The role of water in Chinese Medicine
By Alf Zollo – Studying BHSc (Acupuncture)
In the Dao De Jing (sometimes written Tao Te Ching) it says, “The highest good is like water.” We can measure a drop of water and talk about its own unique tiny separate existence, but if we return this drop to the ocean, how will we find it again? Water signifies consciousness, because, just like the drop and the ocean, oneness is reality.
Modern science tells us blood is 92% water and the human body is roughly 60% water.
According to Chinese medicine, blood and qi keep us healthy. Though qi is not an easy concept to simplify, imagine qi includes everything the blood carries around the body to keep our cells and organs healthy. Things like oxygen, glucose, vitamins and minerals. We cannot really separate the idea of blood and qi, they are like yin and yang, only meaningful when united.
Together our blood and qi provide energy for living, working with all of our organs to sustain us. The air we breathe, the fluids we drink and the food we eat all affect our health as they influence the quality of our blood and qi.
Look at a river, it may flow fast, but be cloudy and full of mud. Cup this muddy water in your hand and let it drain through your fingers – the dirt will not simply separate from the water. Though it is moving, microorganisms and fish won’t survive long, if at all, in muddy water. Eventually, if there is enough of it, the mud might start to slow the water down and even block parts of the river as it sticks to the bank or settles heavily around the features of the watercourse. All the varieties of life the river sustains on its journey could start to suffer.
This metaphor is a way of introducing you to the Chinese medicine concepts of damp and phlegm. You can say damp is a little like cloudy water and phlegm is when this mud starts to build up and create more significant blockages in the river. Certain foods, lifestyle choices and emotions can affect our blood and qi. At first the quality of blood and qi is affected, then their movement is affected and finally the quantity available is reduced. Acupuncture treatment aims to provide health benefits by supporting the body to remove damp or phlegm and cultivate healthy blood and qi so everything flows properly once again.
If we think about it for just a moment, this concept is hardly different at all from plaque deposits made of fat and cholesterol building up on the walls of arteries, narrowing them, causing damage and blocking the flow of blood with serious long-term health consequences.
Foods which promote damp and phlegm and hinder the flow of blood and qi in the body include dairy products, especially when sweetened, deep fried foods, oily foods and fatty meats. Taking care not to eat a lot of these things is sound advice at any time of the year. Again, this recommendation aligns very neatly with avoiding the ill effects of a diet high in saturated fats which leads to arteriosclerosis.
In Chinese medicine, the kidney belongs to water and its season is winter. Yin is cool and nurturing, like water, while yang is warm and active, like the sun. Yin provides a foundation for growth, yang is this growth. Yin and yang belong together, like the sides of a coin. There is no such thing as a one-sided coin. This is important to recognise if we want to appreciate yinyang: this mutual dependence and transformation. Water is not really just yin, it also shows tremendous yang. When it has quantity and momentum, whole cities bow to the irresistible force of floods and tsunami. Like this, but well-measured, healthy blood and qi work together. The fluids of the body must flow, or there is dissolution.
In the cycle of the seasons, we can see winter is a time when yin energy dominates. The days are short, clouds gather to hide the sun and rain falls. Yang energy is drawn deep within, trees as if in slumber drop their leaves, but as rivers run and lakes fill, yang is growing still. Yin builds and builds until it contains itself no more. Exuberant spring shows its face, calling out itself to the peak yang of summer.
The habits of one season in large measure show our health in the next. It is wise to marshal our yang in winter. If we expend a lot of energy and sweat a great deal, or spend long periods in the cold, we are not cultivating yin as nature does during winter. Our body must instead expend more energy and use its yang to stay warm, rather than lay the foundation for coming spring. Winter has always been a time for early nights and reflecting by the fire – just try not to eat too many marshmallows!
Whatever the season, if you are interested in how Chinese medicine can support you to harmonise the yinyang within and build healthy blood and qi, please book an acupuncture or tui na appointment with a student practitioner in your local Endeavour Wellness Clinic.