Winter Newsletter - the Water Issue

Belated Season's Greetings Plant Lovers!I send warm greetings to you all in this cold and dark time of year. I hope that you've all faired well during this season of many holidays.You know it's sort of funny to me, when i reflect and see just how deeply important our interconnection with each other really is to our well being. Sure the holidays can be really tough sometimes. But I marvel at the practice, conscious or not, of coming together to huddle in the dark together and celebrate whatever we can find to celebrate. We reach for Joy and often times wrestling with our fear of the dark.This story is clearly laid out in traditions that honour the Winter Solstice, the rebirth of the Sun during the longest night of the year. And Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, celebrates the miracle that the Sacred Fire was able to burn for 8 days with oil enough for only 1.Water is the element which holds our Fear, in the 5 Elements. And Water represents the season of Winter. (I didn't really understand or connect with this until I lived a Vancouver winter!) This fits so well with these holidays where we come together basically because we're scared of the dark and we survive that fear with connection and hope of the return of Fire.In our body/mind/spirit, Water is responsible for both movement and stillness. Winter is a time of dormancy and rest, of stillness, in the world around us. Of course it is the same in us. We are after all, part of the natural world.

A busy life creates exhausted reserves and an exhausted person. Exhaustion caused by over work, a lack of rest, and the over use of stimulating drugs promotes a cycle of fear. We need the stillness of wintertime to build up the reserves.  Eliot Cowan PSM training 2004

It is through the kidney and bladder meridians that our body/mind/spirit regulates our internal Waters. I'd like to point out that these are functions and not just organs. I find that these functions as described through the 5 Elements are more akin to the western understanding of the adrenal glands. (Because in our common language we use the word 'kidney' rather than 'renal' organ, we don't often see the relationship with the adrenal function of the kidneys.)For those who are familiar with the Yin/Yang, you can see that Water being responsible for stillness is therefore responsible for the health of our Yin reserves. This is cool, when you think about Water, you can see that it has it an imperative to move down, to move to the lowest point and then rest. Think of the last time you spilled a glass of water. What happened? It ran off the side of the table and onto the floor. If the floor was uneven, then it kept moving until it reached the lowest point and only there did it stop and was perfectly still. For those who may look at this description and want to attribute it only to gravity, allow me to introduce the other end of the cycle, Yang. Fire is the element that embodies Yang. Despite gravity, Fire's imperative is to move Upward. Ever seen a candle flame that points down? So what does all this mean for our health? Great question I'm glad you asked.For me, it's a guide. In Winter, I slow my life down. I sleep more (can someone tell my new born that i'm supposed to be sleeping more!). I'm compelled to reflect on my life, both past and future. I meditate more regularly. In fact, when the busyness of summer derails my meditation practice, it always comes back around Winter Solstice. Herb wise, this is a great time to support our adrenals with herbs that are "Adaptogens".  check out this great talk I just found on David Winston's site - click to listenChinese and American Ginseng (Panax spp.), Ashwaganda, Siberian Ginseng are probably the most famous and commonly recommended. I don't use them very often in my practice because I can't gather them myself. In there stead, I use 2 ginseng relatives that grow in the Northwest.... Devil's Club, Oplopanax horridus (left) or Sarsarsparilla, Aralia nudicaulis (right)Here's a video from a michigan-based herbalist.  I like it cuz he's teaching in the field.  click here to watchI no longer use Spikenard (Aralia racemosa) because I don't live near it, but I do have a great fondness for that yummy tincture!When taking any of these it's very important to stay connected to the energy of Water as we've been talking about it. That means that these should be taken as tonics (meaning smaller doses every day) for many weeks, even the entire winter cycle. These can be strong medicines and are all stimulants. It's easy to want to use them in a heroic fashion (where "the medicine prescribed is proportional to the fear of the disease.")Alright, that's it for me today. I hope you enjoy the Winter!strengt & wisdom.