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The Water Element is linked to winter, the time of maximum Yin.

“Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than Water.
Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;
It has no equal.
The weak can overcome the strong;
The supple can overcome the stiff.
Under heaven everyone knows this,
Yet no one puts it into practice.
Therefore the sage says:
He who takes upon himself the humiliation of the people
is fit to rule them.
He who takes upon himself the country’s disasters deserves to be king of the universe.
The truth often sounds paradoxical.”
Tao Te Ching, 1972

The type of character that first springs to mind when thinking about a Water Element is one of the guys in the old classic movie, Easy Rider. A rebel image conjures up the type of person that does not want to stay in one place for too long and is always looking to move on -someone who does not conform and stands out from the crowd.

If you can call it a gift then it would be that a Water Element is a Free Spirit, any obstacle that confronts them is easily worked around and no container would be able to hold them for too long. These are all characteristics of Water, a stream that works its way around obstacles and boulders in its way, and also Water cannot be contained for long before it finds some way to escape.

In fact the persona of a Water Element sounds like a very cool and attractive one to have, a bit of a James Dean figure, a person that is elusive and hard to pin down, who is perhaps on a different wavelength to the majority of people.

“Water itself is naturally elusive and resists definition. It can hold any shape, and yet cannot itself be grasped and held once and for all. It appears to have boundaries, and yet will find a passage around any dam or obstruction wherever it can.”
Worsley,J.R. p6.1

The emotion associated with the Water Element is that of Fear, or Lack of Fear. This emotion can be traced back many years to when farmers would have built up their stores of grain and crops to last over the barren winter months. There was the Fear that if this was not done then there would be no food left come the spring. This Fear is still evident today in Water Elements who, during the winter are very conscious to conserve things and are frightened of the consequences if they don’t. The farmer would be very careful to make sure that he conserves as much Water as possible so that there would be enough supply for the dry season to follow. This was probably more relevant many years ago when it was more a matter of life or death, but never-the-less these feelings still apply today in our modern society.


“I am moving, fluid – still and stagnant taking up any form: changing effortlessly from the tiny vaporised particle to the most grand glacier moving gracefully as a ballerina and powerfully as a sumo wrestler following a law unto myself, respecting no political borders adapting to Water pipes and sewers alike, unattached throwing back the image of the moon from brackish marshes carrying the lotus flower in the muddy Balinese temple lake.

Suffocating all life in my sucking swamps in the Everglades breeding flies in a stinking puddle in the African village.”
Christa – Maria Herrmann p139-140

The colour that we associate with the Water Element is Blue, which seems obvious, but there are in fact many colours for Water. Colours range from the crystal clear to the stagnant brown of a pond or canal.

Take time to observe the relentless persistence of Water to get to where it wants; it will find its way around any obstacle. Notice the smell, each Element has an odour and Water’s is Putrid. The sound that is linked to the Water Element is that of groaning. This is very evident when you are taking a walk along the beach, the sea has that relentless groaning sound, one minute quiet and then a groan as the wave reaches a peak and breaks – a similar sound to a train. Finally, the taste associated with Water is Salty, and of course you can taste this on your tongue very easily when you’re near to the sea. The sea can be very persistent; it will keep on wearing away at the cliffs over a length of time gradually chipping away at the coastline. This is a feature that you can see if your Water Element is balanced, you’ll be persistent in what you do and not give up.

“A balanced Water person is persistent. He/She does not easily give up ideals or plans, but work slowly and steadily at an obstacle wearing away the resistance – very different from say a Wood person who also will not give up, yet in a driven way with the need to reach their aim.”
(Christa – Maria Herrmann p 146)

The Organs of the Water Element are the Bladder and Kidney

These two Officials really do exactly what it says on the tin! They deal directly with the Water Element. Between them they govern the major aspects of our vital fluids.

They’re of the greatest importance to the whole of the body and other Officials as none of them can function without Water.

In his book The Five Elements and the Officials (J.R.Worsley p15.1) the author refers to how without Water none of the cycles and rhythms of flows can be maintained.

The Kidney Official is known as the Official who controls the Waterways. This, however, may be a little misleading as the Kidney does far more. Ancient Chinese philosophy believed that the Kidney Official was the storehouse for ancestral energy that was passed on to each generation; it was the seed of life that was passed on.

The Official takes some of the Qi energy from our intake of food and air and compiles it as a reserve. This supply can be called upon when we have heavy physical or mental tasks to cope with. A part of the Kidney Official is the Ming Men this is responsible for warming the essence of the Kidney, it’s also a very important part of the Official as it’s a warmer for all of the bodies organs.

The Essence that we have mentioned is the Kidney Jing. This is derived from both Pre- and Post-Heaven essence. The pre-Heavenly essence is inherited from our parents at conception. It can be gradually depleted throughout our lifetimes unless it’s conserved well. The post-Heavenly essence is taken from food and nourishment and can be replenished.

The function of Kidney Jing in our bodies is to do with the basis of growth and development; pathology can result in stunted growth or retardation and bone and teeth problems. Kidney Jing is also the basis of our constitutional strength and the production of bone marrow, which fills the brain and the spinal cord. The pathology of someone with deficient Kidney Jing will be that of someone who’s always weak and prone to constant infections.

The Bladder is known as the Official of the Municipal Waterways and is the reservoir of the Body, Mind and Spirit. It’s the reserve that we draw from in the winter when things are running low. If there is no reserve to draw from then things can start to go wrong in Body, Mind and Spirit.

As well as being a reservoir the Bladder is also charged with disposing of the impurities found in our Urine; if these are left to build up and not disposed of, this can eventually pollute our whole being.

If the Bladder is out of balance it may not be able to keep its fluids in its boundaries. This may manifest as incontinence and cystitis type infections. The Bladder is one of the few Officials that’s similar in its descriptions of use, both in Chinese and Western medicine. It’s also the longest meridian on the body with sixty-seven points. The Bladder and the Kidney need to be looked at in the same context of equal importance.

“The Kidneys are rulers over the winter. Kidneys and Bladder are related and have to be treated as one in acupuncture.”
Wallnofer,H.and Von Rottauscher,A. p90

These two Officials of the Water Element need to be treated with the greatest of respect, as they’re responsible for an awful lot of Water in the body – in fact our bodies contain over 50–60%. That’s a lot of fluid that needs retaining and managing, so these organs need to be in the best of condition.

Does this Water Element description resonate with you?

Your 5 Element Acupuncturist will choose specific acupuncture points to bring the Earth Element into balance, if required and seasonal tune-ups are recommended.

Suggestions for balance during winter include eating warming foods, getting lots of sleep and rest. This is a time for storing energy, great for meditation and quiet time, ready to meet the spring!

© Copyright 2002 – 2012 Paul Adkins Lic.Ac., BA(Hons), 1st Dan, FEA, MBAcC, MCAUK, MMNTUK


Tao Te Ching (1972)
Worsley, J.R. Proffesor (1998) The Five Elements and the Officials
Volume III
Maria Herrmann,C. (2000) The Five Elements
Volume I
Paul Coughlin Ltd – Coventry
Wallnoffer,H and Von Rottauscher, A. Chinese Folk medicine and Acupuncture
Translated by Marion Palmedo
Bell Publishing Co Inc. – New York