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Complementary Corner

The Five Elements of Yin

Renee Lehman

Part 1 - The Water Element

A few months ago I described the Yin - Yang symbol and explained how the ancient Chinese observed a cyclical pattern of expression in nature, calling this the Five Elements. These Elements or energies are felt to be the prime energetic building blocks from which everything in the material world is composed. So, every living thing and every person is a unique embodiment and combination of these Five elements. The Five Elements are Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal (see the figure below).

Remember that the ancient Chinese never saw the Elements as five "distinct things". It can be easy to forget that the Five Elements are describing the "Oneness" of the universe (just imagine putting a Yin - Yang symbol inside the above circle of the Five Elements). The Qi (pronounced "chee"), or vital life force that makes up everything and that shapes everything, is in a constant state of change and transformation. The Five Elements express and embody the aspects of this change and movement within the Qi energy.

Each Element describes a particular movement and the particular qualities which belong to a specific state of the changing Qi. Together, the Five Elements help us to understand the process of dynamic harmony and balance in the whole system of energy. Therefore, when it comes to our health, if all Five Elements are in balance within us, then we are at a state of optimal health/wellness.

So, as you read the rest of this article on the Water Element keep in mind that you are reading only about one part of a much bigger picture! Also, because of the breadth of information regarding the Water Element, this article will only cover the Season and the Organs of the body that are related to the Water Element. In March, part 2 of this article will cover the remainder of the information related to the Water Element.

Character of Water

How would you characterize or define water? Think about all of the "states" that you have seen water in (from clean to dirty, from liquid to frozen, from still to rushing, etc.). I would like you to stop reading for a few seconds and think about how it can hold any shape, and yet cannot be grasped and held tightly in its liquid state. Think about how water will find a way around anything and seek out the lowest point. It constitutes a great proportion of most things on earth (human body is approximately 60% water, the brain is composed of 70% water, the lungs are nearly 90% water, our blood is 83% water, and 70% of the earth's surface is covered by water), and without water nothing could stay alive or grow!

To explore the details of the Water Element, let's first look at the "essence" (spirit/fundamental nature) of Water. This may sound like a strange place to begin; however, here is where the deepest wisdom and understanding can be found. There is no better example to describe the spirit of Water than the season that the Water Element is related to: Winter. By examining the season of Winter, you will see how the Water Element expresses itself in nature and your own life.

Season of Winter

Winter is nature's "resting season". When you look outside, it is cold, days have less light (are shorter), and the countryside is "quiet". Some aspects of nature may look dead (at least you may think that); however, nature is actually storing its potential deep in the earth and the roots of vegetation. Life does not stop during the winter months. Remember that the bulbs that are in the ground are not dead, and the seeds that fell to the ground from the trees/plants are still alive. They are storing up their energy and preparing to burst forth during the growth period of Spring. Also, think about how some animals are hibernating during the winter. Winter appears to be nature's "low" point. However, this is only the external manifestation of Winter (and the Water Element), and is not the "essence" of the Water Element.

The gifts that Winter gives us include the strength of reserves (storage) and endurance (just remember about the hibernating animals), wisdom, stillness, deep listening (the "quietness" of winter allows us to listen), reflection, strength, a solid foundation, and reassurance (Spring will come again!).

The amazing thing about Winter is that the bulbs, plants, trees, and animals do grow and survive given nature's stark and unfruitful appearance. The strength of reserves (storage) and endurance (just remember about the hibernating animals), and the ability to use these inner resources to survive and endure a more "barren" time relates to the true inner qualities of the Water Element. There is will and determination to see winter through to spring. Can you see how the ability to create and draw on inner resources is absolutely essential to all life in the universe? Take some time and go outside in nature for a few minutes. What sounds do you hear? Can you hear the trees "groaning" as they sway in the breeze? Can you feel the stillness around you? Is this calming to your nerves? You may have just found a way to "restore" yourself, and build your energy for the springtime.

Along with being associated with the season of Winter, the Water Element is also defined as having other associations. For example, some of the associations are a Yin and Yang Organ (the Kidneys and Bladder, respectively), a body tissue (Bones), an external manifestation (Head hair), a sound in the voice (Groaning), an emotion (Fear), a color (Blue), a direction (North), a climate (Cold), and a taste (Salty).

Organ Correspondences

The organs that correspond with the Water element are the Kidneys and Bladder. In Chinese medicine, the Kidneys and Bladder have many functions on a body, mind, and spirit level.

The Kidneys are at the root of all of our physical functioning. They are the source of our potential (they are considered to be our "battery pack"). The energy from our "battery pack" activates our metabolism and motivates us to live (think about surviving through the winter). They provide the basic impulse towards the ability to grow and reproduce (think about the endocrine system). On an emotional and mental level, the Kidneys are responsible for mental strength (adaptable thinking), long term memory, concentration, cleverness, and the ability to be "still". On a spirit level, the Kidneys are responsible for our inherent constitution, resiliency (which includes inner power and courage in times of difficulty), the ability to fulfill our potential and manifest ourselves in the world, and having the faith for a "future harvest".

The Bladder has the vital function of storing and regulating the water and flow of energy for the entire body. On a physical level it is responsible for storing excess water and excreting the urine (waste water) that has been filtered by the kidneys. On an emotional and mental level, the Bladder is responsible for the ability of our thoughts to flow easily, to offer support and reassurance to ourselves and others, and to be able to listen well to others. On a spirit level, the Bladder gives us a sense of ambition and confidence, and a sense of comfort and ease at a deep level within our core.

Finally, think about how the Bladder contains your "precious resources" and the Kidneys have the wisdom to use your "resources" wisely.

How does this relate to you today?

Below is a list of questions that I would like you to ask yourself. Think about what shows up for you when you answer each question. Are there any answers that surprise you? See if you are able to accept yourself fully while processing your answers. Is there anything that you would like to compassionately change about yourself so that the answer would be different in the future? To do this, you may need a professional to work with you (a physician, nutritionist, acupuncturist, personal trainer, massage therapist, counselor, spiritual director, and other wellness professionals).

  1. How do you feel about winter time? What specifically do you hate or like about winter?
  2. How would you describe your energy level? Do you seem to be tired or fatigued most of the time? Do you have enough energy to get through a day?
  3. How would you describe you willpower?
  4. How do you see life? Is it an adventure to be met spontaneously and courageously?
  5. How healthy are your kidneys? Have you ever had kidney stones?
  6. How healthy is your bladder and/or prostate? Do you have any urinary incontinence or retention problems?
  7. How would you describe your long term memory?
  8. How would you describe your ability to conserve and not waste things?
  9. How would you describe you ability to analyze and think things through?
  10. How well can you "still" your mind and rest?

Read Part 2

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.

She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read Part 2 of the te Water Element

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman