The Five Element Series: Water (Part 2)


My eyes drifted closed as I rolled to a stop. Suddenly, my heart started thumping. "Wake up!," it seemed to scream, "this is dangerous!"  My doctor's mind quickly started sorting through the reasons why I was exhausted. Epstein-Barr recurrence, low thyroid hormone, the tickle in my throat - a million and one reasons raced through my already overwhelmed mind.

I find when I don't pay attention to the Water Element, it's easy for my mind to spin, for me to experience god-awful insomnia, for my low back to get funky, and to get so tired I need to blast music loudly on my way home.

It feels like my energy is jittery. I can't settle down. I don't feel grounded. Even when I make an effort to do my qigong and meditation practice. I have to ease back down over time -- it takes determination. I have to dig deep to slow down. 

Why? Well, in our culture we're terrified of slowing down. Most of us have a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out). Of being judged as being L-A-Z-Y (one of the worst four-letter words out there).  But thousands of years of wisdom shows we can't just go-go-go in crisis mode without consequences.




The water element is the least flashy of the elements. Blockages and deficiencies can sneak up on you through the years and show up as fatigue that doesn’t improve with a night’s rest, or back pain that becomes more and more frequent through the years.

Sometimes it shows up as difficulty conceiving. The body makes an internal decision, knowing that the important and powerful task of facilitating the creation and growth of a human takes an incredible amount of resources that the body doesn’t have available. 

Some people are born with a deficiency in this element, and it shows up in genetic issues (imagine the runt of a litter). These individuals tend to be more careful with their energy usage. They aren’t terribly physical and find refuge in intellectual endeavors. This element is closely associated with the concept of essence (one of the five substances we track in Chinese Medicine)). The kidneys help regulate the release of this essence. Think of them as the trust fund you inherited and do not want to deplete completely. 

If you’re finding yourself only making it through the day because of your best friend, caffeine, then you’ve most likely depleted your energy reserves. Emotionally, a depleted water element can lead to feelings of a hopeless type of depression, and suicidal ideation.


water element associations


Meridians: Kidney and Bladder (click on each one for a visual)

Associated organs and body areas: kidneys, bladder, bones, lower back and knees, hair, the brain, nervous system, blood marrow, the integrity of DNA. The ability to reproduce is also associated with this category.

Associated sense organ: ears (hearing)

  • The shape and size of ears and earlobes are typically used to gauge the strength of this element - bigger, longer ear lobes are usually better.
  • Loss of hearing (not trauma induced)

Associated fluid: urine

  • Examples of associated symptoms are: waking to urinate at night, incomplete urination, urinary dribbling, blood in the urine, stones, urinary tract infections, cloudy urine, or urine that is too clear, volume of urine that doesn’t match intake

Associated taste: salty

  • Cravings indicate a deficiency
  • Foods and herbs that have this flavor can be consciously used to strengthen this element

Associated colors: blue and black

  • Foods and herbs with this color are historically classified as nourishing to this element
  • An obsessive preference for this color (in clothes or environment) may indicate a need to balance the element
    • On the contrary, one can purposely pick the color to strengthen or balance a known weakness in the Water element. For example, someone who is easily agitated and distracted and feels scattered (a Fire imbalance), could surround themselves with blue and black furniture and clothing, this will counteract the Fire imbalance. 



Associated emotions: fear, paralyzed or stuck, dread or fear of the future

  • Phobias are a great example of a Water element blockage.
  • Note: none of these emotions are ‘bad’ emotions. It is only a blockage if the feelings aren’t flowing smoothly, and one gets stuck in a loop with these feelings.

Associated sound: groan (often heard in a type of gravelly voice)

  • Someone who speaks in a gravelly or groany voice typically has a deficiency in this element.

Associated season: winter

  • Any health problems worse in the winter indicates a Water imbalance.
  • Take advantage of the winter season to rest and recover and strengthen the Water element.


Slow down.

Slow down.


for the sci-fi geeks 

If you hate sci-fi, I forgive you. Skip this section and scroll down to learn how you can support your Water Element.

In the pilot episode of the new Battlestar Galactica ("33"), the fleet had been under Cylon (enemy) attack and completed over 237 jumps with an entire fleet of civilians every 33 minutes.

The crew was completely exhausted, wired, and resorted to taking stimulants. The pilots were fried and loopy.

This is you on 5-6 hours of sleep (maybe), tons of coffee, and working nights and weekends (house chores count as work.)

This is the new Mom, and also the Mom who didn't have a chance to wind down for 18 years.

This is grad school.

It's providing for a family in a shaky economy.

It doesn't matter how long ago you did it. You're reaping the consequences now - even if you don't know it yet.




In the Battlestar episode, a civilian ship ended up being left behind after the fleet jumped. It's unclear whether it was crew error or what. The consequence is that the lost ship had a person with very important information about a traitor that was fundamental in the Cylon attack and was currently in the President's inner circle. The ship itself ended up coming back but full of nukes - intent on destroying the fleet.

This works well as a metaphor - because of having to move so quickly, an error was made. Imagine a body that is so overwhelmed and focused on survival, that it is unable to take care of all parts of the organism. A signal was missed.

Maybe an organ (the civilian ship) stops being able to send and receive messages to the brain. The immune system (the fighter pilots) is compromised because it's too scattered and depleted. Maybe years later, we end up in a disease state, but if we're smart, we can hear the signals that something is wrong.


How You Can Support Your Water Element


It takes a long time to drain this element. Think of it as your energy reserves - a master savings account from which your body withdraws when it doesn’t have enough to function on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, to replenish it, you need to nourish yourself on a day-to-day basis. 

A very powerful way to directly nourish this life-giving element with food is to drink bone broth and eat offal (eating kidney in particular nourishes Water, but all offal is intensely nourishing), clarified butter (ghee), gelatin, and walnuts on occasion if you do not have a nut sensitivity. 

Avoid excessive exercise. Most importantly, if you start to feel well, don’t immediately jump up and clean out your garage. Use your energy wisely. Your body needs that energy to begin healing -- the garage can wait. 

In my clinical experience, the patients who practice high-quality energy-building exercises (such as Qigong and Tai Chi) under good instruction can quickly rebuild their depleted stores. “Quickly” may mean two to three years, if you’ve spent a good 40 years burning the candle at both ends.

There are also herbal formulas that can strengthen your depleted stores. An experienced herbalist knows when it is appropriate to try these formulas.

What I've done personally is to build in a 'winter' into my day and my week. I make sure I have a slow entry into my day (you may need time to slow down at night, it's different for everyone). I also have my own personal 'sabbath'. A day I don't leave the house. And oh, man, is it hard to not do anything that day. I often battle feeling jittery and like I should be doing something. But I practice. I hope you do too. Practice slowing down, until it becomes a habit.

How about you? Do you identify with the Water element at all? If so, how? Leave me a note below.