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The Five Elements - WATER

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

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

Five elements. Water element.  Chinese medicine acupuncture

The essence of Water

The element or phase of Water in Chinese medicine is related to winter. According to classical Chinese medicine, winter begins on 8th November. 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".

Back pain relief.  Acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Natural health


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. Planning for Spring, or even just mustering up some ideas of things we’d like to do once the lighter days begin to return, 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. The period of isolation and social distancing that we all experienced during the pandemic forced us to slow down and for some, that allowed many of us to reevaluate our lives. This may have led to anxiety for some, enlightenment for others, but whichever way you look at it, almost everyone had to learn to deal with new situations. This is a perfect example of how change and growth can follow a period of stillness and looking inward.

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 can regard winter as a time of reflection, a time when we can allow ourselves to slow down and rest. How many of us actually take the opportunity to do this? Most of us are 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.

Relaxing acupuncture treatment to relieve stress and pain

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.

Alison Dalziel Acupuncture. Chinese medicine.  Mid Sussex. Haywards Heath.

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