The seasons and the five elements

The season of winter is associated with the Water element in Chinese medicine. It's a time for resting and sleeping more, keeping warm, staying at home more. If we do this rather than fight the long, dark evenings by staying up or out late, under artificial light we sow the seeds for good health and vitality in spring.

The kidneys and bladder

All the five elements are associated with a particular organ in the body. Water is associated with the kidneys and bladder, so strengthening our kidneys through diet, specific exercises and rest is essential if we want to remain robust. The kidneys are also linked to the adrenals. When we're running on empty, on nervous energy, we are exhausting our kidneys. We need to slow down, allow ourselves time to unwind, and get back in tune with our body's needs. If we don't do this, we're storing up trouble for later ultimately with burnout, which manifests as all sorts of stress-related conditions. When we get the balance right, and keep our kidneys strong, we can flow like water. Life becomes more effortless.


Water is also associated with the emotion of fear. If we are often anxious, about our lives, loved ones, work, and especially about money, we are also taxing our kidneys. And when they're weakened, we become even more fearful, perpetuating the negative cycle.

Above: Water is the most adaptable of the elements. It can manifest as oceans, rain, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, puddles.
It symbolises winter, the cold, fear and our kidneys as an element, it strips us bare

How to allay your fears

The opposite of fear is wisdom. Bring yourself back to the core facts of the situation by tapping into your inner wisdom, instead of letting your mind run away with itself conjuring up disastrous scenarios. Fear is fuelled by not being comfortable with the unknown. It is easy to become caught up in anticipating the worst, or worrying about the future about loved ones' safety, health issues, money problems, work stability (especially in this climate). But if we can learn to accept the unknown, that the future only ever remains an idea, and that the present is all we have, we can eradicate a lot of anxiety. Imagine all the energy you could save by not bothering to worry about a scenario that may never happen! And the more energy you conserve, the less anxious you'll feel. If you're struggling to redress the balance, do the exercise below to help strengthen the kidneys.

Nervous energy

The flipside of anxiety is the adrenaline rush that many people end up thriving on. You think you're making the most of your life by packing it to the full working long hours, socialising and drinking intensely after work, rushing around at weekends, seeing as many friends as possible. You think you're getting as much done as you can before you get old and ill. But you're actually accelerating the ageing process by living this way. The body can't keep this up indefinitely. Some early signs of burnout are panic attacks, rising stress, angry outbursts, hot flushes, insomnia, and an inability to sit still and do nothing. If you don't want to pay later for abusing your body and pushing your limits, then you have to rein in now. Especially if that adrenaline rush feels addictive. It is. Slow down and breathe! Sleep! Don't go out every night! Lie around at weekends and do nothing sometimes. Learn a meditation technique. Try the exercise below. Even if you have young children, you can fit in five minutes of focusing on your breathing as you load the washing machine or do the washing up. And if you feel you need help, visit an acupuncturist. Click here for my clinic details.

Symptoms of weak kidney energy

Do you get lower back ache, suffer from weak knees, or does your hair fall out easily? Do your joints and bones feel weak generally? Does your kidney area, below your back ribs, ache? These are all signs that your kidneys are under strain.

Qi Gong exercise to strengthen your kidneys

You can do this either standing or sitting upright but relaxed on a chair. Find the kidney area below your ribs and above your waist on either side of the spine and rub each side with soft fists until your kidneys feel warm. Direct a smile at them this may sound bonkers, but it works! A form of visualisation, it helps send energy and blood to the area. Next envisage your kidneys bathed in an inky blue-black colour. Breathe in this colour and picture the area filling up with it. Pause. Then, on the out-breath, fill it further, so the inky blackness penetrates even deeper into your kidneys. Do this five times. This whole area should feel warmer and more alive. With enough regular practice, you will feel increasingly energised after doing this. And calmer. And more centred.

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Water needs to flow or it becomes stagnant. It travels to the deepest, darkest, lowest places, so winter is the time to get to know our inner demons


The kidneys are linked to fear, and the fight-or-flight instinct of our adrenals. To rebalance ourselves when anxiety has taken hold, we need to access our inner wisdom, and try to recognise and trust our intuition again


If you would like to book an acupuncture or face-reading session with me to help you tune into the seasonal energy and rebalance yourself, click here


Drink more water and herbal teas. Eat soups and stews and warm foods, especially root vegetables and winter greens, and use slow- cooking methods. Whole grains, beans and kidney-coloured foods are beneficial too. Rest and sleep more. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes; don't eat so many cold, raw foods in winter, and cut down on refined sugars


The kidneys are reflected on the chin, ears and under the eyes. Dark eye circles show dehydration and exhaustion; puffiness shows fluid retention. A red chin shows internal heat, so cut down on caffeine, alcohol and spicy food. Big ears mean a strong constitution and a bigger risk-taker whereas small ears show someone who is more careful with their health and needs to feel secure emotionally or financially. See Face Reading