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January 6, 2024

Taking Care of Our Kidneys

foggy mountains, black and white

During winter there is a seasonal predisposition to slowness. Needs of gentle movement and restoration reflect the time of year when yin peaks, drawing what’s nutritive in closer to claim focus. In Traditional Chinese Medicine winter is associated with the water element and support towards the Kidney organs. As many plants draw back their leaves and send energy into their roots, our qi descends naturally to the energetic reserves kept within the Kidneys. Powerfully, these organs are considered to be generators of our primal essence, jing, and acts as the seat of our spirit, zhi (will power). Jing and Zhi both represent a commitment to this life. While the strength of our jing provides the material basis for longer life and graceful aging, zhi is the mental or emotional root a person has to be alive and in healthy connection to life. Through this gift of substance, the role of our Kidneys fits beautifully with the archetype of the roots.

plastic medical display, single kidney organ

It’s a hard reality that during winter many struggle through health hardships. Fortunately, the TCM lens loans us a reliable framework towards agency.

Sunken temperatures easily coax the Kidneys out of balance, so through this season in order to tonify the Kidneys, preserve our jing, and cultivate the zhi, we fortify against cold damage. The depth and darkness of these days usher folks indoors with weakened immune systems. Seasonal affects to the mood and mind manifest as anxiety, restlessness and fatigue, depression, trouble focusing or on the other side of the spectrum overextending – and burnout. As the kidneys are also related to our adrenal system, jing and zhi are triggered by fear, straining beyond normal use in stressed conditions. While more solitary introspection like meditation can inspire, it is equally important to hold time in our communities to share to care, or express need that haven’t been met yet.

Befriending Winter for our Kidneys

To harmonize our personal/internal systems we move in relationship with our environment, layering additional consideration into our lifestyle habits and setting examples of kind choices.

Stay Warm To keep warm outside it is important to dress appropriately. Though this may cue images for a variety of cold weather gear, acupuncturists know that necessary points of protection are the ankles (and wrists), the back of the neck, and the stomach. Essential channels run our qi through these crossing points and leaving them exposed to cold for longer periods of time jeopardizes the flow within us. Stagnation affects circulation. Supported by the proper warmth we are able to care for our digestion, mood stability, sleep, fertility, pain perception and healing reception.

Move Slowly As the solstice is behind us now, we can look forward to brighter days and broader capacities imbued by the rising of yang tides. This is a good time to slowly (re-)integrate gentle movement practices like qi gong, tai chi, walking or yoga to expand upon sedentary mindfulness practices like meditation and journaling often brought in at the start of colder weather.

tea being poured into three cups

Rest & Digest The draw to water nourishes life in any season, but especially following the drying climate of autumn honoring our hydration is critical to preserving our immunity because it allows our body to rest. When we are hungry, when we are thirsty, deprived of sleep and nutrients it will become impossible to extend care into broader life. Supplementing with medicinal soup (favorably, bone broths and seaweed bases) and tea invites moisture through our diet beyond our basic water intake.

As gift, I offer this informal warming tea blend with approximate ratios and general instructions. In my own kitchen it adapts and becomes modified as my stock shifts, but these herbs are accessible – safe for most bodies at most tea doses – so there is room to tinker. In the spirit of Chinese herbalism this tea is decocted from whole plant parts – simmered on the stove to extract medicinal actions – rather than steeped – as many tea bags and powders have hot water poured over them. You may be surprised, many of these Chinese herbs could already be in your pantry and any additional plant parts could be accessible at your local herb shop.

up close ginger roots

    Ingredients

  • Thumb of organic ginger, shen jiang, washed and sliced – peeling the skin is optional if its organic
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon, gui zhi
  • 6 cardamom pods, bai dou kou, crushed
  • 6 jujubae dates, da zao, – pitted and halved

Optional; Qi tonics like Ginseng, ren shen, or Codonopsis Root, dang shen, can be added at equal ratio to ginger to boost primal qi.

    Steps

  1. Add all ingredients to a small pot of water. The amount of water will depend on your desired concentration, I aim for about 4 cups, or a liter. This will leave 2-3 large servings.
  2. Heat while covered. Once the pot is boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and wait for 20 minutes.
  3. The longer the tea cooks the sweeter the taste from the dates will be. You can enhance the sweetness by adding Chinese black/brown sugar, or honey, when the pot is off the heat source to avoid cooking out the nutritional benefits.
  4. Strain and enjoy.

Codonopsis root

*The information provided above is being shared for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. This posting is not intended to facilitate or augment Provider-Patient relationships, please contact your licensed health professional for matters of your personal health.  

Want to see the difference that a custom herbal blend can make for you? Check in with one of our Clinic Interns or Professional Acupuncturists at the AIMC Berkeley Clinic to get your custom blend. Book your appointment, where we can offer you individualized treatment advice and create an herbal medicine prescription that is tailored to you.

About the Author

Wana holding a potted squash

Wana is a second year master’s student at AIMC with groundwork practice in reproductive and public health. They connect to East Asian Medicine through an ancestral root, and believe that land-based indigenous medicines deserve the privilege to supplement or substitute western care practices as conduits of more intimate contemporary healing.

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