Free Press Article – December 2, 2011

April L. Schulte-Barclay, DAOM, LAc

With each moment in time your body offers wisdom and guidance. By being presently aware of clues provided by your body, you have the ability to be guided through your life in a healthful and meaningful way. Chinese medicine offers an exquisite framework in understanding the complexity of how all of the physiological systems of your body are entwined with one another and with multiple aspects of the environment.

Perhaps, one of the simplest explanations of Chinese medical diagnosis and treatment involves understanding the theory of the five elements. The five element theory illustrates how each of the primary five elements in the environment directly corresponds with a specific organ system and emotion, and it inextricably ties the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of your being together as well.

In Chinese medicine, one of the primary functions of the “Kidney” organ system is to provide a constitutional strength, or Jing. Using the analogy of a tank of gas, each person is born with a certain amount of Jing in his or her tank which is drawn upon throughout life. Abnormal depletion of Jing occurs upon inordinate amounts of work and stress and is reflected by signs of depleted Kidney energy.

The element associated with the Kidney organ system is water. To name just a few attributes of the water element, water is associated with the emotion of fear, the taste of salt, the color black, and the season of winter. Keeping that in mind, signs that the Kidney organ system is imbalanced may include (but is not limited to) excessive fear, anxiety and panic attacks, afternoon energy slumps, dark circles under the eyes, inability to rest, and a craving for salt. Because the Kidney is considered to rule the bones, the low back, and the reproductive system, a person with Kidney deficiency may also present with joint and back pain as well as low libido.

Replenishing the Kidney energy requires rest (most beneficial when taken during the night and during the winter), sometimes the intake of sea salt, and reducing work and stress loads. If the deficiency is severe enough, acupuncture and Chinese herbs as well as other therapies can be very useful.

If the imbalance continues without restoring the Kidney energy, as illustrated by the controlling cycle of the diagram, the water is unable to control the fire (Heart organ system). This results in imbalance of the Heart, which may lead to heart palpitations, mania, and lack of joy. If that imbalance continues, then the Fire is unable to control the Metal (Lung organ system), and so the cycle continues. With this example, it is recognizable that intervening as soon as possible when an imbalance occurs is important in order to prevent further disease (dis-ease) in the system.

In developing the skill of listening to and being present with your body, you have power to maintain wellness. While some clues offered by your body are obvious like needing to eat or sleep, others may be more subtle like a dull pain in your abdomen or not feeling well a day after eating a particular food. The clues provided by your body can also help guide your health care professionals in making the best treatment plan for you.

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April L. Schulte-Barclay, DAOM, LAc, is a doctor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine and is a licensed acupuncturist. She also is founder and clinic director of Healing Horizons Integrated Health Solutions.