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Purification, Vitality and Wisdom: Gifts of the Water Element

The Water Element encompasses the most beautiful expressions of human life - truth and wisdom in the spirit, knowledge and understanding in the mind, and purity and vitality in the body. These are the deepest sources of healing.

In Five Element acupuncture, the Water Element governs the season of Winter. Here, we focus on the vitality and cleansing powers of the Water Element as a source of healing. Winter and the Water Element can reveal truth, bring wisdom, and power us through the most challenging times.

Entering the Heart of Darkness

With the coming of Winter, we enter the darkest and coldest time of the year. In Five Element acupuncture, this is the season of the Water Element. The fundamental life theme in Winter is survival through the harshest circumstances. Water is immensely powerful, vital and at times unstoppable. Yet it is also fluid, shape-shifting and elusive. The ancient Chinese sages¹ revered Water as both the softest and most powerful force that shapes our world. It is the immense vital force of the Water Element that powers us through the heart of darkness.

Winter and the Water Element in Nature

We can understand the Water Element within us by looking to nature. In Winter, much of plant life goes underground, perhaps with a blanket of snow. The life force returns to the root and is largely hidden. There’s not a lot of food sources or activity around for the animals that remain above ground. Living organisms have various coping strategies – dormancy, hibernation, migration, and drawing on stored-up reserves – which allow them to make it through Winter to the warmer days of Spring. Weaker individuals may perish or fall prey to predators, feeding the cycle of life through their death. Winter calls on the will to survive, the spirit of the Water Element.

Winter strips things bare and shows us the lay of the land. Anything that is not essential to survival falls away. Trees shed their leaves, because if they didn’t they would never survive the short, cold days. With the forest canopy gone, a Winter walk in the woods reveals the landscape as at no other time. A blanket of snow brings stillness and adds emphasis to the structure of things. Like a simple ink brush painting, it shows us the heart of the matter with a few strokes.

Survival, Clarity, Insight

The qualities of Winter and the Water Element – immense power, fluidity, vitality – are at work within us, too. When our survival is at stake, we have to get down to essentials. Things get very real, and a lot of things that seemed to matter before may suddenly seem unimportant. Like the leaves falling from the trees, petty concerns get dropped. We can see what we truly need, focus on it, and forget the BS.

The gift within the challenge is clarity and insight. The Water Element within allows us to view the inner landscape of our lives. It is not an easy gift to receive. We often bury what we don’t want to see, hiding our wounds in the depths of the soul. Looking within may make us cringe, but if we are able to hold the truth in a non-judging way, it opens up the opportunity for change.

Purification and Wisdom

The power of Water resides in flow. The clarity and insight of the Water Element purifies us, cleansing and releasing what no longer serves us. Water renews and heals us, removing impurities and stagnation that have kept us from thriving. Purification, though beneficial and necessary, is never an easy process – physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It is not to be taken lightly and draws on our deepest will and determination. Yet, it brings us one of the greatest of gifts – wisdom and understanding. The truth sets us free.

The Water Element encompasses the most beautiful expressions of human life – truth and wisdom in the spirit, knowledge and understanding in the mind, and purity and vitality in the body.² These are the deepest sources of healing.


¹ For example, Lao Zi, Dao De Jing Chapter 8
² J.R. Worsley, Classical Five Element Acupuncture, Vol. III:  The Five Elements and the Officials, Chapter 6.  1998.


Inner Works Acupuncture is a Five Element acupuncture clinic in northwest Portland, Oregon. For more information or to make an appointment, contact us at 503-227-2127.

Inner Works Acupuncture

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