In our western culture, we are very “production oriented.” Time is money, right? We place a lot of value on being industrious and getting things done. We don’t, however, see the flip-side so easily, often neglecting to take time to rest and rejuvenate, often seeing these things as being a “waste of time” since we can’t easily measure tangible or material benefits from taking time off. The effect this type of behavior has on our body is cumulative, and, over time, we start to experience health problems because of our unwillingness to slow down and rest. What we experience in this regard varies greatly from person to person, depending on each individual’s constitution. Some people may be able to push themselves harder for much longer without seeing any detriment, and for others, this type of behavior may take a more immediate toll. Either way, the body’s energy reserves are being taxed and used up at a greater rate than they are being replenished, and this, eventually, will lead to a health related issue of one sort or another – lowered immunity and autoimmune disease, insomnia and poor sleep, thyroid and adrenal dysfunction, digestive upset, migraines, chronic muscular tension, and menstrual issues just to name a few. On the extreme end of the spectrum, this type of over-taxation on the body can even end up expressing as cancer. The burden of chronic overwork can show up absolutely anywhere in the body, depending, again, on where a particular individual has a tendency to fall out of balance or a constitutional weakness.
According to the Five Phases (also called Elements) in Chinese medicine, to prevent this kind of deep depletion of our reserves, we need to support and take proper care to nourish Water. The Water phase/element is associated with the kidneys and the urinary bladder, and I’m sure this makes intuitive sense, as these are the two primary organs that are responsible for physiologically processing much of the water in the body. Water is also associated with the deep endocrine and glandular processes of the body, the production and regulation of hormones, and the bones. The kidneys, in Chinese medicine, are where the root yin and yang (the root energy) of the body is stored. In addition, the kidneys store the precious substance called jing, which is our body’s deepest core essence, akin to measurable physiological substances that trace our ancestral inheritance like our DNA.
As most of the processes governed by the Water phase/element are at the deepest level of our being, it is easy to understand the significant importance of taking care to nourish this system well and provide it with proper maintenance. In the case of Water, proper maintenance equals REST.
Rest becomes especially important this time of year, as the Water phase is associated with the season of winter. We can liken Water energy to a seed buried deep in the frozen ground. The seed, like our kidneys, holds within it all the requirements for it to germinate, sprout, push up through the soil in the spring, grow tall and full and vibrant, and eventually release new seeds to go through the same process of birth and growth. However, none of this can manifest if the seed, during the winter, is not given the proper time to mature within itself and rest within the soil before beginning its emergence into the warm sun of springtime. The same is true for us as humans. Winter is the time of year that we should be resting and rejuvenating – storing our energy for the spring when it will be time for us, like the seed, to burst forth with our creative energy for all the new projects we want to accomplish in our lives. If we don’t take the time to let our energy consolidate and our ideas coalesce, then we won’t, ultimately, have much to offer once the energy is there in spring to support our growth.
The evidence of this is all around us in nature. In winter, the atmosphere is quiet and still, the days are short, and the climate is cold. The cues we are getting from nature are to stay inside, stay warm, and rest well. So make sure to slow down this winter, take some time off, and let your body restore its deep level energy to support you to be even more productive in the coming months once the weather warms and the days grow long again. Take a nap, curl up with your favorite book and a nice cup of hot tea, have a soak in the tub – whatever helps you to relax, unwind, and be still.