The Water Element – Vital Resource

“Wisdom is the virtue that empowers us to stand firmly in the face of the unknown and chart a steady course through uncertain waters.” – Lonnie Jarrett

The final phase of the life cycle, the element of winter when resources are stored, in Traditional Chinese this is the water element. This is part of a series of articles featuring the basic principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Please follow the links to read more.

The Water Personality

A strong and healthy kidney/UB is reflected by those who utilize resources effectively, bringing potential into the world in a way that cultivates wisdom rather than frivolity. When healthy, water types are methodical, clever, sensible, and have a strong depth of awareness. They neither squander nor hoard resources, but use them in a way that is most beneficial, aligning their own will with the will of Heaven (utilization of the highest good). – Quoted from Amy Jo Gengler

In youth, the Water person may be called an “old soul”. They seem wise beyond their years. The Water person is able to adapt. Just as water takes the shape of any vessel it is in, the Water person blends in well with their surroundings. At the same time they find it easy, and generally preferable, to stay hidden. They are self-sufficient, prefer to work alone and are often absorbed in their own thoughts.

These people are creative and imaginative; they use their creativity as a tool. They are thinkers, philosophers, good planners because they have already thought about what might go wrong in advance. They are flexible, unimposing, and diplomatic. They are able to wear away opposition like flowing water will wear away rock.

Some possible physical characteristics of the Water person: They come in all shapes and sizes, but can also share characteristics of elderly people, such as thinning hair, hearing loss, or very sensitive hearing. Their skin may be cold to the touch. They tend to have sharp teeth.

I have often wondered if the vampire concept is in any way connected to the Water personality… sharp teeth, sunken eyes with dark circles, thin skin, showing veins, poor circulation, coldness, love of the night and solitude, and occasionally thrives on other creatures… okay bones, not blood. Although the big problem with that theory is that vampires never age while sadly Water persons may age too quickly. But I digress.

General Pathology of the Water Element

Primary Emotion: Fear
Primary Concern: Having enough resources
A Water may have a lot of fear around resources.

Like all the elements, manifestations of deep-seated dispositions, are both physical and conceptual. When a Water person is unhealthy, they may be either very fearful or fearless daredevils. They may become unbalanced with resources, for example they may either become wasteful with money, squandering resources, or very miserly.

They have an uncanny ability to remain calm during a crisis. But in pathology they tend to have stressed out nervous systems. Ambition is a common attribute. They are able to harness their own power, plus all resources available to them, in a healthy way to accomplish great feats,  but Waters should be careful to not misuse their own will for the wrong pursuit. Amy Jo compares healthy Water will to the Hoover Dam, and pathologic use of will to a flood or drought.

Someone with excess Water may plot dark schemes. In contrast, they may at times be too conciliatory, allowing others to take advantage of them.

Read more about the water element personality here – Five Elements

Common Health Concerns of the Water Element

  • Nervous System Disorders
  • Back Pain
  • Weak Knees
  • Deterioration of Bones/Discs/Cartilage
  • All Bone Problems
  • Hearing Issues
  • Developmental Issues (genetic)
  • Urinary Issues and Kidney Issues (fear is associated with urinary issues)
  • Sexual Function Issues
  • Reproductive Problems
  • Premature Aging (w/ childbirth)
  • Also: baldness in men, slipped disks

Treatment Principles: Nourishing and Preservation

Important! This information is provided as a general introduction to the principles of TCM. Please consult your physician of choice concerning all matters pertaining to your personal health. This is not medical advice.

To follow are some recommendations from Amy Jo, TCM teacher, based on established TCM principles.

Avoid things which weaken the kidneys, including overconsumption of caffeine and energy drinks, alcohol, drugs, and improper use of Will

Kidney Deficiency:

May be indicated by low back pain, weak knees, teeth issues, exhaustion, sexual function disorders, infertility, hearing problems, premature aging, premature hair loss, developmental issues

  • Start by getting enough rest!!!
  • This is difficult to type: It is recommended that one limit coffee. One cup may be fine. Tea is better.
  • Limit alcohol. Less is best.

Nourishing foods: Increase bone broth, and nutrient dense foods such as Shitake Mushrooms, Kale, Barley, Nuts & Seeds, such as Almond, Walnut, Pistachio, Sesame/Black Sesame, Lotus Seeds (Lian Zi), Whole Grains, Nut Butters (best to cut out Peanut butter and switch to Almond, Cashew, Sunflower Seeds butters). Pho, Wheat berries, Millet, Steel-cut Oats, Black Beans, Sweet Potato, Pomegranate, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cherry, Congee, Asparagus, Cabbage, Black Mushrooms, Clove, Cinnamon, Beef, Chicken, Duck, Lamb, Pork, Salmon, Sardines, mackerel, Clam, Mussels, Oyster, Kelp, all seaweeds.

All foods should be cooked. Very little raw foods are good here. Soups are a great way to nourish kidneys.

Kidney Yin Deficiency

Night sweats, Hot flashes, ‘5-center heat’: hands, feet, chest get hot

Common in: Menopause, Post-Chemotherapy, Advanced AIDS/HIV, Addiction

All foods above, except for hot foods (cinnamon, coffee), increase cooling foods such as cucumber, watermelon and other foods in Liver Heat diet. *Raw foods are good here.

Kidney Yang Deficiency

Cold Extremities, Low Back Pain, plus many systems above (Kidney Deficiancy)

Increase spices, such as cinnamon, clove, ginger, and all foods in Sleen Qi Deficiency diet. Soups, Indian food, Lamb, Beef, Beef Kidney, Goat, and Venison

Some additional Notes:

  • Boiled deer antlers can be very beneficial
  • In general, Waters should avoid or limit peanuts (they are a “hot” food)
  • With age, women get hotter and faster; while men get cold and slower
  • When a Water exercises will, it is  hard to stop them – like a hurricane, flood, or river. A Water should not misuse will.
  • Water is the only phase which is genetic – it is related to inbreeding, aristocracies
  • Waters often have a grumbly gravelly voice. 
  • They wear clothing until it falls apart, tend to have messy cars
  • They may have a body odor like that is like a wet brick courtyard or boat
  • They generally love salty foods
  • They may have really good or really bad hearing
  • Girls tend to start cycle very early or very late
  • They transform fear to wisdom

Optimizing Health for the Water Element

It is not wrong to exercise will on occasion for an important and necessary task,  but misuse of will, or a stressed out nervous system makes one age quickly. Waters should focus on calming the nerves getting good sleep, taking breaks. Remind yourself that it is okay to stop working and sleep at night. Enjoy nourishing soups. Work at being more transparent, less seclusive.

Oh! And drink plenty of – you guessed it – water.

More information:


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Important! This information is provided as a general introduction to the principles of TCM. Please consult your physician of choice concerning all matters pertaining to your personal health. This is not medical advice.


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