Winter and The Water Element: A Chinese Medical Perspective

by Lauren Becker, LAc |

Winter and The Water Element: A Chinese Medical Perspective

Acupuncture helps us to live in balance with seasons.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, there are five natural elements that exist within us, as they do in nature.Each season is related to a particular element and has unique association. When we examine nature’s patterns and cycles, we get to know about ways to take care ourselves and stay healthy all year-round. 

Winter's Associations in Chinese Medicine












In present, we are in the best season to hold back and save our energy. The cooler and darker days call the thoughtful space to rest and reflect. Whatever your “winter hibernation” might look like it’s essential that you take this time to replenish your resources that have been used throughout the year. 

“It is the concentrated, internal force of winter that enables a seed to burst forth in spring growth.”

The energy of winter is deep and potent. With rest the functions are going on, but inside force is merged and stored. This highly nourishing Yin time provides us the required energy, revelation, and objective to emerge into spring which is described as a season of growth, revival of spirit, and new beginning.

Within the Yin season, there is an energetic tendency of withdrawal as our Qi flows more intensely inside us.  The strength of the season invites us to link with the center of our being and intangible emotions. There is death in nature and less movement to trigger encouragement and excitement. For some, the Qi of the season can easily lead to depression, loneliness, and seasonal disorder. Others may feel relief considering it a chance to pause and do inside work. 

Wherever you fall in the transition to the cold winter months, the teachings and practices of Chinese Medicine support the body, mind and spirit in the midst of change. . Making preparation for winter, it is important to strengthen the water element’s organ system pair, the kidneys and urinary bladder, and practice that which we see in nature: calm and conservation.  

The Water Element

Winter is ruled by the Water Element: the most nourishing and essential substance for life. This element has much of people’s energy reserves. That’s reason why rest is crucial in the winter. This time of year, overworking and lack of sleep easily depletes the Water Element and the kidneys especially. 

The wisdom of water is to flow.  Water moves smoothly and takes the exact shape of whatever contains it. A balanced Water Element is able to move effortlessly through the season with strength, courage, and willpower. There’s a sense of flow and relieve, and an alignment to one’s objective or destiny. 

There is depth, darkness, and mystery to water. The emotion related to the water element is fear. In appropriate terms, fear is necessary for survival because it lets us find solutions with care and caution.  When the water element is imbalanced, one might complaint excess fear, phobias, and lack of courage. 

The Kidneys and Urinary Bladder 

The kidney and urinary bladder are the organ systems that are associated with water element. Similarly, both play have an essential role in regulating fluid. There are acupuncture points on the side of meridians that are meant to fill the reserves and pressed into that place where our real power, courage, and wisdom reside.

In Chinese Medicine theory, the kidneys are the warehouse of our vital energy and our Jing, or Essence. Jing is related to our genetics and affects growth, reproduction, and how we flow through the cycles of life. Our bones, joints, teeth, ears, brain, and marrow are governed by the kidneys. 

The kidneys (called the Storehouse of the Vital Essence) lights up all processes and functions within the entire body, mind, and spirit. They govern driving of Qi- energy and will power which is needed to overcome obstacles and move ahead to accomplish our objectives in life and live out to our fullest. We draw the energy reserves from the kidneys just by the act of living, functioning, and growing. 

The kidney acupuncture meridian start at the bottom of the foot and moves up to the inside of the leg to the pelvis, low abdomen, and stops at the chest. Our body indicates when these reserves are depleting because symptoms along the channel will emerge including low back ache, weak knees, frequent urination, and menstruation or fertility issues. Other signs of imbalance include: exhaustion, autoimmune flare ups, reduced motivation, excessive fear and anxiety, and skeletal problems.

 The urinary bladder is referred to reservoir where the body stores it water. Its acupuncture meridian is the longest of the body: starting at the eyes, makes path that travels above the head to the back of the neck, besides the spine to the sacrum, to the backs of the knees, down the calves, to the ankles, ending at the outside of the little toe. Some symptoms of imbalance include back pain, bladder pain, vertigo and headaches, vision distortion, and urinary incontinence. Due to this organs’ role of “holding on” to urine, emotional signs of imbalance relate to this “holding on": grudges and jealousy, in addition to fear.

Winter gives us a chance to focus on the health and spirit of the kidneys and urinary bladder, replenish their resources and properly manage our reserves. Getting slow, taking ample rest, eating well and in-season (more of winter foods listed below), drinking lots of fluids, and adapting a restorative wellness routine will protect these organ systems and boost their vitality. 

Seasonal Self-Care

The classical theories of Chinese Medicine makes us follow the seasonal cycles to stay healthy. The Huang Di Nei Jing ("The Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor"), sheds light on ancient teachings about winter and its relationship to the Kidneys:

“During the winter months all things in nature wither, hide, return home, and enter a resting period, just as lakes and rivers freeze and snow falls. This is a time when yin dominates yang. Therefore one should refrain from overusing the yang energy. Retire early and get up with the sunrise, which is later in winter. Desires and mental activity should be kept quiet and subdued, as if keeping a happy secret. Stay warm, avoid the cold, and keep the skin covered. Avoid sweating. The theory of the Winter season is one of conservation and storage. Without such practice the result will be injury to the kidney energy. This will cause weakness, shrinking of muscles, and coldness; then the body loses its ability to open and move about in the spring.”

Keeping an appropriate balance between functioning and rest is vital for the health of the Water Element. In addition to this classic advice, here are some important self-care tips to follow for the winter season ahead:

Food Therapy

Prioritize foods which possess the qualities of the Water Element. Having dark colors, salty taste, hydrating and nourishing content. Some of the examples include nuts, seeds, legumes, shellfish, salt water fish, seaweed, dark colored berries, root vegetables, whole grains, stews and soups. We mean warm and cooked foods, while limiting intake of cold and raw foods. Use warming spices such as garlic, ginger, and cardamom.

Apoptogenic Herbs

Apoptogenic herbs empower the kidneys and adrenals, boost immunity, reduce depression, elevate anxiety, and increases body’s ability to adapt to stress. Holy basil, ashwaghanda, astragalus, oat straw, and robiola are supplements or herbal teas. It’s best to consult with a health care practitioner before incorporating supplements to your wellness routine. (Recommended reading for apoptogenic recipes: “Beauty Water: Everyday Hydration Recipes for Wellness and Self Care” by Tori Holmes).

Essential Oils

Essential oils like geranium, ylang ylang, jasmine, and basil can be placed in a diffuser to empower the water element. The floral oils are mostly have middle or base notes, resonating within the deep layers of our selves. Floral oils nourish yin, uplifts the spirit, and links with our inner beauty and essence. Basil is used to treat fatigue, depression, restore focus, and memory. 

Winter is time for internal work. Spare more time to learn about yourself through reflection. Meditation, yoga, journaling, dreamwork, and breathwork which make great winter activities. 

We become naturally inclined to things that bring us light and joy during this time of year, such as holiday parties, dinner with friends, and outdoor winter adventures. Keep your gatherings simple and relaxed. The season calls to make deeper connections with closed ones, but without overextending yourself. A sound balance of Fire (yang, activity, joy) and Water (yin, stillness, introspection) can be helpful to our mental health and wellbeing!

Take Care of the Kidney and Urinary Bladder Acupuncture Meridians

Crucial acupuncture points situated along these channels are located at the feet, knees, low back, and neck. These points are used to support kidney and urinary bladder functions, strengthen immunity, and address emotional imbalances of the water element. Keeping these areas warm and covered will sustain the integrity of the channels and keep you physically well, emotionally stable, and spiritually sound.


Hicks, Angela. “Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture”. (2004).

Swanberg, Sarah (L.Ac.). “A Patient’s Guide to Acupuncture: Everything You Need to Know”.

The Huang Di Nei Jing ("The Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor").

“The Season of Winter”.

Lauren Becker, L.Ac., is an acupuncturist, herbalist, and the founder of Balance Acupuncture. She successfully used acupuncture to support her own health beginning in her teens for allergies and asthma, and has since been dedicated to the medicine. Learn more about her at (

Related Articles

Older Post Newer Post

My Dao Labs