San Francisco might be experiencing it’s annual burst of early Spring, but for all intents and purposes it is still Winter with so much of the country still blanketed in snow.

Winter is the season where nature ‘rests’ in preparation for the upcoming Spring and Summer months. While nature is hibernating, Winter encourages us to acknowledge both the coldness and darkness around us and the deeper and perhaps darker parts within us.

For many of us, it has been an emotionally challenging few months causing people to feel anxious and ungrounded. From a Chinese medicine perspective, the darkness and fear we might be experiencing are directly associated with the Water Element (the most Yin of all the five elements) and therefore the Kidneys which rule water metabolism and maintain homeostasis, a dynamic continual rebalancing. Traditional Chinese Medicine says that excess fear injures the Kidney energy while a dysfunction in the Kidney energy, in turn, increases our fear.

As the most yielding of all the elements, Water will break down even the hardest rock over time and find the path of least resistance to move around any obstacle. So Winter is a good time to learn to “flow” which means when uncomfortable feelings come up, try to breathe with them and allow them to naturally move through the body. When we resist these feelings, they tend to get blocked in the chest, since the Kidneys are not grounding these feelings, thus causing tension, anxiety, and a myriad of physical symptoms too, over time, such as high blood pressure and back pain.

In Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys store the Essence and consolidate the Qi that governs over our physiology, so by tonifying the Kidney energy, we correct physical and emotional imbalances associated with the Water Element. The Kidneys can be considered as the “mother organ” since they nourish all the other organs and consolidate our energy stores, as well as all of our fluids. The Kidneys are thus the anchor that supports all of our physiological processes by providing primordial energy (Essence, Yin, Yang) to the body as a whole.

Winter is the best time of year to build up Kidney energy. It is a time to rest, go to bed earlier and wake up later (part of your natural instinct to want to hibernate). Your diet should consist of hearty, warming foods like soups and stews. Walking, hiking and other gentle exercise like yoga and Qi Gong are also great for your kidneys.

Allow yourself to feel into what your body needs and rest as much as you can, but also balance this with light activities, breath work, and any activity that increases your circulation, so you don’t get stagnant . Just like water – it needs to flow in order to stay vital.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can also help correct deficiency and keep the kidneys strong. When the Kidney energy is strong you will regain the willpower to live life with focus and direction in spite of the current that you might feel pushing against you.

Winter teaches us to fully enjoy the powers of the season by surrendering and learning from what it has to offer us and Traditional Chinese Medicine gives us numerous mental, emotional, physical, and nutritional tools to help augment the water reserves within us.