Winter, Water and the Kidneys – A TCM Perspective

“The forces of winter create cold in Heaven and water on Earth. They create the kidney organ and the bones within the body…the emotion of fear, and the ability to make a groaning sound.”

The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine

Just after the winter solstice, we are in the midst of the peak of Yin energy, a deep inward, reflective, quiet, womb like energy. In these dark hours of winter, storage is vital. It is a time to allow rest and repair from the prior seasons of activity. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) provides us with a holistic understanding of how to live in harmony with nature, because we and our animals are nature. If we do not attempt to override seasonal cycles but live and work with them, i.e. with the natural order of life, we are contributing both to our horse’s health and our own.

In TCM, the season of winter is represented by the element of water. The source of all life. In this context, the kidneys have a special function within the TCM organ system. They store Jing – Essence. Jing is one of the most precious vital substances. It is inherited from the parents and forms the overall constitution. For longevity, it is essential to value and preserve essence. During our current cold and dark winter months, it is particularly important to help the body to conserve energy. It is the time of the year when there is little or no growth, a time of waiting, resting and hibernating (see John Kirkwood, The Way of the Five Elements).

To support horses in their preservation of energy, they will need constant access to clean water and good quality roughage. In cold temperatures, their calorie intake increases and they need more hay or other roughage to keep them warm and maintain body weight. The ability to move freely also helps them to keep body temperature. During exercise we need to make sure that we give muscles, joints and tissue sufficient time to warm up to avoid injuries and other damage.

How can we tell if there is a problem that may be caused by a kidney imbalance?

General Symptoms of Kidney Imbalances  

  • Bone issues
  • Lower back and back pain
  • Hock and stifle issues
  • Urinary and reproductive problems
  • Loss of hearing and other ear problems
  • Lack of physical energy, fatigue
  • Excessive fear and insecurity

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