The Bladder in Chinese Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the bladder is one of the six yang organs, paired with one of the six yin organs. The yin organs store vital substances (such as Qi, blood, yin, and yang), whereas the yang organs are more active and have a function of constantly filling and emptying. The bladder is a perfect example of a yang organ. Its main physiological function is to remove water from the body in the form of urine. To do this, the bladder uses Qi (energy) and heat from its paired yin organ, the kidneys.
Obviously urination is an essential component to the functioning of our bodies, and as such, the bladder plays a vital role through its filling and emptying of urine.
However, the bladder system in TCM has far more influence in the body than just over fluid transformation and excretion. As mentioned above, each yang organ is paired with a yin organ, and the bladder is paired with the kidneys. The kidneys are one of the most important energy systems in TCM, they store some of our deepest levels of energy, being the root of all yin and yang in the body and hold our essence. The kidneys often exert an effect on the bladder system when there is a weakness, this means that sometimes problems with the kidney energy can be detected and treated sooner by treating the bladder or the bladder channel. An example is low back pain. The kidneys in TCM govern the low back and the knees. The bladder meridian runs down the length of the back in not one but two trajectories on either side of the spine. Most forms of low back pain can be treated with bladder points on the back, as well as bladder points on the backs of the legs.
In acupuncture, one of the most essential aspects of the bladder channel is treating the back. The bladder channel runs from the inner canthus of the eye, over the top of the head, down the neck and the back on either side of the spine, through the sacrum and down the back of the leg to the knee. Then the channel travels back up to the top of the back and begins its downward trajectory again, tracing another trail down the length of the back, more lateral than the first. It then continues down the back of the leg to the outside of the pinky toe. The bladder channels trajectory makes it a powerful channel for treating most kinds of neck, back, sacral, hamstring, calf and achilles pain. It is particularly helpful when there is a pain condition affecting more than one of these sites.
Every energy system in TCM exerts an effect on both the physical body and the mental/emotional self. The kidneys are associated with fear - this means excessive fear will weaken the kidneys, but irrational fear can also be a symptom of a kidney imbalance. As the bladder is linked to the kidneys, it can be used to support the kidneys in treating fear. When the bladder itself is out of balance, there may be negative emotions such as jealousy, suspicion and inability to let go of grudges.
To take care of the bladder, make sure you drink plenty of non-caffeinated, non-sugary beverages throughout the day to optimize its water transforming function. Eating a kidney-nourishing diet will also help the bladder energy. To keep energy flowing optimally through the bladder meridian, make sure to stretch! Create a daily stretching routine that includes stretches for the whole posterior portion of the body. You might think about including foam rolling, massage, myofascial release, cupping, gua sha, yoga or Tui Na.
Successful Tonics to Boost the Kidneys
As we said, the kidneys in Traditional Chinese Medicine are a vital energy system. They are the root of all yin and yang in the body, and they store our essence. They govern growth, reproduction and healthy progression through the different cycles of life. They play a role in healthy aging and preventing lots of age-related decline. They also control the bones, the low back and the knees. On a mental-emotional level, the kidneys are associated with fear - an imbalance in the kidney energy often leads to irrational or pervasive fear. On a spiritual level, the kidneys are the source of our Zhi, or will-power - our drive to succeed, to thrive and to be alive.
So a weakness in the kidney energy can create any number of problems in the body. An accurate diagnosis of a kidney weakness requires evaluation by a practitioner of TCM, but most people can benefit from some kidney tonification, particularly if trying to get pregnant, when healing from a chronic illness and after the age of 65. Chinese Herbs are safe and effective when prescribed by a licensed practitioner. Below are some of the most common tonic herbs we prescribe in TCM to nourish the kidneys.
Shu Di Huang (Rehmannia Root, Chinese Foxglove Root): Shu Di Huang tonifies and nourishes the yin aspect of the kidneys. It also strongly nourishes the blood energy of the body. Shu Di Huang is used in many herbal formulas for insomnia, hot flashes, night sweats and anxiety.
Gou Qi Zi (Chinese Wolfberry Fruit, Goji Berries): Gou Qi Zi nourishes the yin and blood of both the Kidneys and the Liver. It benefits the essence stored in the kidneys, and has a specific function of brightening the eyes. It can be used in the appropriate formulas for issues such as weakness in the low back, trouble sleeping, dizziness, blurry vision, nocturnal emissions and infertility.
He Shou Wu (Polygonum, Fleeceflower Root): He Shou Wu is another herb to nourish the yin and blood of the liver and kidney. It has a specific function of nourishing the hair to prevent premature thinning and graying. It can also be used in formulas for chronic constipation, dizziness, vertigo, blurry vision, infertility or weakness in the low back and knees.
Rou Cong Rong (Broomrape Stem): Rou Cong Rong strengthens the yang aspect of the kidneys, or the source of warm, fiery energy in the body. As such, it is used in formulas for infertility, impotence and urinary disorders such as urinary dribbling or incontinence. It also has a function of moistening the intestines and can be used for certain types of chronic constipation.
Rou Gui (Dried Cinnamon Bark): Rou Gui also strengthens the yang of the kidneys, and warms the kidneys and the channels. It is used in formulas for symptoms such as a deep feeling of cold, cold limbs, weakness in the low back, impotence, frequent urination, chronic pain worse in the cold, wheezing and certain types of menstrual pain.
Most of these herbs need to be prescribed by a licensed practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine. If you want to nourish the kidneys on your own, consider adding Shan Yao (Chinese Yam) into your diet, and picking up some Goji Berries at your local health store. You can also incorporate kidney-nourishing foods into your diet, such as fish, seaweed, miso, kidney beans, black beans and bone broth.