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Full Blue Moon over Water
Sun, February 1, 2015
Balancing The Water Element
Have you ever gone to the doctor and felt like they were speaking another language when they were describing what was going on in your body? Do your lab results look like Greek to you? Have you considered holistic therapies but think the language used to describe illness is a little odd too? Health is our most precious gift and understanding how to maintain, restore, and optimize it is important to our happiness.
Chinese medicine has been an effective system of healing for over five thousand years. Its beauty lies in the fact that even though it is an intricate and highly complex system of medicine, one can always phrase even the most difficult and intractable health problems in terms of the core principles of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements.

Having a basic understanding of the role of the Five Elements in maintaining and restoring health gives you a common language with your acupuncturist and Chinese medicine health care practitioner. And when you share a common frame of reference, you can grow in understanding, develop insight into your body and mind, and take simple steps toward health that can yield impressive outcomes.
There are Five Elements in Chinese medicine: Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. If you think back to fifth grade science, you will remember that an element is something that can’t be broken down any further without losing its essential qualities. Oxygen and iron are both elements but they have unique characteristics and qualities and are used differently in the body.

The concept is similar in Chinese medicine. Just as atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons, the Five Elements are created through the interactions of Yin and Yang. However, each of the Five Elements has certain unique characteristics and the constant and correct flow of energy between them forms relationships that are vital to the healthy functioning of the human mind and body.
In Chinese medicine, water is the essence of life. Water makes it possible for all of the other elements to function correctly and is the first place to check when your body is chronically out of balance. Water is Yin in nature, which means that it is a substance whose primary function is to deeply nourish and cleanse the body in a variety of ways, rather than mainly supplying functional energy (for example, sodium and other electrolytes which are considered Yang substances).

Water is generally associated with the Kidney and Bladder organ systems, brain, reproductive systems and our life essence. When functioning properly, Water is drawn up through the roots to be used by Wood (the Liver), prevents Fire from over-stimulating the body and burning through our reserves, rises like vapor from the food and drink that we consume (Earth) to condense on the Metal organs (Lung and Large Intestine), is disseminated throughout the body and flows back downward to the Kidneys. Not surprisingly, these five element metaphors have correspondences in the Western understanding of physiology as well. 
When the Water element is abundant and acting in harmony with the other elements, you’ll feel strong, confident, and sexy with a quick wit and an ability to sail through life’s problems with ease and assurance. You will have an intuitive understanding of your body and any issues that you face. Your attention and energies will flow from one aspect of your day to another, keeping personal, career/school and family in balance and ending with a restful, rejuvenating sleep.
The Water element can become out of balance due to a general decline in Kidney Qi associated with aging, insufficient nourishment of Kidney Qi due to a poor diet high in chemically laden, processed foods, lifestyle factors such as stress and lack of sleep, and imbalances that may occur in one of the other five elements that disrupt the normal energy flow in the body.
The pathological emotions most commonly associated with an imbalance of Water are fear and anxiety. When you feel anxious and your fears rule you, you begin a cycle of fear, tension, and pain that can wreak havoc on the body. Cleverness turns to absentmindedness; extroversion turns to isolation; peaceful introspection turns to phobic fears; calmness becomes pathological detachment and dissociation; resilience turns to constant low-level fatigue or exhaustion; integrity turns to rigid belief patterns.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine, if applied when symptoms first begin, can generally restore harmony before serious issues develop. If the energetic imbalance in the Water element continues, it begins to block physical functioning as well, and symptoms such as lower back pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, vertigo, dizziness, high blood pressure, occipital headaches, infertility, lack of excitement, vaginal dryness, premature ejaculation, hearing problems, tooth loss and problems with urinary retention begin to occur. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help relieve physical symptoms as well, but restoring balance before things become serious is always preferable.
To restore balance in the Water element, look first at lifestyle factors. There is much that we can do to keep ourselves healthy. Remember that no matter how bad the problem, your body wants to be healthy. Sometimes when we are really stuck it may take time to restore the correct flow, but stay with it and you will start to see small changes. Small changes build upon each other and lead to big changes over time. Simple things that you can do for yourself include:
  • Drink enough water. This sounds simple, but many of us go around in a state of partial dehydration. Sodas, coffee, juice, milk, and alcohol all need to be digested and use some of the body’s water in the process, so just because you’re drinking doesn’t mean that you’re hydrating adequately.
  • Eat blue, purple, and black foods. These foods are associated with the Water element, and, not surprisingly, modern research has shown that the anthocyanins that give them their color concentrate in the kidney and brain. These anthocyanins have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and atherosclerosis and have protective effects against age-related neuronal and behavioral declines.
  • Avoid added sugars. Sugars interfere with the absorption of anthocyanins. Added sugars have also been directly linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, liver cirrhosis and dementia, among other chronic health problems.
  • Get adequate rest. The color associated with the Water element is black, like the night sky. If you’re up until all hours with the lights on, when do you get to experience the beauty of the night? Our bodies respond to the presence of light and darkness and they need both in order to thrive. Extensive exposure to artificial light sources at night can have serious physiological consequences. Human exposure to a low-level incandescent bulb at night requires only 39 minutes to suppress melatonin levels to 50%. These changes in melatonin production and release regulate metabolism, immune function, and endocrine balances via the reproductive, adrenal, and thyroid hormone axes.
  • Practice self-acceptance to deal with fears. Learn to observe your fears without judging yourself and without reacting to them. Anxiety and fear are supposed to be positive stimulants that help you avoid potentially harmful situations. Recognition and acceptance of our fears lets us move forward in a constructive way, rather than simply reacting to them. If your reserves are low, you may have more anxiety, but view it as an opportunity to nourish your Water element.
  • Cultivate inner stillness and peace. Practice being introspective and listen to your body. Focus on recharging your reserves. One of the functions of the Kidney system is to separate the pure from the impure. Examine your daily routine, what do you do that leaves you feeling great and what do you do that leaves you drained? Try to balance your routine so that, in general, you are building rather than burning though your reserves. Some things may be changes that you can make today, others, such as finding a new job, may take longer to achieve, and some things that you can’t change may require a change in your attitude in how you react to them.
  • Get acupuncture to clear blockages and restore proper energy flow between organs. Acupuncture is generally a comfortable, relaxing procedure that has numerous health benefits. It stimulates the central nervous system to initiate and sustain healing and re-balances the body so that you can feel your best. If you see an acupuncturist with a degree in Oriental Medicine, you can also get herbal formulas that are highly effective and targeted to nourish Kidney Yin and the Water element.
In Chinese medicine, our health is our personal responsibility and being proactive is an important part of self-cultivation. Be proactive, be empowered, grow in understanding and take steps to maximize your health. Remember, water is life.


1.) Food Colorants: Chemical and Functional Properties, 2008, edited by Carmen Socaciu, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL., p. 166

2.) Schulmeister K, Weber M, Bogner W et al. Application of melatonin action spectra on practical lighting issues. In: Final Report. The Fifth International LRO Lighting Research Symposium, Light and Human Health, November 3-5, 2002. Report No. 1009370. Palo Alto, CA: The Electric Power Research Institute, 2004; pp. 103–114.

3.) Prendergast BJ, Nelson RJ, Zucker I Mammalian seasonal rhythms: behavior and neuroendocrine substrates. In: Hormones Brain and Behavior. Pfaff DW, ed. Elsevier Science, San Diego, CA, 2002; pp. 93–156.

4.) Baydas¸ G, Erc¸ el E, Canatan H et al. Effect of melatonin on oxidative status of rat brain, liver, and kidney tissues under constant light exposure. Cell Biochem Funct 2001; 19:37–41.

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