Remember that the Kidneys are the root of both Yin and Yang, even though in and of themselves the Kidneys are considered Yin. Michael Tierra says that Kidney Yang is the “pilot light for our energy system”. When deficient, the warming ability of the Kidneys decreases and can manifest in one or more of the following patterns:
- Cold, sore, weak low back
- Copius clear or pale urine, incontinence, nighttime urination, weak or dripping urine stream
- Coldness, cold limbs, avoiding cold and wanting warm
- Weak legs, leg edema
- Poor appetite, loose stools
- Sexual dysfunction, infertility, premature ejaculation, nocturnal emission
- Chronic vaginal discharge, leukorrhea, spermatorrhea
As you can see, some of these Kidney Yang deficiency patterns overlap with other Kidney deficiency patterns, although the bolded symptoms are the most tell-tale of Kidney Yang. We should also keep in mind that a person may very well have Kidney Yang deficiency and another pattern of excess, and maybe more deficiency patterns, as our bodymind is connected on so many levels. For example, the Kidneys receive from the Spleen and give to the Heart and Pericardium, so if the Spleen is out of balance that may be the underlying reason for Kidney deficiency. It is also a good practice to add a bit of yin tonic (like lycii) to balance a yang tonic.
A few Yang tonics:
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a warm, bitter and aromatic seed has a multitude of culinary and medicinal applications. As a Yang tonic, it is used for coldness, sore lower back, pain in the torso and extremities, morning sickness and indigestion. Make into a gruel with milk or tea to nourish the body and stimulate the appetite during or after debilitating diseases and sicknesses, including infant diarrhea. Lesley Tierra suggests sprouting and eating the seeds to aid digestion.
- Fenugreek gruel: 1 1/2 tablespoon fenugreek ground coarsly simmered low in 1 cup milk or water, for a 5 minuets or until it thickens. Add herbs to flavor or thicken, cinnamon, fennel, slippery elm, marshmallow, ect. Turn off heat, let sit to cool, covered. Three times daily.
Damiana‘s (Turnera aphrodisiacea) spicy leaves combined with cinnamon, dried ginger and lemon peel are one of my favorite ways to warm up and tonify yang in the winter. The herbalist/acupuncturist at the Medicine Tree in St. Croix Falls formulated this “Libido Lifter/Kidney Tonic”, one of the most popular tea blends. Damiana is attuned to the Kidneys as it is a well-known aphrodisiac (just check the botanical name) that also treats impotence. The Tierras use it for irritable coughs, which I have yet to try, but I don’t doubt its soothing expectorant abilities, as I have felt how calming damiana can be to the nerves.
Blend and drink as needed. I like it strong; 2 tablespoons to a pint of boiling water, steeped an hour.
- 2 parts Damiana
- 1/2 part each cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel ground coarsely
- 1 part Spearmint
Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) tastes bitter, with an underlying sweetness and a slight warming to the body. Its has yang tonic, aphrodisiac, sedative, astringent and adaptogenic properties. Some yang tonic can be too stimulating (think deer antler, yohimbe), but ashwaganda apparently does not overstimulate and in fact is used for improving sleep and clearing the mind when stressed or overworked. I have witnessed a complete turn around for a friend with lower back pain, creaky knees, low libido and a general state of low energy by mixing a teaspoon of the powder in heated raw milk daily. Personally, I have used ashwaganda tincture in adrenal formulas, which I always seems to need in spring. Perhaps I should be taking some right now for to tonify my Kidney Yang so to prevent adrenal exhaustion.
- Delicious dosage to nourish yang: Mix 1/2 teaspoon powder with warm milk (can be rice, almond, soy, or ghee), take twice a day.
Other notable herbs:
Teasel Root (Dipsacus sylvestris)
Saw Palmetto (Sabal serrulata)
Celery Seeds (Apium graveolens)
False Unicorn Root (Chamaelirium luteum)
Have you discovered Iona Marsaa Teeguarden’s The Joy of Feeling? Teeguarden practices Bodymind Acupressure (known as Jin Shin Do), and demonstrated through this book that one can use “negative” emotions as a means of transformation into a more harmonious way of life. I have never received Jin Shin Do, but nonetheless her book has been a powerful teaching tool for me. Not only have I have gained a deeper intellectual understanding of the organ systems of Chinese Medicine and the interrelatedness between acupuncture points, but I have been able to see the emotions associated with the organ systems and their excessive or deficient states.
Since it is around 15 below zero with 30 below wind chill right now in northern Minnesota (and it’s 12:30 in the afternoon!), I have been reflecting on what winter means in Chinese Medicine. The North, or winter, as called by Teeguarden, is the “Watery Land of Chih”.
Yin organ: Kidney Extreme emotion: Fear
Yang organ: Bladder Synergic emotion: Resolution, willpower
Sound: Groan Sense: Hearing
Body fluid: Urine and sexual fluids Body Part: Bone, marrow
Energetic tendency: Rest Element: Water
If we were to think of Chih (winter) as a landscape, it is a swampy place below sea level, a place where many waterways run and collect. Night is longer than day, making the land of Chih dark as well as damp. Moisture is in the air, and if you live in a northern climate this moisture is in the frozen form of snow. If you live in a tropical climate, this is the rainy season. More than any time of year, Chih is the most yin: passive, receptive, resting, absorbing and storing. There is a power of the potentiality of Chih that is most primal. It is not the act of being alive, but that which allows for there to be life, the power of life itself. The water that is held here in winter will be transformed into usable forms of energy in the seasons to come. Soon enough the snow will melt into the thawing landscape, giving the emerging plants nutrition and water to complete their life cycles.
Taoists see water as vital energy of life…just think of the ocean and the incredible linking of life cycles from phytoplankton to great whales. The oceans are just one of the water ways on Earth. Now consider the streams, rivers, underground wells, watersheds, lakes, seas, ponds and the moist atmosphere that recycles the water depending on the seasons and weather conditions. These waterways, these transportation routes are present in our Bodymind as well, and they are all connected like the waterways on Earth. Stagnation or an organ or area of the body can be likened to a dead tree falling over a stream, obstructing the normal flow. One side to the tree will be welling up over the banks as it searched for an alternate route; the other side will be just a trickle or a bunch of separated trickles that each have their own unconnected route. Within our thoughts and emotions we can feel as if there is a log jamming us up when we loose our concentration, become fixated with a feeling, resist change or generally aren’t flowing with life the way we’d like.
“If life is a river, we need to learn to follow the flow of life’s river–not to get panicked by the rapids, stranded on the reefs, or stuck in whirlpools, spinning madly round and round the same thing. (71)” To continuously flow around obstacles we cannot solely rely on our individual energy reserves or we will deplete them. We must realize we are a part of the “grand matrix of energetic forces” and trust there is always energy from the source that we can tap into. During the dark and difficult times, we develop and draw on our awareness of essential inner power, we can access the stored vital energy that resides in the land of Chih.
When use up our available energy but still keep going (perhaps on nervous energy) we then start depleting our energy reserves. The more resources we burn the less equipped we are to navigate life’s rivers. We begin to feel timid, inadequate and inferior; we feel weaker than our environment. Who hasn’t felt this way before? Teeguarden says that the project here is to be in touch with one’s own energy by being receptive to Nature’s energy (the source), absorbing it from our surroundings, then we will be restored with resolution, will, and trust in relation to our environment.
It is easy to conjecture about absorbing energy from Nature…but how does that actually work? It is evident for me by going for a hike on a crisp winter day. At first I am markedly cold from wool-covered head to wool-covered toes, and what little skin is exposed to the air is stung by the cold, but after ten minuets of tromping through the snow I start to circulate warmth. Ten more minuets and my nose is running, and I take off my hat and mittens because I am sweating. The sun hits my face brightening my mood, and I feel as if every molecule of oxygen is announcing itself, waking me up, as it flows cold into my nose. The landscape appears desolate at first, but chirps of chickadees and deer crossing my path remind me that winter is simply a retreat, a hibernation. Upon returning home the parts of my body that absorbed the cold begin to thaw and tingle with the flush of fresh blood supply. For the rest of the day I feel like I did something good for myself by going for a walk, as I enjoy increased physical energy and a subtle sense of peace and calm.
I know this I gained from being in nature. I am sure you have felt it, too. Going on a simple walk out of doors can revive our energy in a physical and emotional way. Another way that we can absorb energy from our environment is by practicing deep breathing, in particular hara breathing. Hara breathing is when we breath in our nose and let the breath cause our abdomen to rise, rather than the chest. After five seconds of inhalation, slowly exhale out the mouth as the abdomen falls. What are your favorite ways to restore your energy?