Attunement with the Seasons: Nourish the Water Element in Winter

To continue an exploration of seasons through the lens of ancient medicine, namely Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we arrive at Winter, the season of Water. As you may remember, according to TCM, each earthly season embodies an Earthly element. The Earthly elements according to TCM, include:

  • Wood ~ Spring embodies this element with her strength of growth (think of living wood, a tree, for example). 
  • Fire ~ With intense heat, passion, and deeply outward expression, Summer represents this element quite clearly. 
  • Earth ~ This element downgrades a bit in the intensity of heat and levels up in dampness and depth, providing Late Summer with her inspiration. 
  • Metal ~ This element’s structure and hard boundaries find themselves in Autumn as he provides the harvest, especially for warming foods and cooler weather. Combining these offerings helps prepare the body for the cold winter months. 
  • Water ~ Alas, Winter. She gives us the cold and depth that embodies water. We may normally think of ocean waves and beaches at the first thought of this element but think about being (embodying) water. Perhaps recall a childhood memory of being fully suspended and submerged within a neighborhood lake or pool, floating in dampened senses and more keenly aware of the heartbeat. This reduction in external visibility and sensation induces our inner knowing, which our psychic superhero, Eleven of Stranger Things, exemplifies quite well in her rigged isolation tanks. These qualities of Winter and Water offer us an opportunity to turn toward the self and explore those inner depths. 

Recall also that the ancients and our ancestors had none of the advanced medicine we have today; no medical diagnostic equipment, antibiotics, testing and screening labs, surgeons, or prescription drugs. They had the Earth around them, the stars above them, and, more importantly, their own bodies. Each of these phenomena of nature was an invaluable tool in their development of ancient medicine. TCM unified these three concepts by not only marrying an Earthly element with a season, but also with a bodily organ. This enabled the ancients to view themselves as part of the Earth and live harmoniously with it.

For example, the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder embody the element of Water and the season of Winter. This cold and wet season is an ideal time to nourish these specific internal organs, the Water element of the body. Incorporating herbs and foods naturally available during the season is an intuitive way to bring in this medicine and many of these foods we may crave or particularly enjoy during the season. The ingredients in this recipe for roasted nuts provide keen examples:

Water Element Nourishing Roasted Nuts Recipe: Adaptable


1-3 cups (or more if you desire) of your favorite nut/s. 

*For nut allergies, perhaps experiment with alternative crunchies like nut-free cereal or trail mix. Feel empowered to find something to play in, mix, dash, and sprinkle your new or favorite flavors. 

*Mix or change the variety of nuts or crunchies until it tastes right to you. Let your intuition and inner knowing of your own body speak. Consider incorporating some nuts with a boost in those tasty and nourishing Omega-3 fatty acids (walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts). Their salt and almost liquid (fatty) yet crunchy flesh support the water element while also expelling excessive dampness in the body, according to TCM.

*Be mindful of any kidney issues or diseases and excessive consumption of potassium. 

1-2 or more dashes of salt to taste

*Again, practice tapping into the inner knowing. How much salt does your adapted recipe require? Salt is an essential nutrient for the body, necessary for functions from sending nerve signals to electrolyte balance, particularly for fluid balance. The kidneys work with and excrete salt, which describes what the ancients saw before we were able to observe this physiological phenomenon. According to TCM, one of the flavors of the kidneys and water element is salt, so working with salt intake and incorporating it appropriately for the body is a great practice during Winter for integrating this medicine. 

*Again, please be mindful of any kidney or heart problems, as excessive salt can be harmful. 

As many dashes as suits you of some seasonal or kidney-supportive herbs and spices. Here are a few to provide a direction for your adapted version:

Cinnamon helps expel cold from the blood during the colder months.

Ginger assists in stimulating the digestive fire.

Marshmallow root powder encourages urination and allows water to flow through the body. 

Dried cranberries help cleanse and clear the kidneys and urinary tract and offer a tart yet sweet flavor to a roasted nut mix.

A touch of oil such as butter or coconut oil.

Perhaps, a sweetener, for instance:

Honey, which will create a more gooey, sticky texture.

Real maple syrup, which will almost candy the nuts and develop a crunchy outer layer. 

Mix everything together in a bowl while the oven preheats to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread your lovingly made mixture over a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (if available) and place it in the center of the oven. Bake, and stir your creation every five to eight minutes, until the nuts are golden and have a slight sizzle (usually around 15 to 20 minutes). Allow them to cool, then enjoy, hopefully, wrapped up in a warm blanket or in front of a fire. 

Take Moments of Inner Exploration

One final tool for embodying the water element and embracing winter is poetry. Reading or writing poetry draws the focus from the external world to the internal world, which is more abstract and intangible. One line at a time, words can evoke and untangle that inner world of visions, emotions, and deep thought. A simple format for writing poetry is the Haiku which takes the format:

Five syllables (Heart beats in a row)

Seven Syllables (Through my body liquid flows)

Five syllables (Alive as the Earth).

This is a highly accessible way to take time to nourish your inner body in winter, perhaps in front of that fire with your new water-supportive snack mix. 

By Emily Larson, Licensed Massage Therapist, Private Yoga Instructor, Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology & Human Performance, Instructor of Anatomy and Pathology for massage therapy students at the Bio Chi Institute, and mother to Noah.

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