• Alison Dalziel

The Five Elements - WATER

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

Understanding the links between Water and Winter may help us through the darkest months...

The essence of Water

The element or phase of Water in Chinese medicine is related to winter. It is the most Yin of all the five elements and at the same time the most fundamental. As we know, water covers approximately 70% of the earth's surface and is highly significant in sustaining life, making up around 60% of the body. As babies, we hold a greater percentage of water within our body but as we grow older, the level of water declines, in line with our level of health and vitality.

Winter is the time of year when growth is at a minimum and nature rests, waits and hibernates. There is a necessity to conserve energies during this time, in order to be ready for the surge of activity in springtime. We may even recognise signs of winter in one's self, such as wanting to spend more time indoors wrapped up warm, or a reluctance to get up in the dark hours of the morning. It is natural and even advised by ancient traditions in China to live according to the natural ebb and flow of the seasons. The Ling Shu, or Spiritual Pivot, (part of one of the great classics of Chinese Medicine), advises:

"It is desirable to sleep early and get up late, to await the arrival of sunlight..."

"In, winter, one should avoid cold and remain warm and refrain from perspiring so that Yang energy will not be frequently attacked by cold energy. This is the way of nourishing life in response to the energy of winter..."

"The energy of winter is cold; it commands “closure/conservation”. The illness of perverse energy can penetrate deeply into the musculo-skeletal system".


The Water element also corresponds to potential. It is considered to be the power or hidden potential which gives life to all in nature. It is like the seed which contains the blueprint for life, waiting to flourish. This is the essence of Water and winter - the patience to wait in restful contemplation, conserving energies and nourishing that essence within. This couldn’t be truer at the moment, after the extraordinary year we have all experienced. The potential that is contained within hope cannot be emphasised enough right now. We need to focus on things that give us hope - something to look forward to. Planning for Spring, or even just mustering up some ideas of things we’d like to do once (hopefully) restrictions may be slightly easier, may help to see us through these Winter months.

Nowadays, many of us live our lives full speed ahead in a culture which encourages action and reaction, response and rapid productivity, with little time for reflection, stillness and restoration. This period of isolation and social distancing has forced us to slow down and for some, that in itself has caused issues (which have previously been easy to ignore), to stand before us full frontal. This may have led to anxiety for some, enlightenment for others, but whichever way you look at it, almost everyone is now learning to deal with new and unexpected situations.

Time to replenish

Our usual busy lifestyle is very 'Yang' in nature but as Chinese medicine encourages the balance between Yin and Yang, it is also important for us to nurture the 'Yin'. We have all been in a situation which has allowed the time for reflection throughout the summer and autumn months, but how many of us have taken the opportunity to do this? Most of us (understandably) have got stuck in a pattern that fluctuates between looking at what we’re missing and worrying about the uncertainty of the future. According to Chinese medicine philosophy, Winter is the true time for reflection, restoration and replenishment.

Let’s not waste this opportunity for potential growth that lies within us all. Now is the best time to restore, rest and nourish yourself during these months of Winter - give yourself the chance to replenish your reserves, nourishing yourself, (without feeling guilty). Allow yourself time to reflect; treat yourself to those things that nourish your body and your mind. Take care of your health and know that this is the time to slow down and replenish and doing so may just give you the strength and courage to face the new year with renewed hope.

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