Under the surface of our fast-paced lives our Kidney Yin may well be draining away. Kidney Yin represents the nest-egg of nourishment deep within us. It corresponds to the parasympathetic system, responsible for restoration and revitalization. Many of us are so caught up in the drama of Kidney Yang with its action-packed stimulation that we fail to refresh our Kidney Yin; yet, if we neglect it, we run the risk of depleting our core vitality.
As Daverick Leggett, author of Recipes for Self-Healing, says, “Yin is like a well which must not run dry, a reserve of nutrients which form the basis of growth and the fuel for all physiological activities.” In this article we’ll explore the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) view of Kidney energy, and specifically the pattern known as Kidney Yin Deficiency. We’ll learn how to recognize it in ourselves and in our clients, and discover the secrets to replenishing its life-giving power.
Main Function of the Kidneys
The role of the Kidneys is to store life essence, govern reproduction and growth, maintain bones and brains, control the flow of urine and keep the will power strong. Kidneys are vital to every other organ system in TCM.
We inherit Jing or essence from our parents, and we also create new Jing from the air we breathe and the food we eat. This is the nucleus of our get-up-and go, the foundation for our zest in life. If our parents were old or ill when we were conceived, we inherit less Jing. If we indulge is too much sex, drugs and rock and roll, we quickly burn through Jing. If we breathe poor air or breathe shallowly, we add less Jing to our Kidney stores. If digestion is impaired or if we eat poor quality food, we create less Jing. Ultimately, when we completely run out of Jing, we die.
Kidney energy or Qi provides the juice for sexual desire, fertility, reproduction, and growth. If we were to draw a parallel between TCM and Western physiology, the action of Kidney Qi would be similar to the endocrine system with its hormonal influences. Substances that stress the adrenal glands, such as caffeine, are draining to Kidney Qi. Deficient Kidney Qi could mean issues with infertility, slow growth, low libido, and aging.
Bones and Brains
Kidneys produce the Marrow which includes the brain, the spinal cord, the bone matrix and marrow. When I practice CranioSacral Therapy I sense I am working deeply with Kidney Qi as I palpate the flow of the cerebral spinal fluid and the tension in the membranes surrounding the central nervous system. Drugs that imbalance brain chemistry are especially draining of Kidney Qi. Drawing a parallel to Western thought, Kidney energy could be corresponded to the neurotransmitters that send messages across nerve synapses. Low Kidney Qi may manifest as poor nerve function, memory problems, weak teeth or osteoporosis.
Note: In TCM, Kidneys are referred to as a whole system in the body and mind, and not an individual organ pair as we talk about in the Western anatomical and physiological approach. To remind us of this difference the words referring to TCM are capitalized.
Kidneys are correlated with the Water element and Kidney energy acts as a gate that opens and closes to control the flow of urine. If this gate is too open there will be copious pale urination, a sign of Kidney Yang deficiency.
The ability to use our will power to express our unique creativity is dependent on good Kidney energy. With strong Kidney Qi we have the resolve to overcome fear and to pursue goals. If Kidneys are weak, our sense of purpose will be shaky and we will be easily distracted.
Kidney Yin Deficiency - Signs and Symptoms
(from The Foundations of Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia)Tongue: Red, no coating, cracks Pulse: Empty and rapidKey Symptoms: Dry mouth at night, night sweating, red-peeled tongue
Emotional / Mental Signs of Kidney Yin Deficiency
Feeling deeply drained. Fear, anxiety, paranoia, panicMemory and concentration problemsLack of inner calm and strengthA floating or drifting sensation
Signs and Symptoms
In our nutrition offices we often meet people who have Kidney Yin Deficiency. The main signs and symptoms are dry skin, dry eyes, vaginal dryness for women, dark scanty urine, a pale face with flushed red cheeks, a red peeled tongue, a rapid pulse, fatigue, irritability, afternoon heat, night sweats and hot flashes. Emotional or mental signs might be agitation or even panic attacks, feeling tired but wired, a sense of floating, or of being drained. Nutritional recommendations focus on foods that build the Yin or healthy moisture in the body, at the same time nourishing the Kidney energy. The key is to realize that the heat signs are not a sign of excess heat, but a deficient heat that reveals a lack of cooling moisture in the body.
Menopause and Kidney Yin Deficiency
Menopause often results in the classic signs of Kidney Yin Deficiency. According to TCM, menopause occurs because we have used up much of our inherited Jing, and at the same time digestive power has decreased so we create less Jing from food. The net loss of Jing results is the creation of a smaller amount of Blood. The available Blood is used to nourish the organs and sinews, with no leftovers to overflow the uterus. The result is the cessation of menses.
Menopause is natural and reflects our bodies’ intelligent conservation of Jing; but at this crucial transition stress, emotional upset, nutritional deficiency, overwork, or other physical dysfunction can throw off the balance between Yin and Yang. Yin Deficiency means that there is more Yang relative to Yin. If there is not enough of either, the lack of relative Yin will mean that there will be more signs of Yang’s heat and dryness.
Nutrition for Kidney Yin Deficiency
By Anasuya Batliner, NC, Dipl. ABT, CST
Published in Nutrition Professionals Quarterly, 2004