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Winter and Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Winter. This is the time for us to rest and replenish.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers practical advice for adjusting to seasonal changes. One of the basic concepts in TCM is the 5 Element Theory of correspondences. Each element has an associated season, emotion, taste, organ…

The Season of Winter is associated with the element Water. The emotional aspect is Fear. The predominant taste is Salty. The associated and most effected organ in Winter are the Kidney and Urinary Bladder and the most common external element is Cold.

Strengthening the immune system should be a part of any seasonal ritual! Any tonic formula that strengthens the kidneys and urinary bladder, nourishes the Qi and preserve our essence is appropriate. Remember, the best form of medicine, is preventative.

The Kidneys and Bladder

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, The kidneys and urinary bladder are associated with Winter. They belong to the element of Water. The Kidney “system” as a whole, is the storage house of our vital Essence, vitality or Jing (the basic materials that make up our constitution and the reproductive fluids that create life).

Libido levels, reproduction, water metabolism and the development of our overall health are associated with the health of the Kidneys. All organs are dependent on the Kidneys for proper growth, reproduction, water flow and control and the balance of “fire and water”. The liver sends water soluble waste to the kidneys, where they are further filtered and passed through the bladder for elimination. The kidneys filter nutrients and waste from the blood.

The Kidney system in Chinese Medicine is associated with the development of brain tissue, blood, spinal fluid, marrow, teeth and bones. The Kidneys rule the lower body, are associated with the urinary bladder, is represented by the root of tongue and opens into the ears. Metaphysically, our kidneys are associated with the development of our Will. The kidneys are associated with the flavor of salt and represented by the color of black and/or blue. Our kidneys relate to the emotion of fear.

Signs and symptoms of poor kidney function or yang energy deficiency due to excess cold include cold lower back, legs, poor bladder control, slow mental or physical movement, fluid retention of the limbs and mid-section, frequent urinating and stiff, cold joints, especially the knees.

Signs and symptoms of poor kidney function or yin energy deficiency due to excess heat include dry skin, ear ringing, retention of water, night-time sweats, insomnia, emotional fright, constipated bowels, restlessness, anxiety, agitation, red face , weak bones, chronic fever or painful throat, dry mouth, memory problems, hot palms/feet/chest, slow healing wounds, rashes or bumps, loss of hair, weak eyes, extreme libido levels, dark urine, pre-mature ejaculation, hot flashes and a weak or sore lower back.

The balance of fire and water are the perfect example of the balance of Yin and Yang.

The Water Element

The element, Water is associated with the Winter season and with cold.

The element is associated with the kidneys and the bladder, which regulate water metabolism and to the reproductive system. There is also a strong relationship with the immune system and the ability of the body to lubricate, repair and protect itself.

Emotionally, water represents taste, which is experienced on the tongue. It also represents one’s taste in general and one’s desire to taste or experience the world. Therefore, excess water is often equated with sensuality, possessiveness and greed.

Psychologically, water represents a good memory. This can manifest as dwelling on the past. But the ultimate experience of water is remembering that we all share life as a common heritage. This manifests as peace, love and compassion.

The Sacral/Spleen/ Sexual Chakra is in the second in the Chakra system and represents our emotional identity, oriented to self-gratification. The second Chakra, located in the abdomen, lower back, and sexual organs, is related to the element water, and to emotions and sexuality. It connects us to others through feeling, desire, sensation, and movement. Ideally this Chakra brings us fluidity and grace, depth of feeling, sexual fulfillment, and the ability to accept change.

Fear: The Emotion of Winter

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys are the Organ most likely to be damaged by fear and to cause a person to be more prone to feeling fear when damaged or suffering imbalance. So it’s not surprising that something which can build up the Kidneys would help panic attacks when the panic attacks have a root of Kidney imbalance.

There are a lot of different things that can cause panic attacks. About the most well-known one is respiratory alkalosis. This is the CO2 (carbon dioxide) level in the blood is too low and the pH (measure of acidity-alkalinity) is too high (too alkaline). The person feels like s/he’s smothering and needs more oxygen, but the O2 level is too high. It’s the CO2 level that needs to be brought up.

This is the condition where if the person will hold his/her breath or breathe into a paper bag (and re-breathe CO2 just exhaled), the CO2 content of the blood will rise and the pH will get lower (less alkaline), and the breathing problems and the panic will stop. The most common cause of respiratory alkalosis is hyperventilation (breathing too fast and too swallow), and the most common cause of hyperventilation is anxiety. When the CO2 drops low enough and the pH rises too high, the anxiety turns into a panic attack.

Without a doubt, there are situations in our lives that cause fear. This is something we must “pick apart” in order to find it’s roots. There may be one or two things that are not allowing your mind to be
free. Write them down.

Fear and the Amygdala

Whether you are ecstatic, dejected or frightened, emotions certainly can have a grip on your life. In the world of science, however, emotions did not have such a hold. In the past they took a back seat to more clear-cut scientific topics. But now an increasing amount of evidence is showing that the emotion of fear is decipherable. The identification of a specific brain system that processes fear is spurring a great interest in the field. New discoveries could explain the mystery behind many mental disorders and prompt the development of new treatments.

An almond-shaped area of the brain, the amygdala (uh-mig-dah- la) receives signals of potential danger and begins to set off a series of reactions that will help you protect yourself, according to an increasing number of studies. Additional messages sent to the amygdala determines whether there is a threat or not.

Fear can often be a daily part of our lives. The fight or flight response can occur when an individual is subjected to fear such as a threatening situation or a resistant or hostile event. The response may be one of confrontation or one of avoidance such as running. The response involves all parts of the nervous system, as well as the endocrine system, and can be consciously or unconsciously mediated.

The autonomic part of the fight-or-flight response results in a general increase in sympathetic activity, including heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, muscular strength, and can trigger an adrenaline surge that quickens your pulse, raises blood pressure, kick-starts anxiety and prepares you for “fight or flight.” The fight-or-flight response is adaptive because it enables the individual to resist or move away from a threatening situation. can trigger an adrenaline surge that quickens your pulse, raises blood pressure, kick-starts anxiety and prepares you for “fight or flight.”

Tips for Releasing Your Fears

No matter what type of fear you are experiencing, there are many techniques which will allow us to move forward.

1. By slowly taking away the “layers” of what covers this fear or block, and discovering what is truly at the root of the fear, it enables us to deal with it from a higher point or view and opens up a path in which to rebalance.

2. Look at them on paper. Send them to me if you like (we can look at them together). Be honest with yourself when you write them out. Go with your immediate intuition. Fears have a tendency to dissolve when we are looking them face on.

3. Re-balance. As a holistic individual, you know that our bodies are continuously in a state of re-balancing itself. This is how we function. This is how we grow. By holding on to a fear, we are not allowing this processes (your intuitive state) to flow freely. This block can be the cause of a much bigger problem.

4. Letting go. By giving this fear up to the universe to handle, you are essentially allowing yourself to release this fear, and in turn strip away any kind of meaning or significance it may have upon you. By letting go, this allows us to move to the next level in our lives. The next natural process. Often times, this is a fear in itself. The fear of “what will happen when I DO move to my next stage in life?” Feeling protected always comes by letting go of the fear.

5. Let your guard down. Let it go. This is not a fear. This is a great journey. Allow yourself to follow it.

6. Being Grounded. Beng grounded is related to our survival instincts, and to our sense of connection to our bodies and the physical plane.

7. Being Aware. Ideally, being aware allows us the understanding of fear, which gives us the comfort to feel protected. Once you know what your fear is, you can take steps to address it. Being aware can keep us healthy, secure, and allow us dynamic presence.

8. Be Familiar. When we are familiar, we are comfortable and we feel connected with our physical body and the space around us.

9. Be Open. Being open, gives us the ability to be conscious and secure in ourselves and determines how we look at life around us. This roots us in survival of both the physical realm and spiritual body.

10. Deep Breathing. Learn to breath deeper. This is very helpful in stressful situations. It allows for the release of carbon dioxide (stess) and room to take in fresh, soothing air (calm).

Andrew Pacholyk, MS, L.Ac – http://www.peacefulmind.com/ – Therapies for healing mind, body, spirit

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