Back-to-school, back to extracurricular activities, back to rush-hour traffic and shorter days; add in tricky family dynamics and the turkey coma of Thanksgiving and the tension can quickly pile up.
Understanding our yin/yang balance shows us how holiday events make many of us feel overwhelmed and stressed – and what we can do to find our anchor so we can enjoy it instead.
Yin & Yang
You’ve probably heard of yin and yang. These are two opposing and interdependent energies in Chinese Medicine responsible for all functions in the body – at the cell level to the whole person. Yang energy is linked to the sun: heat, expansion, activity, the masculine and the exterior. While yin energy is associated with the moon: coolness, contraction, stillness, the feminine and the interior. Just as sunny days are balanced by periods of rain, the (dynamic) balance of yin and yang determines the health of our body.
Our Yang Life
Our culture is predominantly yang: we work more, stay up longer hours, have lights and electronics on all day and night; we’re pressured to be ‘more productive’ and ‘get ahead’. In addition, many of our common coping strategies like coffee and screen-time tip the scales even further off balance. These activities suppress yin energy so we’re left with too much yang symptoms: anxiety, headaches, high blood pressure, heart burn, acne, PMS, hot flashes and insomnia.
To balance this excessive yang life, we need to build yin. When yin is robust, it anchors the energetic nature of yang. So we are energetic and engaged instead of hyperactive or anxious.
So how do we build yin? Activities that allow you to slow down and help you “go with the flow” nourish yin: making or listening to music, dancing, yoga, journaling, daydreaming, letting your mind wander. Observing nature is definitely one of my favourite yin activities: watching waves form by the shore, noticing the leaves on trees just barely moving with the wind, appreciating all the colours of a sunset, making out the shapes inside the moon (can you see the rabbit in there?) or marveling at how long it takes for a tiny snail to drink a drop of water. (More on the life lessons from my pet snail another time 🙂
Obstacles to Building Yin
In our society, stillness (a yin promoting activity) is rarely reinforced or rewarded. In fact, we often have to be very intentional about making room for it in our lives and protect that valuable time. I’ve seen huge clinical benefits when yin is replenished (with herbs, activities, etc.) benefitting moods, indigestion and fertility.
Look for opportunities to build yin every day for at least a few minutes. For example, instead of eating on-the-go, park the car in a spot with a nice view and eat lunch there.
When re-balancing yin and yang, I know I’m heading in the right direction when I feel calmer and less frazzled. I start to notice how strange and beautiful everything is. In the beginning, you might find yourself looking for distractions like looking for something to watch on TV or checking social media. Those are not yin activities but taking note of where your mind wanders and what feelings come up is a good start. Meditation is the ultimate yin activity since you’re sitting still and simply observing your experience (without trying to “fix things”). You can read about my Buddhist meditation adventure here which includes simple steps to try it on your own.
For those with a “go-go-go” lifestyle, many find acupuncture helpful in slowing down. Acupuncture treatments help flip that switch in our nervous system from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’ – from yang to yin, so patients often feel relaxed and refreshed afterwards.
A boat that isn’t anchored is pushed away by the gentlest wind and wave. Replenishing yin levels helps to reestablish your anchor; so instead of being overwhelmed by them, you can enjoy the wind and waves of the holidays.
Wishing everyone a cozy and healthy fall season,