The Kidneys produce three important hormones: Erythropoietin (EPO), Vitamin D and Renin. EPO stimulate’s the production of red blood cells inside the bone marrow and maintains healthy oxygen levels in our tissues. Vitamin D is involved in bone formation and immunological function and requires the activation of the Kidneys for the uptake of calcium and bone production. Renin is the hormone involved in blood pressure and heart contractibility. Taking charge of the production of blood, bones and marrow, the Kidneys contain the Pre Heaven Essence, which gives rise to all types of cells and function within the body.
5 Element Perspective
The kidneys are connected to the water element and correlate with wintertime; the darkest time of the year. The archetype for the water element is the Philosopher; one who uncovers knowledge and brings to light what has been hidden. Pertaining to the fluids and the deepest reservoir of life force, the kidneys are retroperitoneal, anatomically hidden and protected deep within the abdominal cavity.
The qualities of wintertime, including rest and hibernation are the key ingredients of this organs preservation. As in nature, winter brings closure and death to each cycle of transformation. This is a time to preserve resources, stay warm and cozy, and eat nourishing broths and stews. Engendered by stillness, deep rest and survival, the Kidney organ system likes for us to slow down and return to the ground in preparation for the renewal of Spring.
The kidney organ system is united in its two aspects; Kidney Yin and Kidney Yang.
The Yin of the Kidney manifests as moisture; internal secretions, cerebrospinal fluid and reproductive hormones. Kidney Yin nourishes the brain, bones, reproductive organs and has a close relationship with the Heart. Both the aorta and the Kidney share the retroperitoneal space, the meeting point of the Shao Yin Channel (Heart and Kidney Meridian). This relationship is crucial in its physiological function of maintaining blood volume, blood pressure and heart contractibility, but also has a profound psychological connection too. The Heart receives wisdom through deep stillness, rest and contemplation.
These qualities, wisdom and contemplation are the virtues of Kidney Yin energies and are fostered by the parasympathetic nervous system. This rest and digest quality of the parasympathetic response allows for cellular repair, restful sleep, digestion and relaxation.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the Kidneys and adrenals are associated with the root chakra, containing the pelvic floor and sacral plexus. This chakra contains the energetics of instinct, willpower, safety, fear and fight-or-flight and is closely related to ancestry, tribe, family and home.
Winter is the most Yin season, and there is an energetic predisposition to contract, draw inward and preserve Qi. The opportunity nature presents to “let go” and to retract can bring about feelings of depression, seasonal affective disorder and loneliness. Winter is the time to observe stillness and conservation, to pause and do the internal work.
Kidney Yang Qi is related to our metabolic fire, maintaining homeostatic functions like temperature regulation, metabolism and blood volume. Psychologically, Kidney Yang Qi is our Willpower. Kidney Yang engenders life force, potential and mobilization of the Zhi, our willpower. Yang Qi is the driving force of latent potential. Kidney yang is primal and instinctual. Perceiving a threat allows us to “escape the tiger,” while giving us a fighting chance at survival.
The surge of adrenaline, cortisol, dopamine and other stress hormones stimulate the adrenals and hypopituitary axis (HPA) when the will is challenged or threatened. This feedback loop modulates our stress response in the body and is essential for survival. However, if we remain in a constant alert state triggered by stress and threat, the Yang Qi becomes hyperactive, tipping the scales of the HPA axis inducing chronic stress, hormone dis-regulation and chronic inflammation.
The emotion associated with the Kidney’s and water element is fear. In balanced amounts, fear is appropriate and essential for survival because it allows us to navigate situations with care and caution. However, if the water element is out of balance, fear may consume our Kidney Qi and leave us feeling unsafe, dis-regulated and hyper vigilant.
Balancing the Yin and Yang
The imbalances of these energies are seen in the contrast of a hyper-vigilant state or immobilization. For example, we can be scared into stillness like prey just after it’s been captured, or we may maintain an increased state of alertness to hidden dangers; never letting down our guard.
So how can we reset or find more balance in our Kidney’s and adrenals? The classics say, “to balance fear requires courage and calm.” To mobilize the (Zhi) Willpower, one requires rest, contemplation and wisdom. Soothing our nervous system involves engagement with parasympathetic activities, those which move us away from a perceived threat and guide us to states of calm, awareness and rest.
Deep rest, yoga nidra, nature bathing, meditation, hydration, magnesium/minerals, safe boundaries, epsom’s salt baths, diaphragmatic breathing, Qi Gong, Acupuncture, herbal medicine and massage are great tools of integration to support the kidney’s and adrenals.
Kidneys and Vital Essence
The Kidneys are the “Storehouse of the Vital Essence” and ignite all activities and functions within the body, mind and spirit. We draw upon the energy of the Kidneys to accomplish goals and live out our fullest potential. When Kidneys have become depleted symptoms along the Kidney meridian will begin to manifest. Low back ache, weak knees, frequent urination, chronic headaches, dizziness and fertility complications may arise. Other signs of imbalance may include exhaustion, excessive fear and anxiety, bone disorders, vertigo and extremely low motivation.
Seasonal Self Care
Winter is an opportunity to restore the reserves of the water element by slowing down, resting, consuming warm foods, drinking adequate fluids and incorporating thermal baths and sauna bathing. All things in nature wither and hide, return home and enter a deep resting period.
Strengthen the kidneys and adrenals with immune boosting foods and teas, nourishing broths and stews and schedule more time for self discovery through journaling, meditation, yoga and acupuncture. Make deeper connections with those around you, but don’t over extend yourself.
Consult your Acupuncturist or health practitioner to find out more about herbal formulas and tinctures to support your body through the holidays.