- Element or Phase: Water (A universal symbol for the unconscious)
- Of the Zang/Fu the Zang (Yin) Organ: Kidney
- Of the Zang/ Fu the Fu (Yang) Organ: Urinary Bladder
- Major Emotion: Fear
- Body Opening (orifice): Ear
- Sense Organ: Hearing
- Related Tissues: Bone, teeth, marrow, and nerves
- Colors: Black or Dark Blue
- Controls: Head Hair
- Fluid Secretion: Urine
- Flavors: Salty
- Direction: North
- Phase Ideology: Death and Storing
- Thought: Quiet
- Body Motion Created: Trembling
- Related Odors: Rotten, Putrid
- Area on the Tongue: Back of the Tongue, the tongue root
- Positive Emotion: Will Power Resolution
- Land: Land of Zhi
- Sound: Groaning
- Energetic Tendency: Resting
The Watery Land of Zhi
In Taoism, water represents the vital energy of life. We literally live in an ocean of energy that surrounds, supports and motivates us. This energy is not just flowing in the macrocosm of the universe but within the microcosm of humankind as well; which means us (Ren). The flow of the energy is massive and is often represented as rivers, lakes, streams and channels but it is truly flowing everywhere and not just within these representations. The ability to live harmoniously in Taoism is truly depicted by the symbol of water. It is often said that if life is like these representations then we need to learn about them and learn to flow with them in life. Lao Tzu says, "Nothing in the world can be compared to water for its weak and yielding nature; yet in attacking the hard and the strong, nothing proves better than it. For there is no alternative to it." This is a saying, in perspective which Ba Gua Zhang really encompasses not just the ability to function in combat alone, but to understand the concept from a eastern medical approach and from a mental or emotional approach. Knowing that from Yin the Yang is created, and from Yang the Yin comes into being creating the various balances of energy within each Gua of the Yijing. It's always changing and can be seen from observing the Macrocosm of the Universe and felt by the very tangible feeling of the Qi within the Microcosm of our own being.
Being able to access our own vital tangibility of Qi allows us to develop an awareness of an essential inner power. A power that we can draw on for combat, healing or developing a greater spiritual awareness of the Tao. This is, in essence, the power of life itself because when we access our own vital Qi we are accessing the power of the entire universe, as we are a part of the whole and cannot be separated from it. We are a small part of this huge ocean of Qi that can replenish us as well as make us grow and give us a clearer meaning of the Tao and our life's path. In life we must continuously learn to flow around obstacles in our life's path. We cannot just rely on our own internal energy to accomplish everything. But, if we can learn to tap into the huge ocean of Qi in the Universal Source, we can accomplish so much without wasting our own internal energy, and with less stress and a more clear pathway. Breathing is key. This is the time of year to practice your breathing.
When we use up too much of our acquired Qi and it becomes deficient, we can become fearful and have a harder time moving with the flow around all the obstacles. Fear becomes a huge factor in the way we feel, the decisions we make, and our projection into our surrounding environment. This is really not a good thing as a martial artist or any kind of leader.
Winter is the time for storage. Seeds that have fallen from so many plants lay dormant gathering energy in preparation to bust forth in the spring to again grow a whole new life cycle. We need to breath and store potential energy for our new cycle. Winter is the period of stillness between movements. It is a time to breathe, reflect, rest, gather, and store energy for the new cycle of our life. Winter is the most yin time of the year. It is associated with a downward movement and with stillness. The north is the direction in winter and it is also associated with cold. Winter completes the contraction for fall and creates the space for rest and rebirth in the spring.
When water is in its liquid form it takes the shape of its container, and when the water phase is in balance, it is the phase that allows us to "go with the flow". Water cleanses the body on a cellular level and is the most abundant substance and fluid in the body. Much of the water on the earth contains salt and so the flavor that is equated to this time of year is just that, salty. Water can also freeze and like fear can be paralyzing and can create rigidity in the body. Hence, the emotion of fear is associated with this phase of the year.
The Kidney's From A Western Perspective
The kidneys are often referred to as the renal organs in western medicine, and are the Yin organ in this phase with eastern medicine. The kidneys are located on either side of the spine in a depression high on the back wall of the abdomen. Their position moves with the breathing process. But, generally speaking, their upper border is approximately at the twelfth rib and the lower border is about at the third lumbar vertebra. The right kidney is a little lower due to the liver location. They are located behind the intestines and peritoneum cavity, just in front of the deep back muscles. The functional units are called nephrons and they are connected to the rest of the urinary system by the ureters and the rest of the body by the renal artery and renal veins. From a western point of view the main function of the kidneys is to regulate the volume, composition, and Ph levels of the body fluids. They remove metabolic wastes from the blood and move them to the bladder for elimination. The kidneys also secrete hormones called erythropoietin which stimulates red blood cell formation, and rennin which regulates the body's blood pressure. At rest, 15% to 30% of the blood supply goes to the kidneys for cleansing. They also regulate the absorption of calcium ions in the body by activating vitamin D. The adrenals glands are also important and are located in the fatty tissue on top of the kidneys. The adrenals are shaped like a pyramid and are associated with the kidney both in the western and eastern thought process. The adrenal medulla, which is the inner part of the organ produces, stores and secretes epinephrine or adrenaline and norepinephrine. These two hormones produce aldosteron and are partly responsible for regulating the concentration of minerals in the body called cortisol. Cortisol affects gluose metabolism and sex hormones.
From a Chinese perspective, a person that is categorized as a water type is one with inner strength, self-confidence, determination, and has great faith in oneself. Difficulties or obstacles do not deter this individual from great achievement.
The Kidney pathway starts under the 5th toe and runs to the sole of the foot (at Yongquan Ki-1). Running under the navicular bone and behind the medial malleoulus, it ascends the medial side of the leg up to the inner aspect of the thigh. It then goes towards the sacrum to Changqiang or Du-1 where it ascends along the lumbar spine and enters the kidney and urinary bladder. It then goes forwards to enter the liver, pass through the diaphragm and enter the lung. From there it ascends to the throat and terminates at the root of the tongue. From the lung, a branch joins the heart and flows to the chest to connect with the Pericardium pathway.
Ming Men Fire from the Gate of Vitality
The older texts describe the Ming Men Fire, which is stored in the Gate of Vitality, as being in the right Kidney. But, in the Ming Dynasty it began to be described as existing between the two Kidneys. The ideology of the kidneys housing the Ming Men Fire means that the kidneys are not like the other Yin organs. The Kidneys provide the foundation for both Yin and Yang energies, not only in themselves, but in the entire Jing or body. They are the origin of both fire and water in the body.
The gate of Vitality is the root of Yuan Qi. Yuan Qi is a form of activated essence (Jing), which is termed Pre-Heaven and helps create Xue (blood). Yuan Qi relies on heat as a catalyst and this heat is produced by the Ming Men. If the Ming Men Fire is deficient, then the body will suffer from a Xue deficiency, or not enough blood.
The Gate of Vitality is the source of fire for all the internal organs. If the Ming Men Fire is not strong, the organs of the body will not warm sufficiently to accomplish their function optimally. For example; if the lower Jiao does not have sufficient fire, the fluid transformation will not occur in an optimal manner, and urine retention or edema may result in the lower body. Another example is the function of the Spleen and Stomach in the middle Jiao. Their function is digestive, so digestion and transformation of acquired Qi is not optimal. Sexual functions have also be inhibited as well. The kidneys have the function of grasping the Qi from the Lungs and this requires the Ming Men Fire to accomplish this well.
The Ming Men Assists the Heart In Housing the Shen
The Ming Men, Heart, and Pericardium are all associated with fire. This commonality strengthens the need for a harmonious balance between the Kidney (water) and the Heart (fire). If the Ming Men Fire is too much in excess an individual may have night sweats or hot flashes. This results as the Ming Men fire is too hot and flashes upwards too quickly. Anytime there is a problem with the Ming Men fire there will be problems with the Jing, Qi, or Shen.
Stores Essence and Dominates Development and Reproduction
The Kidneys store the Yuan Qi, congenital essence, or Jing. Jing, a vital fluid, is related to reproduction essence, egg and sperm, Yuan Qi, or genetic code. It is stored in the Kidneys. In Chinese Medicine the kidneys store the genetics that we received from our biological parents at conception. Insufficient essence can cause infertility, impotence, slow development in the physical and metal progress of a child, and premature aging. It is almost impossible to add to the amount of Jing that we are given at conception, but it is possible to accelerate its decline over a lifetime. Therefore the Kidneys are also involved with storing the acquired essences, or post-heaven Qi, that which comes from eating and drinking and breathing. Using the Post-Heaven Qi properly can save and give us a longer life span of the Yuan Qi. However, the amount of acquired essence available for storage is limited by our genes from the Pre-Heaven Essence.
The Kidneys Govern Our Water Metabolism and They Store Yin
The ideology of the kidney energy controlling our water metabolism is in sync with the western medical ideology as well. The Kidneys are the water phase within the Wu Hsing and they do govern the transformation and transportation of water in many ways. First, the Kidneys act like a gate that is opening and closing and controlling fluid volume through filtration of blood and elimination of water through urination. Controlling volume is referred to as storing in Chinese Medicine. Since fluids are considered Yin in nature the Kidneys store Yin. Also the interaction of the Kidneys with the Ming Men Fire are involved with successful water throughout the San Jiao. If everything is working properly the water in the upper Jiao will be the steam or mist that moistens the lungs, in the middle Jiao the water provides heat that enables the spleen to transform and transport fluids and nutrients. The lower Jiao, drainage ditch then excrete the impurities and excess.
Kidneys Receive the Qi of Air
The lungs take in the Qi of air and descend it toward the kidney's. The ideology of Chinese Medicine says that the Kidneys respond by grasping this Qi for the body. Without this downward pull and grasping effect of the Kidneys, the Qi can rebel and move upward causing shortness of breath and chronic asthma.
The Tissue Related To Kidney Are Bones and Teeth
The tissue associated with the Kidney in Chinese Medicine is bone and includes the teeth. Osteoporosis, frequent fracture of bones and or teeth, tooth loss or excess cavities could mean that the Kidney energy is weak. Calcium ion balance and vitamin D are two things that are associated with Kidney from a western perspective as well.
The energy from the Kidney produces bone marrow. This is due to the kidneys support of blood production (by producing erythropoietin) and then the bone marrow produces white and red blood cells. Kidney energy actually extends to more than just marrow in the bone, it actually forms and supports brain and spinal cord energy as well. The brain and spinal cord are referred to as the "Sea of Marrow" from the Chinese Medicine Philosophy. The brain and spinal cord are both encapsulated within bone, so the Kidneys fill up the brain and spinal cord as well as the bone. So if the Kidney vitality is strong, the brain is nourished, and concentration, long term memory, thinking and sight will be enhanced. This is another way of showing that both physical and mental strength of an individual, is affected by the level of Kidney energy.
The Ear is the Opening for the Kidney
The hearing is the sense that is associated with the Kidney energetics. Of the five organ/sense relationships this is the weakest link. None of the Kidney channels go to the ear. Kidney essence does manufacture brain marrow, but brain function affects the other senses as well. However, it is proven that performing acupuncture on specific Kidney points and herbs for the Kidneys can improve hearing and reduce low pitched tinnitus (ringing in the ear).
The Kidneys Also Have A Controlling Effect On The Anus and Urethra.
From the Eastern ideology, function and anatomy do not necessarily correspond with each other. Kidney is essential for the normal functioning of both the anus and urethra, even though the anus is anatomically a part of the large intestine. Thus, if the Kidney Qi is weak disorders may arise such as bed-wetting, some types of diarrhea, nocturnal emissions, or incontinence.
Kidneys Dislike Cold and Dryness
Winter is cold and the Kidneys do not respond well to cold. The Ming Men Fire does not burn sufficiently if the Kidneys are exposed to the cold. This is why you need to use the restroom more often in very cold weather. Many of the classical texts, such as the Nei Jing, argue that kidneys actually dislike dryness as well. An example of this is when life threatening conditions arise due to electrolyte imbalance caused by Kidney malfunctions due to dehydration.
Kidneys and Head Hair
Kidney Qi dominates the head hair. Head hair relies on the Kidney essence to grow. For instance premature graying or thinning is related to having weak Kidney essence.
The Urinary Bladder is the Yang organ that is associated with the Winter and Water phase in the Wu Hsing. The bladder pathway starts at the inner canthus of the eye. It ascends the forehead and joins the Governing vessel at the Baihui (Du-20). From here a branch goes to the temple. From the vertex, the channel enters the brain to re-emerge at the nape of the neck. It then flows down the occiput and all the way down the back. From the lumbar area, it enters the kidney and bladder.
Another branch from the occiput runs down the back, along the medial aspect of the scapula, down the back to the gluteaus and popliteal fossa. Here it meets the previous branch and runs along the posterior aspect of the leg to end at the lateral aspect of the 5th toe where it links with the Kidney pathway.
The perspective of the Urinary Bladder from the Western ideology follows: The Urinary Bladder is a hollow, flexible, muscular organ. It is located in the pelvic cavity, behind the pubic bone, and beneath the lining of the abdominal cavity. In men, the Urinary Bladder lies against the rectum, the terminal tube between the sigmoid colon and the anus. In women it contacts the anterior walls of the uterus and vagina. The pressure from the surrounding organs alters the shape of the organ. When it is empty it has many folds and when full, it is smoother and less wrinkled. When very full, the dome can extend up to the belly button and press against the coils of the small intestine. The ureters are tubular organs that attach each of the kidneys to the urinary bladder. The urethra is the tube that conveys urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. In a man its function is not only to be a pathway for the urine but also for cells and secretions from the reproductive organs.
From the Chinese ideology, the bladder is not just used for storage, but participates in transformation of fluids so that it becomes urine. The main Bladder function is that of Qi transformation, transforming Qi and excreting fluids by the power of Qi.
Physiologically, the Bladder is directly connected to the Small Intestine from which it receives the turbid parts of fluids after separation into dirty and clean parts. Bladder receives the Qi for this function from the Kidneys. When there is a disease it is often derived from Kidney Yang deficiency. However the Kidney does not have a pattern of Excess, so all Excess patterns pertaining to the Urinary system fall under the category of Bladder patterns. Accumulation of Dampness is the most common pathological factor in Bladder patterns.
Climate has an important influence on Bladder conditions. Excessive exposure to cold and damp weather, sitting on damp surfaces, or living in damp places can lead Cold or Damp Heat to the Bladder. From an emotional point of view, the Bladder is affected by fear. Particularly in children, fear, anxiety or insecurity leads to the sinking of Qi in the Bladder resulting in nocturnal enuresis. In adults the bladder disharonies are often manifested with feelings of suspicion and jealousy over a long period of time.
Excess sexual activity depletes Kidney Yang and indirectly the Bladder, as this derives its energy from Kidney Yang. This can result in frequent and abundant urination, nocturia or incontinence.
The Bladder has many shu points along its pathway that connect it to all the other organ pathways throughout the body. This makes the Bladder a very useful tool in acupressure or acupuncture for fighting many inbalances with in the jing, Qi, and Shen.
Information for Health In The Winter
- Winter is considered a time, in many cultures, for contemplation and meditation. This is seen by the fact that many cultures have some of their most profound holy days in the winter. Winter is a good time to sit down and assess the past years to plan or reprogram for the coming year. Being silent and retreating to places of silence is really good during this time of year. It is a time to go deeply within ourselves to learn who we are in a spiritual essence rather than in activity. Observe, be still, and reflect on essentials and essence.
- Meditations are very appropriate now, working to find the stillness within us as a state of being. It is a time to look at what we are doing in life and, or what we are not doing.
- Listening is a very important thing to do at this time of year. Listen to a fountain, a stream or the ocean. Particularly the sounds of nature. Or just sit in silence. When we listen just listen without thought or judgment.
- Walking is really good this time of year so circle walking is highly recommended. Slow walking, especially in nature, is important and try to avoid continuous vigorous exercise. However, one must stay active enough to keep the spine and the joints flexible. Since many of our lifestyles have a very active component in the winter be sure to take special care to warm up and warm down when doing vigorous indoor workouts as well. Be sure to cool down, let the pores close before going outside. Layer your clothing before going outside and be sure to protect the neck and upper back.
- Conserve energy, sleep, and rest more in the winter. If you are tired, go to bed, take naps. Many animals hibernate during winter.
- Winter is not a time to plan projects and less the time to put them into action.
- Dress warmly in layers and stay warm. If it is cold or windy, make sure the back of your neck is covered. Wearing of a hat is also a good idea. This also applies to windy and cold days in the spring as well. Chinese medicine indicates that pathogenic factors attack your body from behind, in the neck and upper back area. Use blankets to stay warm while watching TV or using the computer. Definitely wear socks in the winter.
- Avoid having too much sex, over indulgence uses up to much Kidney Essence at this time of year.
- During the winter it is very good to get outside and get some unfiltered sunlight to the eyes at least once a week. Especially if you are prone to depression due to the shorter winter days This means not wearing sunglasses or having glass between you and the sun. .
- Get outside in winter. Just go for a leisurely walk and look at nature. Or if you have winter activities enjoy those. Just, get outside!!!!!
Foods for Winter
- Drink plenty of water to cleanse and purify the kidneys and all of the body's cells. Avoid doing harsh purgative cleanses in the winter because Kidney Qi is more prone to deficiencies rather than excesses. Ice water and iced drinks are not normally recommended in winter. Your body has to warm up a cold drink before it can be absorbed taking away important energy from other important body functions.
- Eat warming foods. Hearty warm soup, stew herbs and congee are great in the winter. Seeds, whole grains, and nuts such as toasted walnuts are good during winter and can also help with coughs. Garlic and onions are not only warming, but also have anti-viral qualities.
- Dried foods, dark beans, , and steamed winter greens fortify the kidneys in the winter. Foods such as black beans fit into the color considerations for winter as well.
- Bitter foods are recommended, because these tastes create a sinking, centering quality that brings body heat inward and heightens storage capacity. These foods include watercress, endive, turnips, asparagus, carrot top, oats quinoa and amaranth. Many citrus peels are bitter as well. Bitter herbs should also be considered. Some of theses are burdock root, horsetail and chicory root.
- Salty foods such as miso, soy sauce, salt, millet and barley are recommended, but should not be over eaten. Salt is over represented in most western foods.
- Cut out refined sugar. Refined sugar is known to be a top immune system destroyer. As little as one teaspoon of sugar can impair your immune system for several hours. Also refined grains act similarly in the body.
- Anti-viral herbs and teas can help. Peppermint, ginger, garlic and onion can help in both prevention and alleviation of colds and flu. Chamomile is also anti-inflammatory, calms nerves and induces muscle relaxation. Slippery elm and marshmallow root can alleviate symptoms as well. Avoid caffine and sugary drinks, even fruit juice. Echinacea can help, and perhaps, prevent a cold in the initial stages. Be aware that Echinacea is not an immune builder, as commonly thought. It should only be used in the first stages of a cold or flu and should not be taken during periods of good health.
- White ocean fish are good. Stay away from farm raised fish. Also shellfish are good for the Kidney.
By Shifu Glen Moore