The Kidneys as Foundation for Body & Wisdom

34By Heidi Harding, L.Ac. and Tim Aitken, L.Ac.
Issue: Winter 2003, Form and Structure - Issue #34

In Classical Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys give us our foundation for life. The Kidneys represent that which pushes the organism to the actualization of its potential. They are the “pilot light” that ignites the body’s primary activities. The Kidneys store and activate our life Essence, or Jing, as a dense form of energy. This Jing gives rise to the physical structure and growth of the body. Jing carries our genetic and karmic blueprints. our will to live, and our desire to create or procreate. Wisdom is the virtue of the Kidneys.

Bones and teeth are the densest forms of matter in the body, and require Jing for their development. The strength, integrity, and growth of the bones and teeth thus reflect the quality of Kidney Jing available to the body. The bones provide a firm foundation for the physical body. This skeletal foundation allows us to stand upright, and is the solid framework for the muscles and organs.

The Kidneys provide this same firm foundation for Wisdom. Put simply, Wisdom is knowing how to live one’s life. Therefore if the Kidneys are strong, Wisdom will be strong. The mind will be able to focus on goals and we will be free to pursue them. Conversely, if the Kidneys are weak, Wisdom may be lacking and the mind will easily be discouraged and swayed from its aims. In summary, the Kidneys provide our firm foundation for the physical and energy body.

The bones, the physical foundation of structure, are supported by proper nutrition, exercise and activity. What is proper is what is Wise. Every living being intrinsically knows what is right or proper and what is not. We are human because of our ability to choose and the freedom to choose improperly. These improper choices are usually motivated by fear and its many faces, and they can eventually manifest in the physical structure as well.

Wise nutrition to support the bones starts with real food. If you can see how a food was grown, raised or harvested, it’s real. If some or all of a food is manufactured in a factory, it’s not real. We should eat real foods, the less processed the better. Eating plants and animals that have strong internal structures or bones is another way to eat wisely to strengthen the bones. Bone stock (see receipe page 12) and kale are just two examples.

Wise exercise to support the bones is essential. In the past, most people got all the exercise they needed through the activities that supported their lives. This cannot be said any longer for many people. Full-body exercises like Tai Chi Chuan, the Chi Kung from the Chinese tradition, Yoga from the Ayurvedic tradition and the hardy outdoor activities of hiking, gardening, etc. serve the bones well. Wise exercise also refers to the amount of exercise. Just as it is possible to get too little exercise, it is also possible to over-exercise as well. Excessive exercise is common in our society and will ultimately tire and weaken the body and bones. Wisdom is the key.

Wise activity starts with the balance between sleep, rest, activity and work. The proper amount of sleep and rest will allow for the bones’ restoration and growth. Many of us are too busy in our daily lives, again a choice, and we choose to get inadequate amounts of rest and sleep. The natural cycle of dark and light, day and night, is a wonderful place to begin to understand the cycle of rest and activity. Activity refers not only to how long we do something, but to what we do. Many of us define ourselves by what we do. If what we do does not arise out of Wisdom, the bones and indeed our whole selves are not supported. Again, Wisdom is the key.

How can we know our inner Wisdom? Every human tradition provides the same answer – Meditation and self-reflection. A daily practice of quiet meditation and self-reflection provides a sacred time and place for our Wisdom to come into our daily lives. Just as nutrition, exercise and rest support our bones, meditation is supportive of our Wisdom. Together our bones and our Wisdom are the physical and non-physical foundation of our lives.

Heidi Harding, L.Ac. and Tim Aitken, L.Ac. are licensed acupuncturists and co-directors of Eight Branches Healing Arts, located in Chestnut Ridge, NY and New York City. Email: