Tag Archives: BL 52

Midwinter Warming

The winter solstice is a big deal. Many people are not even aware of this momentous annual event. Yet together the two solstices of midsummer and midwinter provide an existential manifestation of a fundamental principle of our world, namely the polarity of yin and yang. In the southern hemisphere today we are witness to the primacy of yin, while people in the northern hemisphere are experiencing the primacy of yang. I say primacy because, depending where you are located, yin or yang  is at its deepest or highest, but nothing in existence is ever entirely one of the other. If we look at the taiji, the well-known yin/yang symbol, we see that there is always a dot of yin within the yang and there is always a dot of yang within the yin.

Indeed we naturally seek to find aspects of one to balance the other. Here in the Adelaide Hills it is currently very cold. Last week my village experienced 5 nights in a row at or below freezing. Instinctively we look to find warmth within the cold: heating up the bedroom, luxuriating in hot baths, making hot soups, enjoying hot chocolate on a rainy winter afternoon.

The midwinter solstice is not a day. Certainly it falls on a particular day, and that day will be the shortest of year and when the sun will be at its lowest elevation in the sky. But it is actually the precise moment when (in our case) the Earth’s southern pole has its maximum tilt away from the sun. This year that moment is 7.13 am on Sunday June 21st. That’s if you’re in Adelaide. Adjust your celebrations to your own time zone! It’ll be about the time I’ll be stumbling out of bed, fumbling for warm slippers and brewing hot tea ahead of a breakfast of steaming porridge. I’ll be doing everything I can to bring some yang to the most yin of days.

So far I’ve been talking about the cold/hot version of the yin/yang polarity. But there are other ways of viewing it. We could see it as the polarity of darkness and brightness, low and high, within and without, deep and superficial. In Chinese medicine another view is of the Kidney and Heart which are the organs of the Water-Fire axis. This is arguably the most significant organ relationship of all of the deep organs. It represents the relationship of Water and Fire across the Ke or control cycle. The Kidney must be strong and resilient or else the Fire will fail to be controlled, a situation that might produce feverish conditions, a chaotic mind or manic behaviour. Conversely if the Water is so strong that it overpowers the Fire, it might result in cold extremities, lack of joy or interest in life, the spark of the Heart dimmed.

There is a tendency in our modern, fast-paced, demanding world to deplete the Kidney energy by overtaxing ourselves. Doing too much in the winter is like pushing against the river. It takes more effort to achieve things when the ambient energy of nature is pulling us within. So doing less and resting more will recharge the batteries that are our Kidney Qi.

Here are a few suggestions as to how you might support your Kidney Qi in this deepest part of winter.

Warming Foods

Warm food and drinks are key. Nourishing soups, stews and broths are an excellent way to restore Kidney Qi. If you don’t eat meat, beans are a great food for winter. Even their shape is a clue: they look like kidneys. Kidney beans and black beans are especially recommended. As are pulses like lentils and buckwheat, nuts and yang grains such as millet. Salty foods like sea vegetables and tamari are helpful. Garlic, chilli and ginger are warming as is ginseng. Fried foods are more appropriate in winter as this makes the food more yang. This method of cooking transforms yin foods such as tofu and tempeh. And remember to keep hydrated. It is sometimes harder in winter to drink enough fluids as we may not get as thirsty. Herbal infusions such as peppermint or  ginger tea are great.

Warm the kidneys

Tuck your shirt in. (Your mother was right after all.) Wear extra layers around the lower back. The Japanese have a wonderful garment called a haramaki (this is not sushi) which is like a turtleneck for the low back.

Massage your low back with your knuckles. Up and down the erector muscles, and side to side at the level of the waist. With this latter you will be stimulating Governor Vessel 4, Bladder 23 and Bladder 52. These techniques are deeply warming and restorative to the kidneys.

Massage Kidneys and Reach for the Feet. This is the 6th movement of the Eight Strands of Brocade Qi Gong series and can be practised on its own to strengthen Kidney Qi. Look online for some of the thousands of variations, but here is one that I like by Master Zhong. This movement starts at 7:30 minutes in.

If you’ve been struggling with the winter so far, be encouraged by the fact that from Sunday morning onwards, the days will be getting longer, the angle of the sun will be rising, and soon the temperatures will also be rising. In short, the yin half of the year is ending and the yang half of the year is beginning.

I’ll be writing again in 6 weeks when we arrive at the next cross quarter day which marks the beginning of spring. In the meantime, you could treat yourself to a hot chocolate and a ginger biscuit or two.

Where there is Will

When intent becomes permanent, we speak of Will. (Neijing)

As we traverse the last weeks of winter, let’s examine again the spirit of Water, Zhi, which is often translated as Will.

Weight lifterSeveral years ago I became quite ill and began working with a naturopath. She prescribed an apothecary of supplements for physical purification and strongly recommended a Vipassana retreat for spiritual purification.

For those who don’t know about Vipassana retreats, they are the black belt, hard-core, take-no-prisoners style of meditation retreats. For 10 days you don’t speak, don’t look anyone in the eye, eat only two meals a day, get up at 4 am and go to bed after 9, meditate for 10 hours a day, often without moving a muscle for an hour at a time. What is more, I did my retreat at the winter solstice in Melbourne where the temperature fell below freezing at night.

I thought at the time that this was the hardest thing I’d ever done. It required tremendous willpower and effort to stay the course and not leave after even the first day. Every day, every hour, required me to continually rededicate myself to the practice.

When I was released from prison on the tenth day, I felt a tremendous sense of freedom and great satisfaction at having stayed the course. Unexpectedly, I found that I had much more will. I found I could sit at my desk and write for hours without the usual restlessness. I was able to complete tasks that I would normally put off or do in stages. Somatically, I felt a weighty presence in my belly centre, a bowling ball of will that kept me centred and stable.

These qualities of determination, steadfastness, resilience and power were developed by the initial application of effort, but after a time, the effort was transformed into will. Willpower became true will. Like bending your back to crank the engine until it sparks into life and runs on its own.

These are all resonances of the Water Element, the gifts of Zhi. Here are some suggestions for cultivating Zhi:

  • Do something you’ve never done before
  • Do something for five minutes longer when you’d rather stop
  • Do something very slowly
  • Do something no one would expect you to do
  • Postpone an action you want to do
  • Do something now that you’d prefer to postpone
  • Do a practice every day for a month

For some support in your cultivation of will, hold the acupoint Bladder 52- Zhishi– Residence of the Will which we’ve looked at previously. This point promotes endurance, helps to resolve fear (the emotion of Water), strengthens will, and restores essence (jing). For those who are driven, it softens hard willpower and supports true will.

Ultimately, true will is the will of true nature. As we align our personal will with the will of the universe, all efforting drops away and doing simply happens.

Location of Bladder 52



On the back at the level of the junction of the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebrae and 3 cun (four fingers width) lateral to the spine. It is approximately at the same level as the navel.

Spirit of Water

Zhishi – Residence of the Will – Bladder 52

SONY DSCZhi is the spirit of the Water Element. The most usual meaning of zhi is will, though it has also been translated as ambition, purpose, determination, knowledge, mind and memory.[i] The will that is referenced here is not that of willpower and effort where there is a forceful pushing and drivenness to achieve goals. Rather, it works independently of a person’s volition, operating virtually below the level of consciousness, a force which moves a person towards his destiny without much conscious thought.[ii]

Kaptchuck describes it as ‘the will that can’t be willed’,[iii] meaning that it is the kind of will that allows the person to move forward without pushing the river. A person with strong Kidneys has a strong Kidney spirit, a drive to be alive; one with less Kidney strength may have a lack of drive but overcompensate by pushing himself.

Underpinning the zhi is the innate power of life itself, life that wants to live, strives to stay alive and survive. It manifests in the human drive to reproduce and thrive, something we have been remarkably successful at as a species.

The classics say that the kidneys house the zhi.[iv] Therefore anything that injures the kidneys will also injure the zhi. Fear that does not flow freely and release from the body will dwell in the kidneys. Chronic fearfulness, trauma, ongoing stress, penetrating cold, addictions, overwork and insufficient sleep will all contribute to draining the Kidney Qi and therefore the zhi. The saying ‘burning the candle at both ends’ is an apt expression of such depletion.

If the zhi is imbalanced, the result is a move to one of two extremes. At one extreme there is a collapse of will, resulting in a lack of drive and determination, listlessness and passivity, weakness, withdrawal and even despair. At the other extreme there is a restless, unrelenting activity that derives from strong ambition and hyper-determination. Put simply, there is either lack of drive or overdrive. Both are symptoms of zhi out of balance.

Other possible outcomes of zhi imbalance are forgetfulness and memory lapses, the overuse of stimulants to provide false fuel for activity, addictive patterns, insomnia, and nervous breakdown.

What does zhi look like when it is in perfect balance? Such a person moves forward without seeming to move, as if propelled by some invisible force. This kind of will is unobtrusive and tends to go unnoticed because it is so natural. It is well expressed in the Chinese concept of wu wei, the action of non-action. Wu wei refers to the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. ‘It is a kind of “going with the flow” that is characterized by great ease and awake-ness, in which, without even trying, we are able to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise.’[v]

Ultimately the highest form of will arises when the personal will is in alignment with the will of heaven. The will of heaven is stored in our essence (jing) and exists within as a blueprint for our highest development. We must align our personal will with this blueprint if we are to manifest our greater destiny. The situations that life presents us with provide the opportunities for understanding the need for this alignment to occur. The more balanced is our zhi, the more there will be inner knowing of how this alignment can arise.

There is another important balancing function of the zhi which can be seen in its Chinese character, part of which represents the Heart. The relationship between the zhi of the Kidney and the shen of the Heart is paramount in maintaining the Water/Fire balance which in turn is central to a person’s yin/yang balance.

This balanced connection allows the will of the Tao to be mediated by and expressed through the human heart. Harmonious action naturally arises as a willing surrender to the dynamic force of the Tao.

A point that deeply supports the zhi is Zhishi – Residence of the Will. It is the outer shu point of the Kidney and lies on the Bladder meridian. At the physical level it treats lumbar pain, incontinence, impotence and infertility. More deeply, as its name suggests, it strengthens the will, allowing access to courage, determination and perseverance. It supports a person who is experiencing chronic fear and anxiety which are detrimental to the kidneys and Kidney Qi. In such cases this point can assuage fear by engendering basic trust in the inherent supportiveness of true nature.



Location of Bladder 52

The point is in the low back at the level of the junction between vertebrae L2 and L3. This is roughly at the level of the navel. BL 52 is 3 cun (four fingers width) outside the spine. If you are working on someone else, have them lie face down and apply direct pressure with your thumbs. If you are working on yourself, lie on your back, make fists and place your knuckles into the points.


[i] Jarrett, L.S. (1998) Nourishing Destiny. Stockbridge MA:Spirit Path Press, p.57.
[ii] Hicks, A., Hicks, J. and Mole, P. (2004) Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, p.163.
[iii] Kaptchuk, T.J. (2000) The web that has no weaver, Chicago:Contemporary Books, p.62.
[iv] Maoshing, N. (trans) (1995) The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine. Boston: Shambala, p.96.
[v] Reninger, E. (2013) Wu wei the action of non-action, viewed 4 August 2013, <http://taoism.about.com>

This is an extract from ‘The Way of the Five Elements’ by John Kirkwood, to be published by Singing Dragon Press (an imprint of Jessica Kingsley Publishing) in November 2015.