“Be melting snow. Wash yourself of yourself.” -- Rumi

As the days shorten and darken, and we descend into winter, the time of Kidneys, element of Water, it is a time for deep nourishment and strengthening of that which is most basic, essential, the foundation of our innermost selves. A time for returning to the womb of the dark nothingness, the fertile earth, in order to call forth our own unique spark of light, the miracle of life and light returning in cycle. Kidneys are associated both with Water, Winter, and the color Black, as well as with with our essential Life Gate Fire. Holding this paradox, they are the foundation for our entire body. 

Kidneys are the root of Yin and Yang for all other systems in the body, and house our body’s Essence, an interesting concept which includes Qi, Fluids, Yin, Yang, and relates with growth and development, marrow, and brain, as well as the aging process. Kidneys are connected with our genetic heritage, our pre-natal (or “pre-heaven”) Qi, thus providing a link to our ancestry and our world pre-birth; the qi that we come in with (rather than what we gather while we are here). When we are strong and balanced in this deepest area of our body, we are protected and nourished from inside out.  

Also corresponding with the Kidney system are bones, inhalation, back, feet, ears, hair, water metabolism, reproductive health, development and growth, the direction North, energy and stamina, Fear, and Will. The Kidneys taste is salty, its sound is groaning. 

The aspect of soul/spirit related to Kidneys is Will, or Zhi. Will relates to instinctual power and life force. The Yang aspect of Will is resolution, active effort, volition, life-force, drive. The Yin aspect is deeper and paradoxical: the will that can’t be willed, a direction to an end that is not known until it is reached, which is only understood after manifestation-- this aspect of Will is related to destiny and fate, and embodies the mystery of life. Wisdom is the virtue of Will-- learning to have relationship with what is unknown and unknowable, trust developed over the course of a lifetime. When this soul aspect is weak, Fear and despair dominate. The Zhi can become exhausted through overwork and overstimulation, through trauma, childbirth, chronic disease, addiction. Healing the Zhi requires trusting in the wisdom of the body and heart, the mysteries of life, using the strength of our will to realign in service with Life’s purpose for us.

This is a time to go inward and rest. The spirit animal associated with the Kidneys is the Black Tortoise, who has the power to store. This is a time to go slow, decrease outward activity, simplify, be still, reflect, consolidate. A time to meditate, practice gratitude, practice not knowing, and honor our ancestors. In Jewish tradition, the healing or repair work we are given to do in this lunar month is to sleep and to dream. Calming physical exercise such as qi gong, tai ji, yoga, can benefit the Kidneys. At the end of the exercise, swallow your saliva down to your Kidneys (Taoists teach that the saliva gathered during meditation and energy work is a healing elixir), and rub your lower back in the area of the Kidneys (in TCM this is around L2, waistline) to nourish them. This is a good time to spend time with water, learn from water. We can massage the bottoms of our feet-- Kidney channel begins here at a point called Bubbling Spring, just under the ballpads about a third of the way down the cole of the foot. This point is our umbilicus to the earth.

Nutritional ways to replenish and balance our Kidneys include mushrooms (especially shiitake), bone broths, high quality cod liver oil, vitamin D (found in organ meats, sunlight and D3 from good quality natural supplements, among other sources-- most adults and children at this latitude probably need to supplement, often between 1000 and 5000 IUs a day, depending on the individual), root vegetables (turnips, carrots, rutabaga, parsnips, yams), winter squash and pumpkin, seaweed, unrefined sea salt (in food or drink), miso, grilled or slow-cooked meats (such as lamb, chicken, beef, pork), cabbage, kale, daikon, dandelion greens, beans, barley, millet, garlic, nettles, raspberry leaf, rose hips, schizandra berry, cranberry, walnuts, quinoa, ginger, cinnamon, onions… and more! Many of these are also helpful for immunity. In the winter we can cook foods slowly, for a longer time, focusing on soups and stews.   Hearty meals cooked at higher heat are also beneficial.

Some people wear an extra layer wrapped around their lower back at this time of year to keep the kidneys warm and protected. A scarf around the neck and a hat on the head are recommended at this time of year to protect the back of the neck (home to the Kidneys partner, the Urinary Bladder), where colds are thought find entrance. Keep those feet warm-- also Kidney territory. Moxa at this time of year is very important to protect, warm, and nourish the Kidneys as well.

This time of year is of course the most yin time, the darkest time at least at this latitude. Many holidays at this time are about recognizing and honoring that amazing spark of yang inherent in the darkest yin, the sun returning, the light that is within all of us and ever present. In our culture, it is sometimes forgotten to also honor the nourishment and regeneration that takes place in the dark, the womb, underground. These elements are part and parcel of each other, irrevocably intertwined. We need them both, the dark which gives birth to the light. (I remind again, because I know that I myself need reminding so often.) So even as we find and share the everpresent light and miracle shining within each one of us, let us also remember to take our time to rest, to breathe, go in.

Deep Winter Blessings,Shoshana