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Using 5 Element Theory To Stay Healthy In Winter

Best Foods For The 5 TCM Elements

‘Tis the season for the water element. 

Well, maybe frozen water depending where you live. 

As of this writing, San Diego, CA, home to HQ is as far removed as the water element as can be, with the exception of proximity to the ocean. No, here at ActiveHerb HQ, the air temp is 85 degrees and bone dry. But don’t be jealous. We’re in the midst of another year of drought. It’s barely rained since December. 

For most of the country, however, there’s plenty of (frozen) water to go around. Maybe more than you’d like. 

But if you want to stay healthy and balanced in winter, learn which element and organs are associated with winter.

Using 5 Element Theory To Stay Healthy In Winter

Winter may officially be just a few weeks away from subtly giving way to Spring. But not according to Punxsutaney Phil, the legendary and seemingly immortal weather prognosticating Pennsylvania groundhog. (Hey, TCM is full of legends, too.) Phil saw his shadow and consequently, we’re facing another six weeks of winter. 

According to TCM theory, every season is associated with an element and Winter is the season of the Water element. 

According to TCM theory, every season is associated with an element and Winter is the season of the Water element.

Now is the time when just like a squirrel—or groundhog—stores nuts for the long winter, you should be storing your energy. Winter time is Yin time. Think: cooling, a time of renewal and growth, out with the old (what is no longer serving you) and in with the new (fresh ideas that will serve your best interest). 

Don’t resist the innate tendency to retract (go inside your shell) this time of year. During a prolonged, late winter don’t be afraid to face your demons. Literally. That’s because according to 5 element theory, the Water element is associated with the emotion of fear. 

If you stuff and repress and those buried emotions you’ve neglected to deal with all year, your Yin/Yang balance will almost certainly be thrown out of whack; illness can manifest. 

One excellent way to process your emotions—yes, including any fears you have—is by keeping a journal. Do you have fear about what’s going to happen to the economy? Or upcoming midterm elections? Take stock of the things you can control and do away with negative thoughts about things out of your control. 

Nourish Your Winter TCM Organs

Yes, the weather outside is beyond gloomy. (Come visit us at HQ for some Vitamin D—and of course the highest-quality Chinese herbal formulas.)

The depressed, rooted Qi this time of year can indeed contribute to depression or the appropriately-named acronym, SAD (Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder).

So what can we do about looking outside at a bleak, leafless landscape when it’s too unbearable to spend time outdoors? 

Well, according to TCM, if we nourish the organs that are associated with the season, you may not coast through this time of year as happy as you would be if you lived in sunny San Diego. But even if your home is the frozen tundra, nourishing the organs associated with the water element may promote a more balanced physical and emotional state. 

The TCM organs associated with winter—and therefore the water element—are the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder (UB). 

(If you have an overactive bladder overactive bladder, it may not come as a surprise that the Kidneys and UB are Water element organ systems.)

Why is it important to nourish these two paired organs just because they are associated with winter? It’s because these organs are essential for regulating fluid metabolism. 

In addition, the Kidney organ system acts as a reservoir for your energy. If your Kidney organ system is depleted (by stress), you won’t emerge from your Netflix winter hibernation feeling ready to emerge from your cocoon. 

It’s also worth noting that the Kidney meridian influences the joints and bones. So if you want to keep up that strong golf or tennis swing, treat your Kidney system right. That’s why it’s essential to take it easy. Don’t overwork. Get plenty of sleep. 

If your lower back is achy or if you’re going to the bathroom a lot, these are two classic signs you need some TLC for your Kidney system. And let’s revisit the emotion associated with winter: fear. If your fear or anxiety are excessive, you are severely stressing out the Kidney channel. 

TCM Best Foods For Winter 

So what can we do to nourish our Kidney and UB channels? For starters, we can eat foods that are nourishing for them, according to TCM theory. 

And that means eating foods that have Water element properties. TCM theories evolved over eons by observing the heavens, flora and fauna. Observe Punxsutawney Phil. What do he and his rodent brethren do? They eat lots of nuts and seeds and so should you to nourish your Kidney/UB channels. 

Also eat dark-colored root vegetables, whole grains, bone broth and stew. Beans, lentils and other legumes are also nourishing this time of year. So, too, are shellfish (makes sense as they come from water), cooked seaweed (one of the most nutrient dense vegetables on the planet) and berries. 

Warm your blood with spices such as ginger and cardamom. 

What you want to stay away from this time of year are cold, raw foods like salad— unless you’re in San Diego. 

TCM Herbs That Nourish Kidneys and Urinary Bladder  

We can also take time-tested Chinese herbs to support our Water organs. 

By wintertime, our Kidney system has taken a beating from the stress throughout the year. That’s why it’s a good idea to take Chinese herbs that nourish the Kidney organ system, which physiologically includes the adrenals, the two walnut-shaped glands resting on top of the kidneys that release stress hormones. 

Shan Yao, or Chinese Wild Yam, is a legendary Yin-nourishing, Kidney-supporting herb. You can make instant hot Shan Yao tea with extract granules or try YinVive, an formula featuring Shan Yao and five other Kidney-supporting botanical ingredients commonly used in TCM. 

And if making too many trips to the bathroom is your concern, consider Ba Zheng Pian (UTFlow ) to remove Heat and Dampness. Few people pay any mind to heat and dampness this time of year but that’s because of the weather. Internally, however, Heat and Dampness are major stressors for the Urinary Bladder. 

Got any other tips for staying healthy during the Water Season? Get the conversation started below…