Monday, December 5, 2011

Chinese winter -- the Water element

This is a late post, but I hope you'll excuse me -- between the flood, the visit from my in-laws for Thanksgiving and the additional writing associated with teaching a weekly class on the meridians and point location, I haven't been able to keep up with my blog. Plus, if I wasn't a modern American acupuncturist I'd be in semi-hibernation by now, so I'm climatically sluggish, too.

Chinese winter began November 7th this year. Although late summer and fall have some ambiguity, calendar-wise, winter, spring and summer tend to be more straightforward -- here in Central PA, winter usually begins when all the leaves are off the trees. Winter is associated with the kidneys and bladder. Its element is water, but it might be more accurate to describe it as ice. The emotion is fear, and the spirit of Water is the will. This might seem counter-intuitive, but if you are afraid of the bear and run, that is a manifestation of the will to survive. On another hand, hibernation in the winter time is a supreme triumph of the will to survive ("I'll starve if I don't slow down my metabolism") over fear ("Sure hope no bigger animal finds me and eats me in my sleep").

Cold is the pathogen associated with the Water element, and although science denies any connection between the weather and illness, most of us have had the experience of getting sick or hurt after being too cold. The beginning of winter is an excellent time to do a change of season treatment, to preemptively ward off the coming cold. Such a treatment will include many Kidney points, many of which will be heated with moxa to inject yang qi into the body in order to counteract the season's cold. If you want to do everything you can to avoid winter-time colds, flues and blues, try a winter tune-up.

The water element is associated with the jing, or essence, which controls the deepest aspects of existence -- sexual reproduction, formation of the skeleton and bones -- and is also the metabolic powerhouse that rules all other physical functions. The jing is said to be essentially finite -- what you're born with is all you get, and when it runs out your life is over. There is some dispute about this, and many taoist practices are all about preserving, restoring or extending your jing, but in any event, the jing is very precious, and not to be used up frivolously or casually. Overwork, extreme trauma or shock, and too much sex are some of the main things said to contribute to the decline of your jing. The jing also deals with hereditary illnesses, conditions or tendencies. Although jing-related issues are deep and profound, they are frequently the sorts of things for which people seek acupuncture treatment. From infertility, to migraines like your mom's, or back pain like your dad's, western medicine sometimes either doesn't recognize the dynamic or over-attacks it with expensive and intrusive procedures. That's when an American is most likely to seek an alternative, like acupuncture.

The water element is also associated with sorcery, with the solitary and secretive practitioner. Most of us American acupuncturists end up being viewed this way -- acupuncture is so alien to most westerners that the only way many people can understand it is as a type of magic. Although I don't feel the least bit like a magician, I understand that people see me as an unusual and alien healthcare practitioner. This is part of the reason that I wear all black for my work uniform -- black or blue is the color associated with the Water element, and is also the color associated with magic in western societies. The other reason I wear all black, of course, is because I love Johnny Cash. "Til things are brighter, I'm the man in black." Presumptuous, perhaps, but so is being a modern American practitioner of ancient Chinese medicine.