Kidney’s: Storing the Essence of Life

Taken from Qigong for Self-Refinement by Chris Shelton

The Water Element relates to the Kidneys and the Urinary Bladder.  It controls the skeletal system (bones), reproductive system including the testes and ovaries, and endocrine system including the adrenals, pancreas, hypothalamus, thyroid, pituitary gland, pineal gland, and thymus.  Thus, the Kidneys rule overall constitution, health, and longevity.  The health of the Kidneys is considered the foundation for the overall balance of all the other internal organs. The yin aspect of the kidneys is storing the Essence of Life (Jing) and water; the yang aspect is serving a life gate of fire, that is, as the motive force for transformation in the body.  Because of these fundamental functions, the Kidneys are affected by any chronic disease. The Kidneys rule the bones and produce bone marrow; the teeth are considered a surplus of the bones.  The Kidneys open into the ears and the hair on the head.  The ancient texts say that if the ears and Kidneys are harmonized, the ear can hear five tones.  The moistness and vitality of the hair on the head are related to the Kidney essence.   (The hair also depends on blood for nourishment which is why the hair on the head is also referred to as a surplus of blood.)The main functions of the Kidney are storing the Essence of Life, regulating water metabolism, and controlling and promoting inhalation.
– Storing the Essence of Life
There are two components of the Essence of Life. The first is known as the Prenatal Essence of Life.  It is given at birth.  It can be somewhat strengthened through food and nutrition, and is, or can be, transformed to the Qi of the Kidney. The Qi of the Kidney contributes to the growth, development, and replacement of the body, for example, the growth of teeth.  The body grows as the Qi increases.  When the body reaches puberty, the Qi of the Kidney is at its peak.  It then initiates the production of sperm in boys and eggs and menstruation in girls.  As the body ages, the Qi of the Kidney weakens, also diminishing reproductive capabilities.

The second component or type of Essence of Life is known as the acquired, or Postnatal, Essence.  It is derived from food.   The Spleen and the Stomach transform food into acquired essence, which is then transported to the five viscera and six bowels.  When there is not enough acquired essence of life for the five viscera and the six bowels, the kidney will supply it from its essence of life.   When there is surplus, the kidney stores it.  So, when any of the five viscera and the six bowels are not functioning correctly, the Kidney needs to be nourished because it will be relied upon to supply any deficiencies.

The Kidney’s Essence of Life can aid in making bone marrow, which nourishes the bones. When the Kidney is functioning well, bones and teeth are strong. Conversely, when the Kidney is weak, both bones and teeth are weak also. The Essence of Life also turns into blood, which nourishes the hair. When the kidney is functioning well, the hair is strong and shiny. Withered, balding, or gray hair can be a sign of a weak Kidney.  Finally, the Kidneys also influence brain function; when Kidney Qi is strong, thinking and memory will also be strong and clear.

– Regulating water metabolism

The Kidney maintains balance of the fluid in the body.  Fluid in the body is responsible for transporting nutrients to organs and tissues, and for carrying waste out of the tissues. The Kidney plays an important part in both functions. The Kidney either releases water or retains needed water. When the Kidney is functioning well, urination is normal. When it doesn’t function well, the Kidney could release too much, causing diseases like polyuria (excess urination) and frequent urination. When the Kidney does not release enough, it can lead to oliguria (scant urination) and edema (swelling, excess water collecting in body tissues).

Controlling and promoting respiration

According to Chinese medicine, the Kidney, along with the Lungs, can aid in inhaling air. When the Kidney is not functioning well, exhaling will occur more than inhaling, which can result in dyspnea (difficult or labored breathing) and severe panting.

Kidney dysfunctions

In Chinese medical theory, Kidney Essence is like the battery power that runs your life.  You  can never have too much, but you can use it up.  Thus, all Kidney disease patterns involve deficiency of some sort.    Sources of potential deficiencies—that is, ways your Kidney Essence can become exhausted– fall into six categories:  Hereditary, emotional, sexual, chronic illness, aging, and overwork.

– Hereditary weakness

Prenatal Qi or Life Essence is formed at conception; its quality is determined by the quality of the parents’ Essences, Heaven, and the environment into which you were born.   If the parents’ Essences are weak, which means they had weak constitutions, then the child will also be weak and may have such symptoms as poor bone development, poor teeth, enuresis (inability to hold his/her urine), thin or weak hair, and in extreme cases some mental retardation.  Since a person’s vital energy naturally declines with age, conceiving late in life can weaken the constitution of the child.  When Prenatal Essence is weak, the person must pay particular attention to the other factors in order not to put a stress, or drain, on this irreplaceable vital force.

– Emotions

Fear, fright, shock, and anxiety makes the Qi descend, especially in children.  It can happen to anybody; something that happens to you or something that you witness can cause shock, and deplete  your Kidney Qi.  In adults such depletion may be the root cause for insomnia and mental restlessness.

– Sexual activity

Excess of sexual orgasms weakens the Kidneys because orgasms are directly related to the Kidney Essence.   This also includes masturbation. Since the heart and kidneys are closely related, during an orgasm one can often experience palpitations.   Conversely, Heart deficiency caused by sadness and anxiety can weaken the Kidneys and cause impotence or lack of sex drive, as well as coldness in the limbs and enuresis (involuntary urination).

– Chronic illness

Any long-lasting, chronic condition will create a deficiency of Kidney Yang and/or Kidney Yin.

– Aging

Kidney Essence naturally declines with age.  In fact, in Chinese medicine the process of aging is defined as the manifestation of a decrease of the Kidney Essence.  Hence, as a person ages, they experience decline in all the functions controlled by Kidney Essence, namely, decreases in hearing, bone density, sexual function, memory, and hair.

– Overwork

This means mental and physical work for long periods of time or burning the candles at both ends.  In modern society, this is the most common cause of depleting Kidney Yin.  Long work hours, particularly mental work, in poor environments, emotional stress, lack of relaxation, lack of exercise, improper and irregular meals, poor sleep, lack of exercise, etc. are normally fueled by Yang energy.  But when Yang energy normally used for these functions is exhausted, then the body starts using the Yin essence.