A Chinese medicine perspective on Winter and the Water element.

Winter is the season that represents Yin in its most condensed form. As the earth turns away from the Yang energy of the sun, the nights draw in and the short days become colder. Winter is a time of death and decay, stillness and hibernation, also a time of flow and change, leading to dynamic transformation.

Water is the element associated with winter, it is soft and yielding (think warm bath) but also tenacious and unforgiving (think raging ocean). Waters nature is to support and regenerate, to cool and moisten, and to cleanse and clear. It is reflective and quiet, dreamy and imaginative.

In Chinese Medicine the Kidney & Bladder are the organ meridian partnership associated with Winter and the Water element. The kidney is considered the mother of Qi and the root of all Yin & Yang in the body. Kidney energy contains our essence and primordial Qi (the Qi gifted to us from the heavens through our parents at the time of our conception). The Kidney holds the key to our potential.

The Kidney manifestations and associations include our bones, our nervous system our brain and marrow, the hair on our head, our ears and hearing, our reproductive system and renal system. The Kidney also governs our will power and long term memory. The root emotion is fear, and the highest emotional expression is wisdom.

In Chinese medicine it is considered wise live according to the seasons, embracing each elements energy and applying it to our lifestyle choices. Winter is the time to build and preserve Yin in order to have enough to feed the Yang we need for the Spring and Summer months ahead.

Five lifestyle tips for good health in Winter:

  1. Slow down – Have you ever seen what happens to a candle when you burn it from both ends? Now is the time to go to bed early and sleep in a bit. Don’t take on any extra work or energy draining activities.
  2. Meditate – the energy of Winter can assist with deep meditations. The best time to meditate is first thing in the morning before you are fully awake. Sit upright in a comfortable position ensuring you will not be disturbed or distracted. Start by box breathing (inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts and hold for 4 counts). With each inhalation visualise water filling you up to the crown of your head and fall back to the ground beneath you with each exhalation. After a while let go of your focus on the breath and visualisation. Remain still and present.
  3. Stay warm – Protect yourself from the cold. Those old wives’ tale about sitting on cold steps, exposing your back to the elements, or walking barefooted in the winter are true. Cold constricts and stops free flow of Qi causing pain and can lead to ill health. Pull on your thermals and woolly socks, wrap a scarf around your neck and dig out your gloves and beanies.
  4. Eat slow cooked, nutritious meals using foods in season – avoid cold and raw foods. This is the time to make casseroles, soups, stews and curries. Eat slowly and mindfully and eat your last meal before 7pm to avoid overburdening the digestive system, Liver & Kidneys.
  5. Keep moving – slowing down and resting during the winter is important but keeping the flow of Qi through the meridians is also imperative to prevent stagnation. The best exercises for winter include walking, swimming, Yin Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong. It’s Ok for those who have a fitness regime to continue to maintain it, just allow a decent recovery period between.
    Of course, regular acupuncture is a fantastic way to maintain health through the winter and beyond.


The Web That Has No Weaver – Understanding Chinese Medicine by Ted J. Kaptchuk
Nourishing Destiny – the inner tradition of Chinese Medicine by Lonny Jarret
Food for the Seasons by Lun Wong & Kath Knapsey

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