Winter - Kidney & Urinary Bladder
The Chinese Meridians that are associated with winter are the Kidneys (yin) and the Urinary Bladder (yang). The kidneys are responsible to filtering waste metabolites from the blood and sending the waste product down to the urinary bladder for elimination. The urinary bladder, in return, is responsible to collecting and holding the waste fluids and excreting them as urine. This is what happens on a physical level, but according the acupuncturists, these organs are far more important energetically.
The Kidney Meridian is considered the “Root of Life” because it houses the essence or the prenatal force that we are given from our parents at conception, this essence being yuan chi (Qi). Although this meridian is named for the kidneys, it also includes the adrenals (which physically sit on top of the kidneys.) The adrenal glands secrete a wide array of essential hormones that regulate metabolism, support immunity, and control sexual potency and fertility. (The kidney system also includes what the Chinese call the ‘external kidneys’: the testicles in men and the ovaries in women, so is very important in sexual vitality.) As if that wasn’t enough, the kidney energy controls the growth and development of bone and marrow, which the Chinese consider to also include the brain and the spinal cord.
The Urinary Bladder Meridian is considered the “Minister of the Reservoir” because of its ability to excrete waste products. This meridian is associated with the autonomic nervous system as well. Stress and tension play a key part when bladder chi is dysfunction.
There are many ways essential oils can assist in the balancing kidney/bladder chi. Because of its association with wintertime, there is a feeling of cold with kidney yang weakness. One may experience cold extremities, a cold internal core, frequent urination and lower joint soreness. Warming essential oils, massaged on the body or put in hot bath water (add mineral/sea salt for diuretic effect) can alleviate the inner chill and achiness. Some of these oils include cinnamon, juniper, ginger, black pepper, peppermint, camphor, tea tree or rosemary. (Juniper is a great diuretic in its own right and works to reduce edema and stagnation of lymph).
A kidney yin deficiency may create blurred vision, poor memory, inability to think clearly, lack of decision-making capabilities and a sense of weakness in the spine (remember the bone marrow/brain association). Essential oils to stimulate mental acuity and help with mental fatigue are basil, cardamom, peppermint, rosemary, lemon and lemongrass. Meditating with these oils burning in an aroma lamp can greatly assist focus and clarity. For more immediate attention or focal awareness, a few drops sniffed on a hankie can snap the mind into alertness and centeredness.
The kidney’s control of sexual functioning, when deficient, can manifest in lack of sexual vitality, declining sexual vigor, infertility, impotence, premature ejaculation and other libido related disorders. Aphrodisiac essential oils can stimulate the sexual energy by releasing tension and balancing endocrine hormones. We spend so much vital energy stressing and worrying – energy that could be channeled into pleasure and sexual fulfillment. Essential oils that help to divert stress into pleasure are patchouli, ylang ylang, jasmine, neroli, rose and sandalwood. These can be massaged on with a carrier oil, bathed in or diffused in an aroma lamp. The aphrodisiacs are especially efficacious when applied to the skin for absorption into the body. The nervous system is more generally affected this way.
Kidneys are the seat of power, courage and will power. When the kidney chi is vital, one is centered, fearless, rational and clear thinking. One has a gentleness and understanding, a compassion both for self and mankind. But when the energy is imbalanced, there is fear (often accompanied by intense urination, i.e. when you are scared you often feel like peeing!), paranoia, jealousy, suspicion and a lack of moral character. Essential oils that promote a state of self-acceptance, courage and moral fiber are frankincense, geranium, jasmine, melissa, rose and ylang ylang. Oils that assist in relieving fear and are chamomile, clary, marjoram, lavender, geranium, marjoram, bergamot, frankincense, neroli, and sandalwood. These oils can be used in combination or alone in an aroma lamp, bath, or in a massage oil. They can be helpful for children as well as adults, although with children one would use only one drop of up to three essential oils in a formula.
With kidney deficiency, there is a sense of wanting to withdraw. After all, we are in winter and there is a very real desire to hibernate, close into oneself and be still. This is a time of “yin within yin” which peaks at the winter solstice. As my acupuncturist friend Rick says, “the implication is yang is being more and more subdued starting at the autumn equinox, and as the autumn progresses there is less yang and increased yin….hence, more susceptibility to being or “feeling” cold, contracted, etc., going inward. And of course, winter solstice being the longest night, marks the beginning of the end of “yin within yin” as after, the days get longer by the minute. Yin begins decreasing as yang is increasing…and we began to anticipate the hope of spring….the spring equinox where yin and yang become equal.” Yet we are still in winter now, and it is a time when it is natural to be contracted, like seeds in the winter ground, dormant and silent – awaiting spring. When kidney chi starts to weaken and ‘go to ground’, physical symptoms can manifest such as dark circles under the eyes, tinnitus, and imbalanced hormones. This latter symptom of hormonal imbalance can be problematic in older women going through menopause and can exacerbate hot flashes, night sweats, poor libido and pain in the lower back region. Essential oils to assist in alleviating menopausal symptoms are clary sage, fennel, geranium, melissa and chamomile. Massaging a combination of these oils in a carrier oil in a clockwise movement over the belly and around the breasts can increase lymphatic flow while allowing the oils to penetrate into the blood steam to be carried through to the endocrine system where they can work on balancing hormones.
Winter is a cold and contractive time, but with the help of essential oils, we can bring light and balance back into the long dark season. After the excesses of the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, we relish a little down time to cleanse and support the kidneys. Nourish and nurture the kidneys this winter season.