideas. When your Water element is out of balance, you’re less adaptable to your circumstances, more fearful, and even paranoid. You lose the ability to flow around obstacles, and end up paralyzed by fear. On the flip side, you might develop a tendency to think too highly of yourself, run roughshod over others or take foolish risks.
The Kidneys, from a purely functional point of view, are a set of filters that regulate fluid function, which has a wide-ranging impact on processes like circulation, respiration, hormone regulation, etc. When your little bean-shaped Kidneys (and the adrenals that sit right on top) get out of sync, you might notice physical problems ranging from edema, swelling and water-retention, too much or too little urination, leaky bladder, or an accumulation of stones from an imbalance of minerals.
Other signs of imbalance might show up as low back ache and joint pain that creeps up in the Winter, especially in the late afternoon and early evening, or ringing in the ears and hearing loss. Also, without the cooling influence of a healthy Water element, normal hormonal functions are disrupted, causing surges in hot flashes or night sweats.
Your Bladder is the hollow organ that compliments the Kidney, acting as a storage tank for ‘turbid fluids’ before they’re excreted. Emotionally, getting ‘pissed off’, holding grudges and feeling paranoid or suspicious are all signs of a Bladder imbalance.
If you neglect Winter, Kidney and Bladder health, you’ll pay the consequences all year long. The Kidneys provide the foundational energy that supports everything you do, including sleep. A little tune-up now will keep the engine running smoothly into next Winter. Make the most of this Winter Water-Kidney season with the wisdom of herbalism and Chinese medicine:
- Sip herbal teas that cleanse and revitalize your delicate filtering organs. Look for ingredients like pipsissewa, cleavers, uva ursi, horsetail, gravel root, corn silk, nettle leaf and hydrangea.
- Take up a daily meditation practice, or just breathe 3 long breaths each morning before you stand up.
- Learn the increasingly popular ancient practice of Qi Gong, which can balance your strenuous fitness practice with fluid, smooth body movements.
- Eat foods like parsley, celery, walnuts, and kidney beans, which contribute to optimal Kidney health in different ways, some by detoxifying and others by directly strengthening you.
- Go easy on the alcohol, sugar and recreational drugs, which seriously deplete the Kidney/Adrenal system over time.
- And here’s a tip for athletes and anyone who feels like Winter is a drag on their energy. An herb called Rhodiola rosea has a great track record when taken by those who want help recovering more quickly from strenuous workouts. It’s stimulating, but not in a way that produces anxious energy, and is especially good for heavy bodies. Rhodiola root has the ability to do what the Chinese refer to as ‘drain dampness’, a condition that makes us literally feel heavy, tired and depressed.
A daily dose of Rhodiola rosea tincture (an alcohol-based extract of the plant’s root) is perfect for people who have trouble adapting to cold climates, because the plant itself thrives at high altitudes, where it’s cold and dry. You’ll develop a similar ability to adapt when you take it regularly for several months.
Winter is a great time to restore the energy lost from an exhausting year. Start by nourishing your Water element and feel your body bloom by Springtime!