The Water Element: Reproductive Energy
The water element constitutes the deepest aspect of our being because this element involves reproductive energy—our sexuality. In Chinese medicine, Kidney and Bladder qi, which correlate with the adrenal glands that sit atop the kidneys in Western anatomy, comprise the water element in the body.
Will and determination, two characteristics of the water element, drive your desire to make a baby—and you need that. However, if you focus solely on your resolve and don’t temper it with patience and generosity, you can burn out. Western doctors say that burnout results in adrenal fatigue; Chinese medicine says this in terms of depleted jing—our vital Kidney energy. No matter how it’s described, it all translates to plummeting sex drive and no baby. Taoists say the antidote to burnout is to find the middle path and commit to a life of balance between yin and yang, being and doing.
The water element contains fire energy as well, what Taoists call the “minister fire.” Think of Kidney energy as the pilot light for the furnace that ignites our vital energies. When the fire is strong, we enjoy a healthy, strong sex drive. When it’s flickering or diminished . . . well, my patient Jenny is a good example of what happens.
Jenny is an exercise junky. She took spinning class five times a week, worked out with weights three times a week, and got in a ten-mile run on the weekends. To do all that and hold down a job, she had to get up at five in the morning. By the time she made her way home at the end of her day she was pretty much wiped out and had no energy left for intimacy. When she first started seeing me she was completely exhausted, although she couldn’t see that. The dark circles under her eyes signalled weak Kidney qi and low cortisol (adrenal fatigue). She needed to replenish her minister fire and give her body a much-needed rest. She agreed to cut back on exercise, find more time to relax with her husband and see more of their friends, and commit to acupuncture and nutritional supplements to reset her nervous system and build her reserves back up. Changing her regimen actually helped her feel more “in her body,” more sensual, and her sex drive increased dramatically. 122 ~ What About Me? What About You?
To keep the water element flowing, commit to activities that help decrease stress—rest, walking in nature, and mindful exercise such as yoga and qigong are all great for alleviating stress; meditation is, of course, highly beneficial, as are massage and acupuncture. Water Element: Kidney Energy Tonics Classic Chinese medicine texts include herbal medicine among the ways to rebuild Kidney energy, which can translate into healthy libido and, hopefully, successful reproduction.
Here are a few of the more popular herbs practitioners suggest. Of course, it’s always advisable to talk with a Chinese medicine specialist who can offer recommendations tailored to your individual challenges. Note that most Chinese herbs are taken together as formulas as opposed to taken individually.
HORNY GOAT WEED (Epimedium spp., yin yang huo):
A leafy plant native to Asia and the Mediterranean, this hormone regulator is often added to formulas that increase Kidney yang energy, improve libido, and treat erectile dysfunction. With a name like horny goat weed, it’d be hard to pass up. Some studies suggest this herb helps with immune function, depression, and bone health. The usual dose is 500 mg two to three times a day. Caution: don’t use if you have low blood pressure.
REHMANNIA (Rehmannia glutinosa, Chinese foxglove, shu di huang, sheng di huang):
This Chinese herb of restoration, a chief ingredient in most Kidney energy supplements, is said to nourish the blood, address anemia, and help Kidney yin. In Western medicine, rehmannia is an adrenal tonic that focuses on exhaustion, menstrual disorders, and hormonal dysfunction. While not an aphrodisiac per se, balancing hormone function often improves sex drive. Take rehmannia as part of an herbal formula containing other herbs.
CORDYCEPS (Cordyceps spp.):
A type of fungus originally found on the backs of caterpillars in the Himalayas, Cordyceps is a genus that includes some four hundred species and is now grown in laboratories. A prized herb in Chinese medicine, cordyceps enhances cellular energy, increases sperm Fine-Tuning the Engine ~ 123 count, normalizes immune function, enhances athletic performance, replenishes normal energy stores, and increases sexual function. The usual dose is about 500 to 1000 mg a day.
MACA (Lepidium meyenii, Peruvian ginseng):
Grown in the Andes in Peru, this root has been shown to have a beneficial effect not only on libido, but also on sperm count and motility. It is considered an adaptogen, a class of herbs that stabilizes physiological processes and promotes homeostasis. Thirteen types of maca exist, each with a different function. The three most popular types for fertility are black maca, yellow maca, and red maca. Black maca appears to have better effects on sperm production than its yellow cousin, and red maca seems to reduce prostate size and is good for women’s libidos. Yellow maca is geared to improving adrenal function and men’s sexual health. Choosing the right product makes a big difference in the outcome, so check with a Chinese medicine specialist or an herbalist familiar with this root.
ASHWAGANDHA (Withania somnifera, Indian ginseng):
This Ayurvedic adaptogenic herb helps the body resist the damaging inflammatory effects of stress and calms the nervous system. Ashwagandha has performed well in studies, substantially reducing serum cortisol levels with mild, if any, side effects, and improving sperm overall. 9 We already know how stress can dampen libido, so ashwagandha deserves its place on the libido-enhancing top-ten list. To cement its reputation, ashwagandha can be used as an aphrodisiac.
MUIRA PUAMA (Ptychopetalum spp., potency wood):
This herb, harvested from a small tree in the Amazon, is said to improve erectile dysfunction and increase libido. A small study found that the combination of ginkgo biloba and muira puama can significantly improve sexual desire and frequency of sexual intercourse in women. 10 Participants reported increased satisfaction with their sex life, intensity of sexual desires and fantasies, an easier time reaching orgasm, and intensity of orgasm. Dosage is typically 1000 to 1500 mg of a 4-to-1 extract
The dream of having a child is the longing of the heart to experience love, to nurture, and to create. For many women struggling with fertility, fear is a constant companion. What if I never get pregnant? I have to have a baby by the age of forty or my life is over. Doctors aren’t always very sensitive to the fear factor in women trying to conceive, and often exacerbate it by reciting a litany of factors why conception may never happen, such as age, weight, and stress. Of course, fear can get in the way of the body’s ability to conceive because it messes with the nervous system’s balance, putting it into fight-flight-freeze mode, effectively shutting down the reproductive system (chapter 12 has many helpful ideas for countering fear). The antidote to fear is any practice that keeps you in the present, any practice that focuses on love, patience, compassion, and forgiveness. Certainly acknowledging your fear—and the reasons for it—can help. Allow yourself to be held; practice self-love, and take deep, gentle, healing breaths, saying over and over again “I see you, I love you, you are whole, you are enough.” And practice gratitude.