“Winter is Coming?” No, Winter Is Here!
Finally, here in Central Texas, we’re experiencing winter weather. Ice, freezing rain, temps in the 30s and 20s. Not much snow, though.
So far it has been a very mild winter for us. When I have my Qigong classes perform exercises to support the Kidney organ system, as we do in Winter, it feels a little funny. However, it’s important that we follow the seasonality inherent in the Five Elements, or Five Elemental Phases, which help support our health AND the prevention of illness or disease.
If you’re not familiar with the Five Element Framework, here’s some background:
The Five Element Framework is ancient and deeply woven into the fabric of Chinese culture. Five Element theory is the foundation of Chinese disciplines such as feng shui, the martial arts, and the I Ching (The Book of Changes); and it provides a comprehensive template that organizes all natural phenomena into five master groups or patterns or phases in nature: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. From a health enhancement and medical perspective, the Five Element Framework provides a master blueprint that diagrams how nature interacts with the body and how the different dimensions of our being impact each other, as well as a diagnostic framework to recognize where imbalances in the body, mind, emotions, and spirit lie.
The Five Elements align with the five Yin organs (and their corresponding Yang organs) as well as with the seasons, as follows:
-METAL ELEMENT: Lung (Large Intestine), Fall
-WATER ELEMENT: Kidney (Bladder), Winter
-WOOD ELEMENT: Liver (Gall Bladder), Spring
-FIRE ELEMENT: Heart (Small Intestine), Summer (Heart also includes the Pericardium and Triple Warmer)
-EARTH ELEMENT: Spleen (Stomach), Late Summer (Spleen also includes the pancreas)
In our Qigong classes, we practice exercises from an ancient set of Dao Yin exercises (the Wu Xing Jing) which are similar to Qigong exercises. However, they were developed thousands of years ago and are thought to be precursors to Qigong. Certain Dao Yin forms have come down to us from ancient times and are still practiced today, although they may not be as well-known and therefore not taught as widely as Qigong. There is a specific exercise for each of the Yin organs (which therefore also benefits its Yang organ pair). The exercises have physiological benefits and help move internal energy to where it’s needed (or move it away from where it is excessive), help heal or maintain health of the organs, and open the energy pathways of the body. The movements of each exercise stimulate blood and lymphatic flow in a controlled and gentle manner. They bring vitality into the body and help keep us feeling vibrant and healthy.
The Kidney is the repository of our “Jing”, or pre-natal qi or essence. We are each born with a finite amount of Jing and it’s important to safeguard this precious resource. It is the reserve generator of energy in the body and supplies extra Qi to the other organs when necessary. From a western medical perspective, Jing Qi relates to our cellular DNA and our body’s hormonal reserves that support healthy aging.
The Kidney corresponds to a complex system of organs and structures including the reproductive system, the adrenal glands, the ears, the bones, and the brain.
Fear is the emotion associated with the Kidney. If you often have severe panic attacks, anxiety, and fear, or you’re just afraid to make a decision or go for something, or feel like you lack willpower — your Kidney energy may be running low or be imbalanced.
Balance and harmony in the Kidney manifests as courage or confidence, strong willpower and endurance or persistence. We can draw upon wisdom and our inner knowing to overcome our fears.
Winter is the season associated with the Kidney and its partner organ, the Bladder. During this season, we include specific exercises which focus on our Kidneys when performing our Qigong. We also eat foods that support the Kidneys, as well as adopt a slower pace. In fact, during winter, it’s important to slow down, conserve energy, sleep longer – in other words, go with nature and “hibernate’, renew, and get more rest.
So follow the example of the “Winter Buddha” (see above photo). It’s snowing, it’s cold, yet the Buddha maintains an impervious, quiescent state. But don’t let the apparent stillness or lack of activity fool you! Inside, Jing / Vital Energy is being replenished, old fears are being worked out and transformed, and the important systems such as the central nervous system (brain and spine), bones and marrow, and important hormones, are rebuilding.
This quiescent cycle will help restore your energy and reserves so you are ready to burst forth in the spring.