In Chinese Medicine, Winter is governed by the Water Element – Acupuncturist Julie Kelham explains what this means for our health and wellbeing



At the core of Chinese Medicine is the principle that nature is governed by Yin/Yang and the five elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each season is associated with a different element and with the energy system of different organs. Each element has a different colour, sound, emotion, odour, time of day, season, and type of weather, taste and seasonal power.

At the start of the new year, as we continue through winter, we see the many ways in which nature has slowed down and is resting quietly: animals take cover and sleep, water freezes, plant seeds wait below the surface ready to emerge with new life in the next season….

A quote from the classic text Nei Jing (approx. -200) Su Wen chapter 2 states:

In winter all is hidden, this is the season of retirement into the depth, because it is cold outside. It is necessary at the moment not to disturb or disperse the yang energy, thus complying with the energy of the winter.” (Anonymous, 1979, p3)


Impact on our body

This is a time when our Kidney energy (our reserves) are seasonally low, which often results in a feeling of tiredness and weariness. The challenges of life can feel more overwhelming as our resilience and immune systems are lowered. It is important to find some time to be still and rest and restore. I was reminded of this the other day when I saw the heron standing in the river….. a symbol of steadiness, serenity, stillness and balance.

Our will, drive and motivation are also associated with the Water element. Imagine the force of a wave, or waterfall, the power of the vast ocean, or the serenity and stillness of a deep lake. We all have these different forms within us; oceans, rivers, ponds, and reservoirs are all expressions of the Water element.

A river can overflow and become murky from excess rainfall, or blocked by leaves or fallen branches, or run dry with a drought or be constricted by the frozen ice. In the same way, our Qi and energy system can become stuck, blocked by damp, depleted, or constricted by cold. Our Blood Circulation, our Lymphatic System, the fluid nature of tears, saliva, lactation, perspiration, urine and sexual secretions are all affected by the Water element. Our skeletal framework, brain and marrow are also governed by this element giving us our shape, movement, protection and nourishment.

Some examples of acupuncture point names on the Kidney/Bladder channels illustrate the essence of the Water Element perfectly such as: Yong Quan (Bubbling Spring), Tai Xi (Greater Mountain Stream), Zhao Hai (Shining Sea), Zhu Bin (Building up the River Bank), Tian Zhu (Heavenly Pillar).


Affect on our emotions

The emotion connected with this element is Fear. When the Water element is out of balance, a person can feel very fearful and overcautious, looking ahead and imagining threats that may happen in life and fearing the worst. At the other extremes, a person may also not feel appropriate fear, or they may suppress any feelings of fear.

A person with strong Kidney energy will have a healthy drive in life and feel glad to be alive. People with depleted Kidney energy may struggle to have any will or drive, or go into overdrive and push themselves too hard in life, causing more Kidney energy depletion.



This Kidney energy depletion can manifest in different ways such as:

  • achy or cold lower back
  • feeling the cold
  • tinnitus
  • fertility issues
  • frequency or infrequency of urine
  • brittle bones
  • mental restlessness
  • being overwhelmed by fear and phobias
  • night sweats, dry mouth and throat at night
  • chronic asthma
  • high libido
  • low sperm count.


How to Strengthen your Kidney Energy

  • Eat: blue/black foods correspond to the colour of the Water Element. So kidney beans, aduki beans, black beans, black sesame seeds, blueberries, blackberries, dark grapes and wild rice are all beneficial. Eggs, miso broth or chicken broth are all very nourishing. Enjoy warming soups and stews, steamed winter greens, squash, and small amounts of salty foods.
  • Drink: filtered water where possible, and warm water such as herbal teas.
  • Keep warm: particularly around your lower back and Kidney area. This is where the acupuncture point Ming Men is located, which translates as the ‘Gate of Life’ or ‘Destiny.’
  • Invigorate the Kidney energy: rub your lower back in circular motions with the back of your hands.
  • Take time to rest and restore your energy: this will support your Qi and overall immune system. Try to go to bed a bit earlier if needed and slow down when you can. Balance satisfying activity and challenge with rest and quietness.
  • Come and have, or continue with your acupuncture treatment, as this will strengthen your Kidney energy and support your will, drive and motivation and promote emotional balance if life feels very fearful. If your immune system has been lowered from Covid and/or colds and coughs then acupuncture can help. It can clear residue viruses, strengthen your immune system and restore balance from resulting energetic imbalances.
  • Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture
  • Traditional Acupuncture: The Law of the Five Elements
  • Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture
  • Wood Becomes Water (Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life)

To book an appointment or arrange to speak with Julie about how acupuncture can help with your health issues, call 0117 3771186 or email