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Yin, water and the solstice

The featured image is a lovely one for this time of year: the light in the dark and the tree of life. I want to thank: Michael McGloin, at the The Mountain Corporation for letting me use it. If you want a tee shirt featuring it, visit his website:

Yin Yang tree by

Yin Yang tree by

In traditional Chinese medicine, Winter is considered the peak time of the Yin energy and is represented by the element of Water. It is the continuation of the drawing in of the autumn energy.  We can enjoy slowing down and taking time to reflect on the year.  This doesn’t mean actually stopping or completely hibernating: simply not being as busy as during the Fire Yang energy of summer. There are degrees of slowing down like there are different qualities of water. Water can range from being in its most Yin form a block of ice, to being in its most Yang form steam: water with heat.  That is what we look for in the Winter on the longest, darkest and often cold night: candles, warm fires We want to bring some Fire into the Water. Hence we see in Chinese medicine, simply a common sense approach of living in harmony with the natural world. In traditional European cultures, we have the tradition of Winter Solstice: embracing the darkest time  and lighting it with fire as we celebrate its movement to the light.

Kidneys and Bladder

Winter is related to the organs of the Kidneys and Bladder. These organs are of course linked in with our physical kidneys and bladder. People may get Kidney and Bladder infections if they are run down, their immune system is weak, don’t drink enough water or get overly cold. However, Kidneys and Bladder (this is why we usually capitalise them to indicate we are talking about them from a traditional medicine perspective) are also much more than that. They are about regulating all fluids in the body not just water/urine and blood. Often people get coughs and colds in the winter: runny noses and streaming eyes.  Bladder is the main meridian which runs down the back, along the erectae spinae muscles and not only is it considered to support the back physically through the muscles but this support is considered to be our emotional “back up”. How do we get emotional support in our lives, what support structures do we have?  As the Bladder line lies along the spine and therefore influences the nervous system, points on the Bladder line also regulate all the other organs in the body: so it is considered an overall regulating meridian.

The lumbar spine area relates to the Kidneys (embyrologically the kidneys initially form lower down and move higher). The area between the Kidneys, between the second and third lumbar vertebrae,  is considered  to be where our form begins and is known as the Gate of  Life : Ming Men representing the Fire in our Kidneys. The Chinese, and indeed most traditional cultures, would emphasise not letting ourselves get cold in our lower back and the need to wrap up warmly and not exposing ourselves to drafts.  If the Kidneys get “injured” by over exposure to cold this can have an overall depleting effect on the body’s energy. They would also emphasise keeping the feet warm: the sole of the foot is the first point on the Kidney meridian. Central heating has disconnected us a bit from the importance of having to keep warm as we go outside. The sight of young women in short dresses, or even worse with low cut jeans and exposed lower backs, makes me worry about their long term health of their Kidneys. We tend to think we can do what we want to our bodies, but in fact we do need to look after ourselves.

Shiatsu Exercises to support Kidney and Bladder and the importance of relaxation

Stretching over to activate further Kidney and Bladder channels/meridians

Stretching over to activate further Kidney and Bladder channels/meridians

Stretching the back and legs

Stretching the back and legs

We can do these shiatsu exercises even while pregnant.

These pictures are from my book “Shiatsu for Midwives”

Another aspect of the Kidneys is their relationship to the adrenal glands, which sit on top of them. Chinese Kidneys include the adrenal gland. The positive aspect of this is considered to be our will power and our drive. This is important. However, we also need to know when to stop. Pushing on however we feel, and especially using stimulants such as coffee or power drinks to keep us going will ultimately start to drain the Kidney energy. Hence the need for some kind of  hibernation.

Foods that are said to support the Kidneys and Bladder are: buckwheat, aduki and black kidney beans, black sesame, walnuts, kale, mushrooms, mulberries, pomegranates, raspberries and melon. Cheese is said to be potentially harmful because it can produce mucus and add to fluids.

Kidneys and our Essence: the ancestral connections

The other important reason for resting in the winter, and why the lower back is so important (Ming Men)  is that the Kidneys store what the Chinese call the Jing: this is our constitutional energy. Once this runs out we die! If we exhaust this during the winter when the Kidneys are most vulnerable we are draining our energy on a deep level.

They consider that this constitutional energy is not just the DNA  we inherit from the egg and sperm of our parents joining together, but that we inherit a whole energetic imprinting which is our ancestral connection to the past and our family. The quality of our Jing, is the energy that we will pass on to our children and so this is considered important to use wisely.  Interestingly  All Souls Day 1st November is when we remember our ancestors in western culture and this is the beginning of going into winter. The solstice and Christmas celebrations are times when we get together with family and remember those no longer present.

Of course I am writing this in England where it is the Winter Solstice. In the Southern hemisphere it is the Summer solstice!  So of course it is all about Fire and Yang energy! We  have to remember that everything is relative and depends on our perspective and where we are in the world. Winter in the Southern hemisphere is simply a bit less summery as well as being at the opposite time of the year.  This is why there are different types of constitutional energy depending on where we are born and live.

So wishing you a transformational Solstice for 2012. For many the end of an old cycle and an extra special time of re-birth. Take care of your Kidneys and you will find your Fire.

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