Table of Contents

‘The Kidneys are responsible for the creation of power/arousing the power. Skill and ability stem from them… They dominate bones and teeth’.

Su Wen Chapter 8

The Kidneys provide our link from the finite to the infinite. Our store of prana also known as prenatal qi and jing or essence is collected during the development of the fetus. The pronephros function like Kidneys in the embryo and appear before the Heart emerges so they function at a deep level. 

The kidneys provide us with our constitutional strength; the energy and the will power to live our lives to their fullest potential. Our constitution is of course influenced by our parent’s strength in general and in particular their health at the time of conception. This is why we often have weakness in a particular organ system and certain idiosyncratic health issues, big and small, that are passed on to us through the ancestral line. 

Think of your Kidneys like the charge in a battery and you realise that your lifestyle is significant in how use choose to use this charge up during the course of a day or a life. You will remember our definition of stress; ‘the extent to which we let our external environment dictate to us what is important’ Our external environment is not, of course, just our immediate environment but also the sort of environment we grew up in and how we have allowed certain messages we inherited from our family to become dictates that we still live under the tyranny of, and impose on others.

The discriminative wisdom required to know what is important for us to give our energies to comes from the kidneys and is why we seek the counsel of elders and equally why as parents we feel compelled to give our teenage sons and daughters advice! 

The power of discrimination is also needed as we are continually asked where to put our attention. As the days wears our concentration and our willpower can diminish it is therefore a useful recommendation to get the most important things in first even if those are tasks we would rather avoid. Our powers of concentration are also weakened through a poor quality of sleep, stress and ill health. 

Zhi the spirit of the Kidneys relates to will power. Power and weakness link to common everyday issues; money, power and sex. The Kidneys are depleted by too much sex and drugs and like the Liver are taxed by eating late at night. When we develop (our common passion is our sense of longing) our ability to discriminate, in particular knowing what not to do, we are mirroring what the kidneys are doing /on a physical level in filtering/cleaning the blood up to 60x per day! We can call this body-mind action, eliminate to illuminate or the know-how of the no.

Zhi the spirit of the Kidneys relates to will power. Power and weakness link to common everyday issues; money, power and sex.

The significance of lifestyle in supporting the Kidneys

If we think about our kidneys like a battery that stores prana the battery itself is the extent of our life; when it is corroded, worn out and won’t charge anymore we’re dead! The kidneys already work hard filtering the blood up to 60 times per day so we don’t want to put further pressure on them. We don’t really know to what extent we can live longer but we can certainly increase the quality of our life by managing our energy; if we get deep undisturbed, dreamless sleep we awake refreshed with a full charge. Not having too much sex, managing the 5 passions, not eating food that is that is heavy on the digestion, not eating too late and slowing down the breath are other significant ways to judiciously manage our energy. Mostly this relates to ‘knowing when to say no’. Overburdening the body with too much food or depleting it through excessive sexual activity or drugs is mirrored by the unnecessary and wasteful accumulation of material possessions. This behaviour is fuelled by a lack of spirit in our lives. 80% of our needs are meet spiritually and 20% materially. 

Our link to the infinite through the teachings is the way to feel gratitude, to remind ourselves that God’s will is our will. Then the shape and form we give to our world has meaning and integrity and we can move beyond duality in our lives. 

When we know what to say no to we say yes to something more lasting and stop depleting our energy. This is the method to focus and concentrate our energy on the one thing that is important both in the moment and the one pointedness we need to succeed in life.

Kidney energy manifests through the 2nd and 8th chakras. In the Su Wen chapter 1 it mentions seven year cycles in relation to what is happening to the kidneys and how that is reflected in different stages of growth and decline; at age 7 the teeth and head hair have their full flourishing. At 14 years a girl reaches puberty, at 21 the energy of the kidney meridian is full of activity and the wisdom teeth are appearing. At 28 bones and muscles are strong and the body is robust. “At the age of 35 her face withers and her hair begins to fall out; at 42 her body becomes wane and her hair whitens; at 49 Ren and Chong become empty and menstruation stops and she can no longer conceive. 

For men there is an eight year cycle described; at age 8 years the teeth and head hair have their full bursting. At 16 they are virile and able to be fruitful (get a woman pregnant). At 24 the wisdom teeth grow; at 32 the man is robust; at the age of 40, Kidney-Qi declines, his hair begins to fall out and his teeth begin to wither; at 48 his hair becomes white and his face starts to wither; at 56, Liver-Qi declines and the muscles stiffen up; at 64, Tian Gui is exhausted and Kidney-Qi declines”. Strong kidney energy will ensure a smooth transition at each of these stages and especially during the 2nd and 8th seven year cycles.

Celestial Communication: Pushing palms using the Guru Gaitri Mantra.

The 2nd and 8th seven year cycles of consciousness

In the second seven year cycle; between seven and fourteen, the water energy is strong and during this time we learn to trust our feelings and establish boundaries in relationship with others. This is generally more challenging for the boy as he seeks to establish himself as a ‘little man’ whilst still dependant on his mother. This creates a certain tension and there may be crying with no obvious reason (it is just the water energy flowing). The woman often finds herself challenged in the 3rd and 7th stages. The 3rd stage (14 to 21) is a fire stage which is generally easier for a young man to transition through. For a woman the changes of her outward physical form can bring unwanted attention, attention that she shys away from or too eagerly accepts. At 49 (the 7th, 7 year cycle) she faces no longer being able to bear children, or older children leaving home, the end of a career and quite often unwelcome physical changes brought on by the menopause (hot flushes, insomnia etc).

Through the integration of the male and female sides of ourselves we can go beyond the dualities within us and our differences in relationship. The man overcoming his ‘mother phobia’ and the anger he felt by being dominated/smothered by his mother and the woman’s ‘father phobia’ which manifests as insecurity and destructiveness because she could not trust her father and forgive his inconsistency/absence. 

The eighth chakra is the aura which is weakened when there is a conflict between our thought and our deed. Our ability to reflect on and learn from our behaviour brings discrimination and self-knowledge (not self-obsession) which fosters spontaneity and creativity (we create a flow between our present state and the desired one). This is the purity, the clarity cultivated through the ‘know how of the no’ which is the purpose of the negative mind. Trying too hard to control means life cannot flow freely and leads to depression, exhaustion and disconnected behaviour.

Kidney vitality gives the ability to accomplish a great deal without stress and balances assertive action with compassion, work with rest and play.

Regulation of sexual energy

When a man ejaculates he usually loses some of his power (unless the entanglement with his partner is very complete). The kidneys are understood to be the store of our vital energy, our jing and from this comes the advice, particularly for men, not to ejaculate too frequently. This is reiterated in different traditions, for example in the Ayurvedic tradition is gives the equation; 80 bites of food create one drop of blood, 80 drops of blood create one drop of semen. The French call it le petit mort and the taoists warned against needlessly spreading your seed.

The Kidneys are linked to sexual hormones through the adrenal glands. The adrenal cortex starts to release testosterone and oestrogen during puberty and this continues throughout life. In embryological terms the testes and ovaries emerge out of the primitive Kidneys. 

Excessive sexual activity especially as a teenager can deplete the essences of the body which will deplete kidney yin. Yogi Bhajan said that though a woman is sexual mature at the age of 17 a man is not ready until he is 24. He was once asked how often a man and women should have sexual relations and he said once a month. In the ancient Chinese book ‘Classic of the Simple Girl’ (Sui dynasty 581 – 618) an indication is given of recommended frequency of ejaculation of men according to age and health.

Age – In Good Health – Average Health – Minimum Recommended Frequency 

15 – 2x a day – Once a day 

20 – 2x a day – Once a day – Every 4 days

30 – Once a day – Every other day – Every 8 days

40 – Every 3 days – Every 4 days – Every 16 days 

50 – Every 5 days – Every 10 days – Every 21 days

60 – Every 10 days – Every 20 days – Every 30 days

70 – Every 30 days – None

Naturally, these guidelines should not be taken too literally and are to some extent dependent on constitution. A interesting short (or long term) experiment for a man is to let the woman initiate intercourse if he usually does. 

Hormones and the Kidneys

Although nerves tell the hormones what to do, the hormones produced by our organs also affect the nerves.

The adrenal glands sit just on top of the kidneys and are their messenger system. They produce dopamine, adrenaline and cortisol. 

Dopamine helps to give us will power. For obvious reasons low levels are found in drug addicts.

Adrenaline is an aspect of Kidney Yang. When adrenaline is released we have symptoms that prepare us to fight or flight (or freeze – more later). The blood and energy move to the periphery to prepare our muscles for action, sugars in the blood rush in and the metabolism speeds up. Adrenaline is short acting, lasting minutes to hours rather than days and attaches to the outside of the cell (all yang properties). Problems arise when we are on a chronic low level arousal. Today, we are not often confronted by a sabre toothed tiger which gives a sudden boost of adrenaline (although we may occasionally nearly get run over). Instead we are assaulted by bleeping machines and ringtones, bombarded by advertising and often have very little genuine down time (deep relaxation does not come in the form of yet another laptop or TV screen).

Cortisol is an aspect of Kidney Yin. It takes time to work but carries on working for many days and lies on the inner aspect of the cell (all yin properties). ‘Normally in a stressful situation a burst of cortisol would be appropriate and healthy. The cortisol would act to enable the body to cope with this stress by calling on the body’s reserves. It would hold on to fluid (Yin) in case the body needed it, it would draw energy and substances from the muscles and bones to use for vital repairs, and release white blood cells from the marrow to enable infection to be fought (which paradoxically make them less aggressive, i.e. more Yin)’.

Parotin – In the seventy-eighth chapter of the Ling Shu and chapter twenty three of the Su-Wen the correspondences of the body fluids and the organs are mentioned and the kidneys are linked to saliva. Interestingly “saliva contains parotin”. This hormone influences the health of teeth and bones. It is responsible for the increase of phosphatase in the bones, the decrease of calcium levels in the blood (and absorption into the bones) and the coating of teeth with dentine… In the first chapter of the Su Wen it states that at the age of forty the kidney qi declines; therefore, hair loss starts and the teeth dry out. The character in the Su wen actually describes a lack of water, which leads to teeth death. In this context, Kidney Qi deficiency could be understood to mean that though the patient has enough saliva the content of parotin is declining “The Kidneys are part of the Water element and because of their connection to salt, are also closely related to the ocean. The human body works very hard to keep an aqueous environment very similar in salt concentration to that of the ocean. This is a very important idea to keep in mind when dealing with the Kidney as an energetic concept. The human being comes from the ocean, and the Kidney (as the preserver of Pre-Heaven Jing) stores the information from the beginning of the evolutionary chain. One explanation for the relationship of the Kidney channel to throat problems lies in the fact that the muscles of the throat and voice box are embryologically related to the gills in fish. The human embryo goes through a “fish stage” and presents with gills and a lateral line similar to those of a fish”.

Erythropoietin is released when the Kidneys sense low oxygen in the blood flowing through them. Its purpose is to increase the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow without which we would quickly become anaemic. In Chapters 23 and 61 of the Su Wen we are told that the Kidneys dominate the marrow.

Vitamin D production is complicated to describe. The final transformation of Vitamin D happens in the Kidneys and they determine the levels of Vitamin D (calcitriol) which is the most important hormone for bone health. Other hormones controlled by the Kidneys which determine bone strength are calcium, phosphate and cortisol, these all create the crystals that give our bones their hardness and resistance to compression.

Renin is the hormone that is secreted when the blood pressure in the Kidney drops. In combination with other hormones it makes the blood vessels become more tense, the heart pumps harder and the Kidneys hold onto more water which increases the blood pressure and the amount of blood circulating through the Kidneys. This is just one of the ways in which modern medicine confirms the ancient Chinese connection that was made between the Heart and Kidneys through the aorta– the ShaoYin (Lesser Yin) channel. ‘There are also ‘at least seven hormones that directly interplay between these two organs … adrenaline, angiotensin, atrial and brain natriuretic peptide (another link between the Heart and Kidneys that controls the blood pressure), dopamine and vasopressin.’ (SM p152).

‘The Kidneys dominate water metabolism’​

Su Wen Ch 61 

65 percent of our bodies are water. The Kidneys take any water-soluble poisons from it and extract urine. All the goodness from the watery part of the blood is preserved and our bodies chemistry is maintained at very precise levels. ‘In order to do this the Kidney contains one million nephrons, each of which is a tiny intelligent filtration system’ … The nephrons ensure that there is just enough water in the body and that it contains all the minerals the body needs.’ (SM p153 – 54). Water retention is termed ‘water overflowing’ in Chinese medicine and is the result of the nephrons failing.

The relationship between the Kidneys and the brain

‘The Kidney Jing fills the brain’

Great Treatise of Chinese Acupuncture, Zhang Jie Bin, 1563 – 1640

Cerebral Atrophy or brain wasting is found in cases such as dementia and other diseases of the brain. Studies show that Kidney failure and brain wasting are linked. 

Zhi is the spirit of the kidneys. In Ling Shu chapter 8 it states that when yi, purpose is conserved you have zhi. ‘Zhi is like a tension or an intensity of life, taut and fixed on a certain direction. The force of the yi which remains is zhi… in the ideogram zhi we can see the power of the tension of life, and this is a specific aspect of the kidneys: tension, foundation, attention and passage to know how.’ 

At the end of Ling Shu chapter 8 there is a description of the pathology of the emotions saying that ‘very strong anger which cannot be stopped injures the zhi, the will … and fear and fright from which we are unable to be free injure the essences’ (p25 the Kidneys). The kidneys govern the essences so these emotions have been linked to the kidneys. The initial impact of fear is actually on the lungs – we hold the breath or breath more shallowly, this stops energy flowing and therefore impacts the kidneys. 

The power of the kidneys is to retain and keep or store but nothing comes of the storage if it is not directed upwards. The ‘skill and ability’ is in how this power is used to ‘fashion or shape something’ – it is the hibernation during Winter which leads to this uprising; ‘at the very heart of winter, at the solstice, there is a kind of intermingling of yin and yang where the first resurgence of yang has a particular movement which all living beings feel deep within them’ (p60 the Kidneys).

The deepest parts of our material life are dependent on the kidneys; the maturation of the skeleton, spine bones and brain. The kidney distributes the jing or essences via the triple heater supplying warmth and qi to all the organs. Much of this happens through the hormonal release of the endocrine system which governs growth, sexual maturity and fertility.

Healing of the kidneys is often a slower process than that of the other organs and many patients diagnosed with a kidney imbalance, whether congenital or due to ageing complain about their symptoms for a long time and often come with a history of medical treatments including surgery, medication and physical therapy. When administering acupuncture needles are retained for a minimum of 20 minutes.

The Kidneys and the creation of power

The desire to create has it’s spark in the kidneys and the dynamic action between the two of them. So strong is our desire to create that we cause emotional, mental and physical disturbances by blocking it. By channelling sexual energy through Kundalini Yoga and other spiritual practices we direct this energy towards the infinite so that a merging can take place. 

The upper parts of the character for the kidneys shows a servant (of the court) who is bowing on the left side and on the right side is the king. The ideogram for the king also means the right hand and the idea of someone who is able to have a hold on men and to pull people along, like animals, by their hand. There is an assumption of power. 

Depending on the different radicals that are added other meanings can be derived; of holding something very firmly, something solid and durable, something important because it is urgent, and it is urgent because it is tightened and squeezed. Something bound tightly. 2 and 8 have a relation to time and the flowing of time. 8 is the infinity symbol so the urgency maybe linked to the passing of time and the desire to manifest our destiny.

“If you add the radical meaning a standing position you get the idea of something upright, or to erect something vertically and firmly … if you add the cowrie shell, it gives the idea of something very precious like money or treasure, the meaning of the whole ideogram is the sage, the wise man, the expert: a good man full of experience, virtue and knowledge” (p3 The Kidneys Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Valle).

Money, power and sex were named by Yogi Bhajan as the three pitfalls of success. 

The kidneys have a contracting, downward moving force. Water by nature is cold and condensed and has a retracting downward movement (this is also true of the salty taste which is linked to the kidneys). Despite this tendency a paradox is created because the Kidneys have 2 aspects. The water which is the yin within yin and the fire which is the yang within the yin. It is this second aspect which means that the power inherent in the kidneys can also spread right up to the exterior and help us, for example, to hear far away sounds. “Only that which is able to retain and hold firmly is able to stimulate that which can move outward to the most exterior aspect of the body” (p8 The Kidneys Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Valle).

The right kidney

The right kidney (or some authorities say the space in between the kidneys – precisely in between the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebrae) is known as the ming men where men store essence (sperm) and from which women attach the uterus. This is the original spark of life; the fire within the water, the power for growth. This gives the ascending motion on the right, yin side of the body which is powered by the fire within the water).

The Kidneys and the emotions

We have 5 will powers and 7 emotions. The 5 will powers are the passions arising naturally from each of the yin organs and take us in a certain direction. They have a more internal aspect than the emotions. 

The kidneys are often connected with fear. Fear actually affects the lungs first – we hold the breath or breathe shallowly to limit the amount we feel. This creates constriction, like when water freezes. This impacts the kidneys, energy doesn’t flow and we lose contact with the present. 

Melancholy and grief come from an over identification with the past and fear from a basic insecurity about what the future may bring.

“All the energy you put in the past you take away from tomorrow. That’s where lies your sorrow. That’s why you don’t have energy to make everything possible.”

Yogi Bhajan

Our fears can be deeply rooted and we are often not aware of even major areas of fear and insecurity. In an attempt to identify these insecurities and resolve grief people often have psychotherapy but the stress held in the body needs to be resolved through the body. This is using the body to effect the mind because when we feel good we talk to ourselves in an encouraging way. The most effective way to feel good is to change physiology – to breathe, to move-take action and to chant-shout, sing, use mantra are the three essential methods used in Kundalini Yoga and are of course helpful during the stresses of everyday life.

The connection between the water and air element

“The flow of waters from the body is the expression of cleansing and healing taking place. Through tears, sweat and urination we put our past behind us and distil the essence of our history”.

Shiv Charan Singh

“When the waters of the body and the breath is not in perpetual flow then the flow of consciousness start to stagnate … why the water element should be connected to the breath as well as the element of air can be easily explained. The air element is the breath of the future; it is the breath we have yet to take. But as we distil our experience into the future, or breathing the future into ourselves, we condense it, drawing out the lessons to be learnt from it and our exhale becomes moist. Thus the water element is the breathing out of the present, allowing it to become the past, part of our historical essence” (P186 Shiv Charan Singh. Let The Numbers Guide You).

Patterns of Kidney health problems

Common patterns are ones of deficiency; Kidney deficiency associated with lung problems; sighing, shortness of breath, difficulty inhaling deeply, asthma, chest pain and fatigue. The kidneys help to attract and anchor the qi down into the body. Sighing is a reaction to the difficulty in moving qi from the base to spread up and out. Treatment of the kidney is helpful for respiratory complaints especially those related to problems with inhalation- taking a deep breath in. This is supported by the fact that the kidney points on the bladder meridian in the lower back are located at one of the origins of the diaphragm muscle (L2-L3) – hence the importance of breathing into the navel which also takes the breath into the lower back – especially in postures such as baby pose. 

Kidney deficiency associated with a tight lower back (quadratus lumborum muscle); acute or chronic back pain which may include impotence and fatigue, there may also be adrenal deficiency and visceroptosis (dropping of the internal organs, especially those in the abdomen and pelvic cavity causing a pulling of connective tissue from the neck and shoulders to the feet).

Adrenal deficiency; “any situation that might exhaust the adrenal gland such as; shock, trauma, life threatening experience, acute febrile disease with very high fever, chronic, consuming diseases, surgery, stress and fear, chronic inflammation etc. It is also very common to find adrenal gland exhaustion in patients who do not heal well… patients that complain of kidney stones, osteoporosis, bone spur, calcium deposits etc. These patients may have a history of calcium imbalance problems (1)”.

Kidney toxicity; if the patient has used opiates, is recovering after an operation, has used medications for a long time and complains of side effects, chemotherapy or radiation therapy exposure and reports of poisoning.

Kidney deficiency due to aging; backache, stiff shoulder, fatigue, lack of motivation, headache, feeling of heaviness in the head, muscle aches, sleeping disorders, irritability, low general metabolism. Similar signs can be seen with Liver and/or Spleen disorders. To differentiate if it is a kidney disorder there is no feeling in the deep pulse at the 3rd position, a cold body, an empty and sluggish feeling in the lower abdomen and fullness at the epigastrium, problems with the lymph gland and exhaustion for a very long time.

The Aging Process

Eating immature foods such as cereal-grass shoots (barley and wheat grass), the sprouts of grains, legumes, seeds and young baby vegetables are, according to ancient traditions of the Far East a way to keep a person young. Nucleic acids (RNA and DNA) can increase tenfold in the sprouting process.

Kidney yin deficiency which is common during the menopause includes the following signs and symptoms; dizziness, tinnitus, deafness, vertigo, poor memory, night sweats, dry mouth at night, ‘5 palms heat’ (hot feet, hands and centre of chest) thirst, lower backache, nocturnal emissions, constipation, dark scanty urine. Tongue: Red, no coating, cracked. Pulse: Floating, empty and rapid. Key symptoms: night sweating, dry mouth at night, red-peeled tongue.

Aetiology – overwork over several years, excessive sexual activity especially as a teenager can deplete the essences of the body which will deplete kidney yin. 

Loss of blood, commonly from heavy loss of blood or bleeding outside of the menstrual time will initially lead to Liver blood deficiency which can easily lead on to Kidney yin deficiency.

Over dosage of Chinese herbal medicines to strengthen Kidney yang or wrongly strengthening kidney yang when kidney yin should be strengthened. 

Avoid foods which are too warming and drying; hot spices, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, lamb and overeating.

Herbs, foods and supplements which nurture kidney yin; Rehmannia 6 (a Chinese medicine six herb decoction). 

Kidney yang deficiency – the warming, energizing aspect, our drive and will power, includes the following signs and symptoms when low; apathy; unwilling to undertake any project, mental lethargy, feeling cold, cold extremities, pale complexion, cold and weak knees and sensation of cold in the lower back, sore back, mental lethargy, lack of sexual desire, impotence, premature ejaculation, abundant clear urination, oedema of the legs, infertility in women, poor appetite, loose stools – due to the spleen lacking the nourishment from the kidneys. Tongue: pale, swollen, wet. Pulse: deep-weak. Key symptoms: cold in the back, abundant clear urination, pale tongue, deep pulse.

Aetiology – chronic illness over a long period of time can weaken kidney yang. Excessive sexual activity. Dampness from spleen deficiency over a long period of time will obstruct the movement of fluids. Old age.

Avoid cooling foods and fruits, raw foods, excessive salt, caffeine and dehydrating drinks. Being exposed to cold immediately after intercourse. 

Herbs and foods which supplement kidney yang and the kidneys generally; black and red beans, seaweeds, miso, soy sauce, walnuts (the oils in walnuts enhance brain function and are also good for testes and sperm creation).


“The Kidneys”. Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee. Monkey Press Second Edition 2001.

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