Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tao of Love and Sex: Kidney Energy And Sexuality

The kidneys are located on both sides of the loins, or lumbar region, and are closely associated with the bladder, both functionally and by virtue of the connections between their respective acupuncture channels. Far Eastern medicine ascribes four important functions to the kidneys:

• Receiving hereditary energy and storing reproductive fluids. In modern medical language, this function is to be understood as referring to the connection between the adrenal hormones and sexual hormones.
• Producing spinal marrow, through the intermediary of the hormonal system (as above).
• Regulating the body's fluids through their metabolization. This function corresponds more closely to what modern medicine understands as the kidneys' activities.
• Regulating auditory functions. This connection between the ears and the kidneys means that latent kidney disorders can be diagnosed by identifying hearing problems (especially tinnitus, or ringing in the ears).

The language in which ancient Chinese medical doctrine is expressed may sometimes sound naive, but let there be no mistake: connections such as these offer proof that the Chinese physicians of yesteryear had more than an intuitive understanding of the hormonal system and the mutual interactions of the organs. Much of that understanding still escapes us today, even with our lasers, scanners, and other technologies of modern medical research.

In the theory of the Five Evolutive Elements, the kidneys correspond to the north and to cold. The north wind can injure the kidneys, a consideration of great importance in the genesis of chronic illnesses (rheumatic conditions in particular). In traditional medicine, the kidneys correspond to the color black, an association borne out by the unnatural presence of black in the complexion of those suffering from kidney disease. The natural secretion of the kidneys is the saliva that forms at the back of the tongue. The vocal manifestation of the kidneys is the groan or the sigh, the fearful or plaintive voice. The kidneys' psychic manifestation is fear or anxiety. Physiologically, the kidneys' qi should rise, but great fear can cause this energy to sink quickly and can result, for example, in loss of control over the sphincter muscles, producing urinary or rectal incontinence in moments of panic.
The psychic entity associated with the kidneys is zhi, or determination. One's force of will depends on the well-being of the energies of the kidneys. People who are weak, indecisive, and lacking determination tend to have deficient kidney energy.
One of the functions of kidney jing is to produce marrow, which in turn nourishes the bones and ensures the growth and proper development of the skeleton. When the kidneys function properly, in Taoist terms, ossification is healthy, and the fontanels (the membranous intervals in the incompletely ossified cranial bones of the infant) close as they should with age. Deficiencies of the kidneys result in lumbago, fragile bones, defective growth (rickets), and stiff, weak joints, especially those of the knees. People with insufficient kidney jing axe prone to dental cavities during their early years. Constant dental problems indicate a deficiency of jing.

In traditional Chinese medicine, the eyes depend on the liver, although not exclusively: they also depend on the kidneys. Indeed, jing expresses itself through the radiance of the pupils. Dilated pupils indicate kidney deficiencies or intoxication. Bags under the eyes denote an insufficiency of kidney qi and a problem in the management of body fluids.

As the Neijing says, "The qi of the kidneys circulates through the ears and when the kidneys are in fullness, the ear can hear the Five Sounds." According to Taoists, ringing in the ears and a diminution of auditory faculties are signs of weak kidney energy.

The central nervous system is nourished by various marrows, and thus by kidney jing. Neurological diseases often have their origin in kidney disorders. For example, the neurological problems of senility are attributable to a depletion of jing; when there is insufficient jing, the marrows cannot be properly nourished. The various problems we associate with old age—loss or loosening of teeth, poor memory, hearing loss and other auditory problems, dizzy spells, and mental confusion—can be traced to the depletion of a person's jing.

A Taoist medical text explains that "the kidneys are formed even before the body of the fetus is complete." Taoists consider the kidneys to be the root of life; the weakness or strength of the kidneys is directly related to a person's longevity. Thus, for traditional Chinese medicine, the kidneys are the most important of the human body's vital organs.

The kidneys also manifest themselves in the management of body fluids, in the regulation of breathing, and in processes of excretion. These subjects, however, are well beyond the scope of this work on sexuality, and we will thus not pursue them here.

According to Chinese medicine, hair represents a surplus of the blood. The blood nourishes the hair, but it is kidney jing that hydrates it and gives it vitality and shine. It is therefore possible to assess the general state of the kidneys by the appearance of the hair. Drab, lifeless hair and abnormal hair loss, including premature baldness and alopecia, are signs of possible kidney disorder. The appearance of gray hair, on the other hand, is a sign of the progressive depletion of jing, the result of aging. Afflictions of the scalp are therefore treated through interventions aimed at the blood and the kidneys.


Jing is responsible for procreation, and a deficiency of jing can cause sterility. The kidneys' yin qi, by producing ancestral energy (yuancji), harnesses the fundamental energy of incarnation known as chiang.

In women, the kidneys control the uterus and ensure that conception takes place as it should. The normal functioning of the kidneys also allows a regular menstrual cycle and, together with the liver and the spleen, ensures its proper progression.

Kidney yang (also called the "fire of the mingmen" and the "fire of the dragon") governs sexual desire and the libido. An intemperate sex life weakens the kidneys and over the long run will diminish jing, the precious treasure of the xia dantian.

If a man's kidney and liver energies are normal, his erection—a function that involves the muscles (or, from the Taoist perspective, the sinews)—will also be normal. If there is an insufficiency of either of these two energies, the man will not be able to achieve a complete erection. Kidney yang also controls the sperm barrier, • which permits ejaculation at the proper time, in other words, at the moment of orgasm. Weak kidney yang can result in incomplete erections, the inability to have an erection, or a loss of control over the sex act, which can cause premature ejaculation or nocturnal emissions. Young men who masturbate excessively jeopardize their future sexual potential and diminish their jing by drawing prematurely on vital reserves. For people in their middle years, too, having sexual relations too frequently and overindulging in alcohol will affect the store of vital potential and invariably diminish precious jing. The problem is less worrisome for young men: they can have sexual relations every night (excluding masturbation) without damaging their kidneys, and a good night's sleep will give them sufficient rest to recharge their energy. Additionally, for a young couple, the frequency of their sexual relations will be moderated as a matter of course by the temporary halt occasioned by the woman's period.

In women, an insufficiency of yang fire in the kidneys can be at the origin of a cold energy in the lower abdomen, kidneys, and vagina, and this can cause frigidity and an aversion to sex altogether. Taoists are of the belief that this coldness can be detected by an experienced partner and can somehow be measured by the penis at the moment of penetration.

An insufficiency of kidney yin or of "kidney water" will give rise to frequent and urgent urination, with scanty and concentrated (cloudy or milky) urine.
To bring to a close, this broad overview of the physio-pathology of the kidneys, an organ that is much more important than Western medicine is inclined to think, we will underscore the interdependent nature of the body's organs, the viscera, or zang organs, and the bowels, or fu organs. It is essential that they be understood in their interdependence: their functions complement and rely on one another in one grand movement that is both orderly and precise— the cycle of the Five Evolutive Elements. That is how the Chinese of ages past described the general homeostasis of the body. To us this may seem a remarkable achievement for a time when medical technology did not exist. The language is different, but many general theoretical characteristics of ancient practices can be found in modern medicine.
In theory, all the organs—the viscera and the bowels— can influence one another. That is why pathologies tend to be compound and complex, with symptoms that intermingle and intersect with one another to form the symptom complexes (bian zheng) with which students of traditional Chinese medicine are familiar.
Without perfect knowledge of this physiopathology (bian zheng), the diagnostic basis of traditional Chinese medicine, no lasting, holistic treatment—only symptomatic relief, at best—can take place.

To summarize, from the Taoist perspective the kidneys are the most important organs of the body and must be given particular attention. Sexual excesses and abusing one's sexuality will in general provoke a weakening of kidney qi, which manifests itself through feelings of depression and chronic fatigue; lower-back pain (lumbago) and stiffness of the vertebrae; ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and diminished vision; heart palpitations; headaches with dizziness; weakness in the knee joints; and excessive perspiration. These symptoms indicate that the nourishing of the kidneys through the Taoist sexual method needs to begin as soon as possible. The pathologies that are traditionally associated with the kidneys and that have a sexual component will be detailed in the next two chapters.

Taoists are masters at the art of pulse taking. This art of diagnosing energy disorders is a difficult one; here are the • observations of Wang Shuhe, author of The Pulse Classic, the standard work on the art of pulse taking, on this subject:
Deficiency of yin is revealed by the absence of the kidney pulse. The following are its signs or symptoms: feelings of heat in the soles of the feet, pains in the hips and the pelvis, loss of jing and fatigue.

Yin in excess is indicated by a forceful kidney pulse. Its symptomatic signs are mental confusion, distraction, ringing in the ears.

By applying heavy pressure with the fingers, the kidney pulse is found at the left radial artery close to the bone, about one thumb width above the styloid process, toward the elbow. The strength of the mingmen is measured on the other side of the body, on the right radial artery.

In traditional Chinese medicine, taking the pulse at the radial artery is one of the most important of the four steps, or Four Examinations, that constitute the physician's di-agnostic inspection of the patient. In China, to say "I'm going to have my pulse taken" is simply another way of saying that one is going to the acupuncturist or herbalist. Pulse taking requires training and experience. The basic treatises on this aspect of Chinese medical diagnostics describe nearly thirty different types of pulses.

The pulse can be taken at different places on the body, and the Neijing, alluding to the three traits of the trigram yijing, speaks of the pulse of heaven, the pulse of man, and the pulse of the earth. In actual practice, the pulse is taken on each wrist at the radial artery in three different positions. The patient rests his hand on a table, relaxing the muscles of the forearm, while the therapist feels the radial pulse with the fleshy part of his index finger, resting it on the following three pulse points: the "thumb" pulse, located toward the fold of the wrist; the "barrier" pulse, which is felt by pressing on the bony protrusion known as the styloid process; and the "elbow" pulse, located on the other side of the styloid process, toward the elbow. Each position lies one thumb width away from the previous one.

Let us now turn to the relation between the pulse and sexuality. In general, the elbow pulse of both arms represents the energy of the Lower Burner, in other words, the activity of the organs whose functions are believed to center in the area below the navel: the kidneys, urinary bladder, and intestines. But in traditional medicine, the activity of the kidneys is associated with that of the genital organs and the mingmen, the Door of Destiny, and the kidneys, related to the element fire, are closely linked to the adrenal glands and original essence (jing). Therefore, it is at the elbow that we look for information about a person's sex life.

The pulse can be felt at different levels, or depths: close to the surface, with slight pressure of the finger on the radial artery, or at a deep level, close to the bone. Specialists can feel the pulse at other, intermediate levels.
A classic seventeenth-century work on Chinese pulse theory, Basic Studies of Acupuncture, gives the following correlations of pulses with symptom complexes:

Left radial pulse—third (elbow) position (deep)
• Slow pulse (fewer than four beats per respiratory cycle, i.e., one inhalation and one exhalation): In men, this corresponds to thin, clear sperm, weak sexual energy, extreme kidney deficiency, and diarrhea not attributable to other causes. In women, it indicates a "cold uterus"— lack of sexual desire and difficulties in conceiving.
• Minute pulse, deep and intermittent: extreme deficiency of energy. In men, this translates into nonorgasmic involuntary seminal emissions (spermatorrhea) or blood in the urine (hematuria). In women, this kind of pulse is associated with vaginal bleeding and painful periods.
• Very deep pulse: genital sores, inflammation of the delicate genital tissues and membranes.
• Soggy pulse: risk of miscarriage, vaginal blood loss.
• Hidden pulse (the pulse cannot be felt with the finger): absence of sexual energy and desire, heat in the feet (extreme deficiency of yin and yang).
Right radial pulse—third (elbow) position (deep)
• Choppy pulse (the pulse feels rough and bumpy beneath the finger): exhausted sexual energy.
• Long, full, moderate pulse: In men, it is a sign of healthy virility. In women, this pulse is a sign of pregnancy; if the pulse is "round," it means the child will be a boy; if it is "sharp," the child will be a girl. • Slow pulse (fewer than four beats per respiratory cycle): the mingmen is weak (see above for a discussion of the mingmen, or Vital Gate).

Taoists think that curbing one's sexual relations is one of the most effective ways to nourish and fortify the kidneys. This approach, however, tends to be more appropriate for monks and ascetics. Fortunately, there are other ways to nourish the kidneys so as to enhance one's sexual capacities. They include toning the kidneys' yin and yang energies and regulating the digestive system through the practice of health exercises (qigong), work on the life breath, and diet and herbal therapy.
Kidney-strengthening exercises help to combat the following ailments and symptoms: chronic fatigue subsequent to a protracted illness; loss of vitality and virility; lower-back pains and lumbago; bone disorders of all sorts (decalcification, etc.); ringing in the ears and hearing loss due to factors other than injury; lack of determination; depression and generalized apprehension and anxiety; and kidney and bladder problems.

Yin and yang need to be balanced for new potential to be born; this is true for all living things—plants, animals, and human beings. But most people know the sex act only as something that causes excitation; they have no idea of the many potential dangers that lie hidden behind an act that appears so natural and harmless.
Deaths that occur during sexual intercourse (usually from heart attack or stroke) attest to the strength of the energies that the sex act brings into play. One hears of this kind of occurrence not only in traditional accounts but even today. Ancient legends insist that people who die under such circumstances are transformed into lecherous ghosts, ever in search of sexual union, which, because they are incorporeal, they can never obtain. The risk of coming to such an end actually depends on the health of the kidneys and the cardiovascular system. Excessive use of aphrodisiacs is also believed to increase this risk.

Nourishing the kidneys means working to keep these organs in good shape, even before the first signs of weakness manifest themselves. It is a matter not of taking aphrodisiacs and stimulants but of consuming traditional formulas that belong to the category of tonics. Aphrodisiacs, especially synthetic ones, do nothing but overstimulate such organs as the kidneys, the heart, and the liver and have undesirable side effects that can take forms other than those described above. Toning the kidneys is a long-term effort that involves traditional herbal therapy, proper diet, health exercises (qigong), and a healthful lifestyle.
There are certain warning signs that mean the process of toning the kidneys must not be put off any longer. For men these include involuntary seminal emissions, incomplete or limp erections, a noticeable diminishment of libido, and premature ejaculation. For women these signs include lack of sexual feelings during intercourse, feelings of cold in the abdomen and uterus, and absence of vaginal orgasm.

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