The Kidneys and Stress

If you have been to any of our Seasonal Flow classes at Oceanflow Yoga, you may have noticed that we talk about supporting our kidneys… A lot! There is very good reason for this, especially in Winter.

Physically our kidneys do an amazing job. They constantly filter and purify our blood, getting rid of anything the body no longer needs and nasty toxins that could harm us if they were left inside the body. The rate of filtration is approximately 125 ml/min or 45 gallons (180 liters) each day. Considering that you have 7 to 8 liters of blood in your body, this means that your entire blood volume gets filtered approximately 20 to 25 times each day!

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the kidneys are said to be the ‘Minister of Power’ and is regarded as the body’s most important reservoir of essential energy. The original prenatal energy (yuan chee) which forms the basis of life is stored in the kidney organ-energy system, which is why the kidneys are also known as the ‘Root of Life’. A nice way to think of them is as if they are rechargeable batteries in the small of our backs! When we get tired and are giving out too much energy our battery charge is low and we can be left feeling fatigued, emotionally and physically drained. We can help recharge our batteries and restore energy by taking time to rest, eat well and doing yoga! Restorative and Seasonal Yoga are particularly beneficial. This is especially important in the Winter when the need to support the kidneys (and the bladder) is at its highest.

So how do the kidneys relate to stress? These organs house our adrenal glands, triangle structures which sit neatly on top. The adrenal glands are essential for life. They secrete a number of hormones that prepare our bodies to respond to stress. These include adrenalin, also called epinephrine, noradrenalin, also called norepinephrine, cortisol and cortisone. The adrenal glands also produce aldosterone, oestrogens, testosterone, progesterone, pregnenelone and DHEA. These hormones regulate many body activities and of greatest importance is that the adrenal hormones, particularly adrenalin and cortisol, activate the body’s fight-or-flight response. Adrenal fatigue is caused by overwork due to too much stresses coming from physically, emotionally and psychologically and often occurs when people are stressed out at work or home. During periods of excessive stress, our adrenal glands become overworked and produce excess levels of cortisol in response to the body’s fight or flight response. This prevents the adrenal glands from producing other hormones we need causing many physical and emotional issues due to hormonal imbalance. Too much stress can damage the kidneys and even cause kidney disease.

Changing our diet can have a significant impact on reducing the symptoms of adrenal fatigue and help strengthen our kidneys to feel more energised . In particular, changing when and how much we eat during the day can produce some positive results. Instead of eating three big meals per day, small meals spaced out more frequently during the day can help. We should also eat foods that nurture the kidney. These include pork, sprouts, eggs, beans, barley, sardines, cheese and blueberries. Other foods that may help our kidney yin deficiency include black beans, kidney beans, black sesame seeds, walnuts, asparagus, sweet potato, string beans, celery, parsley, grapes and plums. In addition, we should consider avoiding heavily sugared sodas, alcohol, and highly salted foods. Smokers should try to stop or at least cut down on their intake of tobacco. And by all means, stress and other emotional strains should be avoided, if possible.

Taking a Seasonal Yoga class or trying Tai Chi and Qi Gong helps recharge the kidney and adrenal energy by working with the organ’s energy channels (meridian or nadi), stretching along them and stimulating the organ itself. So for kidneys we stimulate the base of the meridian at the ball of the foot – have a dig around, it’s quite tender when you find this pressure point! In yoga, we stretch through the inner thighs and front body in poses such as Warrior 1, Cobra and Triangle and get into deep twists to squeeze the kidneys to send fresh blood and nutrients, helping to detox and strengthen. Taking soft fists and massaging the kidneys every morning for a couple of minutes is a wonderful way to wake up the body and promote free movement and restoration of kidney energy.

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