Welcome to Winter
June to September
“We can easily forgive a child
who is afraid of the dark;
the real tragedy of life
is when men are
afraid of the light."
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there are five elements; wood, fire, earth, metal & water. Winter relates to the water element and the energy of the kidneys (yin) and bladder (yang). Opening to the ears (and hearing) manifesting in the hair. In yogic physiology the Water Element relates to svadhisthana (sacral) chakra, the kidneys, bladder and reproductive system. The kidneys are also linked to muladhara chakra in the pelvic floor and the realms of the physical body as a whole, particularly the lower back, legs & feet and our sense of safety & security. The legs & feet are also considered the work organs for the solar plexus (manipura) chakra and so really, the kidneys relate to the lower body both physically and energetically. So closely related to the spine, nervous system & brain, the kidneys are considered the most fundamental energy of the body, the provider of kidney jing (essence) bestowed upon us by our parents at the point of conception. The basic energy reserves of the body, the substance (yin) & vitality (yang) of which underlies the health of the entire body and every other system.
Having acted prudently throughout the proceeding (relatively warmer) seasons we are now in a position to relax and rely on the energetic stores we have sensibly built up & cultivated during Spring & Summer and enjoyed wisely & sparingly during Autumn. Again we allow balance to be our guide as the emotion of fear has potential predominance during this time of (yin) contraction, displayed by the build-up of anxious or nervous tension. Fear should not hold us back from enjoying life with the strong, vital energy of the kidneys & water element bestowing upon us the confidence, strength, intelligence & wisdom required to negotiate and move ourselves through the many challenges of life.
The yin energy of Winter is upward flowing, reflecting the aging process as we gradually disconnect from the physical body, particularly the legs & feet. During Winter, the body struggles to maintain the downward (yang) flow of energy as we descend into the coldest (yin) months of the year can exacerbate problems with the legs & feet, particularly the knees & ankles. Maintaining a connection to the lower body, feet & legs during Winter is a great way to counterbalance any natural tendencies of disconnection occurring during this time, facilitating grounding which also helps to cultivate our kidney yin (substance) and our ability to feel stable & secure, to reduce our succeptibility to the emotions of insecurity & fear, and to embody a sense of dependability, focus and follow through, particularly through life's more challenging situations. For these reasons, it is crucial that you keep the feet (especially the ankles & heels) and the lower back covered, protected & warm.
In the seasonal cycle of life - where Spring represents birth, Summer our prime and Autumn our retirement - Winter reflects death, as represented by the yoga posture savasana (corpse pose aka pose of tranquility). For most of us this will not be a physical death and needn't be a time to become morbid or melancholic about our ultimate demise. Buddhism teaches us that a fear of death (our ultimate fear) underlies all of our suffering and ignorance. This is also echoed in the buddhism influenced Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali and the fifth klesha (affliction) of abhinivesah (fear of death / clinging to life). By accepting our mortality through the practices of impermanence (reflecting on 'who am I really?' for example) and connecting to the still, never changing, eternal place within (purusha) we can actually embrace our mortality and the reality of life more fully through respectful mindfulness rather than reckless abandonment.
As we move towards the Winter Solstice (the longest night of the year and a time of maximum yin), the days become shorter and the nights become longer. Once passed we can again connect with the expanding (yang) energy as the warmth & light slowly builds again as the days become longer and the nights gradually shorter. In this way, Winter is a wonderful time to relish, retreat and rest the body & mind. Thinking of the hibernating bear, it's a time for staying in, softening, staying warm & introspecting.
In TCM's 5 Phase System, the kidneys & Water Element respectively nourish and control the energy of the liver (and the Wood Element of Spring) and heart (and the Fire Element of Summer). In this way, by supporting, nurturing & fortifying the energy of the kidneys during their months of Winter, we are also preparing the body for the energetics of the warmer months to come. You can never be too kind to your kidneys. Pactises of introspection, contemplation, reflection, study and gentle, appropriate movement all assist in nourishing the kidneys.
The temptation at this cold, dark and often bleak time of year is to escape to a warmer clime. Whilst this option might be tempting to us all, it may be depriving us of the important sequence of the natural movement through the seasons. This is particularly common for residents in the northern hemisphere where Winter temperatures drop considerably lower than they do down here in Australia, but I have noticed a growing trend of people doing the same during our, relatively mild, Winter over the last 10 years or so. This increase has been exacerbated too by the prevalence of cheap flights to get us almost anywhere in the world at a relatively low cost shrinking of our global village. By doing so, we are completely disrupting the natural (and healthy) energetic flow of the body as it is forced to adapt to an increased level of environmental confusion at it attempts to maintain an appropriate & responsive relationship with the outside world and by doing so robbing yourself of the energetic, emotional, spiritual and ultimately physical health associated with the full tapestry delivered by experiencing the natural, seasonal cycle. Heading off to have some fun in the sun can be just what the doctor ordered but if it's used as a way to escape facing life's 'shadows' then perhaps working through it will prove to be the healthier option.
“The ego-self is your vehicle
through which you grow...
like a raft that carries you across
the river of life.
Without it you cannot cross,
but once you reach the yonder shore...
(it becomes) cumbersome...
as you go on to climb
the lofty peaks of consciousness.”
Charles Breaux in Journey Into Consciousness (1990, p. xviii)