Kidney Function


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'Kidney Function' sounds all wrong, doesn't it? Most English speakers would correct this to 'Kidneys' Function', not least because most of us have two kidneys. But this is Chinese medicine, so bear with me.

First, get used to the idea that your (Chinese medicine) Kidney function includes but is not limited to the functions of your kidneys. It goes a very long way beyond.

For information, to discover the functions that your physical kidneys cover, click here.

OK - from here on we cover the Kidney function in Chinese medicine. Usually in textbooks there's a definite order in which they are discussed but I'm starting a different way.

1. Kidney Function: Start and Finish

Have you ever noticed that some people are starters? Whatever they do, they don't continue with it for long, before they start something else. Some of them are perpetual students, never quite liking to commit to work to put into practice what they have learned; or tending to learn one trade after another.

Or they may seem settled in their professions or work, but if they were to share their real thoughts, you might be surprised to find how uncertain, even fearful, they were about it: not at all the definite people you thought you knew, and quite possibly always looking for better ways to spend their lives.

In some ways this keeps them young. (And irresponsible you might add.) Their weakness is that they don't have the stamina, or determination, or personality, to keep going at something until they get it right, then continue with it until it's a success and eventually, finish it off properly. So they lack the finishing touch; more, they lack the keep-going touch.

If you look into their past you may find that one or more of the following applies:

  • illness or exhaustion or a family history of poor health in their parents before conception occurred
  • some illness or problem during the pregnancy
  • birth before (possibly well before) the full term of 39 weeks
  • severe illness(es) during their first few years of life
  • a difficulty with nourishment very early in babyhood/childhood
  • either no reaction or very strong reactions to early immunisations
  • a sense of separation or grief at loss of a parent, probably the mother-figure, early on: this may occur when she has to spend more time with a sibling
  • a somewhat distant father-figure
  • an early expectation on themselves to succeed
  • strong fears in early childhood
  • a lack of order in early life, including of regular sleep and food
  • a bigger strain on their lives during puberty than they could readily manage

All the above may predispose the child towards a situation when their Kidney energy lacks cohesiveness. It can't maintain steady progress in life. (If you have read to this point and your heart is beginning to sink and pound at the same time, don't fret. There's lots that can be done!)

Not being able to keep going steadily means that you never finish things or allow them to go through a satisfactory cycle. So you aren't good at ending things, because you give up too soon. 

Of course, possibly this is because it's fashionable to do so when you don't enjoy the job, but more often, if it's a Kidney Qi problem, it is because you lack persistence even in the face of just boredom or mild opposition or difficulty. Then you have to start again, possibly doing something else or looking for a new job.

So this first Kidney function gives you force of personality: a form of life-force. With strong Kidney energy you don't lose your nerve easily, and you are resourceful.

You are also confident in your self and don't necessarily feel the need to depend on others or communicate all the time with them for reassurance.

Of course, for social reasons you may choose to be active on social networks, but you could do without them.

However, being a perpetual student - 'Jack of All Trades' - is not all bad. Eventually, as you mature, you'll find that the discipline you've acquired by always having to learn new things will make you into someone who can reassure others, who can teach others, and who can help people out in an emergency, because you have the know-how.

Then it will become your challenge to apply your skills either in business for yourself, which many consider is the best way because it makes few demands on others and brings wealth to the community, or by working in one of many jobs you have learned, possibly in some way to help others.

2. Kidney function: stores Jing Essence

Jing Essence, which you inherit from your parents and use up through your life, is stored, or guarded, by your Kidney function.

Because Jing Essence is the most Yin stuff there is, and is like your fuel for life, you definitely want to keep it carefully. That's the job of your Kidney function.

This means that how well and for how long you strive in life are down to your Kidney function and the Jing Essence it keeps for you.

3. Controls Ming Men, the 'Gate of Life'

See also Ming Men. Ming Men is such a powerful force in the body that one could say it controls the Kidneys, but anyway, theoretically, it is controlled, or managed, by the Kidneys.

The Kidneys have to balance the (Yang) force of Ming Men with the (Yin) nature of Jing Essence.

See below for suggestions about how to maintain healthy Kidney function.

4. Root of both Yin and Yang

As Jing essence manifests as the Kidneys release it, it takes various forms, perhaps the first being Yin and Yang.

On the Yin side, Kidney Yin then becomes the source and foundation for Liver, Heart, Spleen and Lung Yin; for Yang, Kidney Yang is the root for Spleen Yang, Lung Yang and Heart Yang.

A weakness in Kidney eventually affects all the organs and conversely, a weakness in say Liver Yin may eventually drain Kidney Yin.

5. Kidney Function: bones, growth, development, reproduction

Good hardy bones and teeth depend on good Kidney function, which governs growth phases from birth to grave, introducing maturation moments along the way; for example, for women, the onset of periods and, later, the menopause.

If the bones laid down in childhood are strong, this is considered to be a good sign of the Kidney function successfully manifesting Jing.

Later, the arrival of periods and of physical maturity mean the ability to reproduce: for women, menstrual Blood; for men, sperm.

6. Marrow and Brain

Another way the Kidney lays down Jing essence is in our marrow, the living centre of our bones. The Chinese took this further, suggesting that going up the spine, the marrow fulfilled itself in the Brain.

Good Jing Essence managed by the Kidneys then leads to good concentration, memory and thinking. Good energy will flow up to the head, meaning alertness and clear sight.  It goes further, suggesting that not only is there strength of mental purpose, but also ingenuity.

And of course, strong bones help physical strength. The reverse, bone weakness such as osteoporosis, implies weaker Kidney function.

7. Will and Power

How long and hard you can strive for comes down to your Will, or Steadfastness. This depends absolutely on the quality of your Jing Essence

Having commenced something, how persistent are you about seeing it through to completion?

The idea implied in the classics is not merely your will-power, what we might call a mental attribute, but also your physical persistence and the health of your body, vital to support your mind and will.

So it's not enough to have an idea. To see it through requires work and persistent application of will-power. These are measures of your Kidney function and of your Jing Essence.

Additionally, good Kidney function enables you to rise to the occasion when stressed. Conversely, periods of prolonged and heavy stress may damage your Kidney function.

You see this sometimes in people whose hair goes white almost overnight, after they have been through great stress. (The hair is another manifestation of the Kidney function.)

8. Controls the Reception of Qi

Mainly working with the Lungs, but also to some extent with the Heart, the Kidneys act like an anchor firmly attached to the seabed, holding the boat steady as it rises and falls with the tide.

The Lungs, when we breathe, send Qi downwards. The Kidneys catch and hold it.

When this fails, you see people unable to catch their breath and, if pathological, as in some forms of asthma for example, they try to take in ever greater amounts of air. In the past, barrel-chested people may have had this.

I have seen this - the problem with Kidney being unable to control the reception of Qi - in people waking breathless in the night, heart pumping, panicking, choking and/or sweating heavily.

One patient I saw had seen many doctors, including both a psychiatrist and a psychologist, but only found relief - after one treatment - when I treated him for Kidney deficiency.

9. Govern Water

Working with

  • the Bladder, the Kidneys' paired organ, which acts as reservoir for all the fluids 
  • the Triple Burner which provides pathways for fluids throughout the body and within the joints and body-crevices, 
  • the Large Intestine which absorbs water from the faeces, 
  • the Spleen, which 'transforms and transports' what you eat and drink, so has a vital role in fluid metabolism and
  • The Lungs, to which the Kidney supplies clear moisture to keep them damp, and from which it receives fluids absorbed from the air and skin

... the Kidneys manage the Water and fluids in your body.

Fluid Management in the lower Burner (lower abdomen)

Kidney Yang and Kidney Yin, two aspects of Kidney function, manage - with the Bladder - your urine and the fluids here. For example:

  • If urine is profuse and colourless, Kidney Yang is failing to warm and control it.
  • If urine is dark and smelly, Kidney Yin is failing to moisturise and cool it.

Actually ... it's more complicated than that! The Extraordinary Channels (another big subject) also have a role in fluid and water metabolism. They will have to await another page on this site.

10. Other functions

  • Manifests in your hair. This is why Chinese men lay great emphasis on having vibrant, black hair, which displays strong Kidney function.
  • Opens into your ears. A frequent sign of Kidney imbalance or deterioration is poor hearing and/or tinnitus (which can also be due to other syndromes, such as Liver Wind). As you age, and Jing Essence, Ming Men and Kidney function decline, so does your hearing.
  • Controls what we call the anus at the back and the genitourinary tracts at the front. If Kidney function (specifically Kidney Yang) is weak, there may be weak control and incontinence, diarrhoea or nocturnal emissions.
  • Your kidneys are said, in the classical texts, to be the reserve of skills. You can take this several ways: as your genetic inheritance enabling you to adapt to life or, as the habits and skills you learn in life that become second nature and on which you can rely.
  • Is that all? No, there's other stuff too, particularly the management of the Kidney channels, which in one form or another spread almost the full length of the body, from feet upwards, including to the coccyx, genitals, spine, liver and heart, pericardium, neck, throat and root of the tongue.
  • (And you thought your kidneys were just a boring filter!)

Kidney Syndromes


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