The Yin and Yang of Daily Life

You know the feeling of being out of balance... work gets especially hectic and so there isn't enough time to cook. You resort to getting something quick on a lunch break, but hey... subway isn't as bad as N N' Out, right? You spend most of the day working at the computer but yet feel like you're rushing through everything leaving you feeling stressed and slightly overwhelmed. You get home and don't have the energy to go to the gym, so you pour a glass of wine and try to relax in front of the TV for awhile. There's hardly enough time to get the laundry done, let alone make that dentist appointment that's 12 months overdue. There's that friend from college who's call you still haven't returned, and your parents' 40th anniversary is this weekend and you still haven't bought a gift. It's no surprise that you have been exhausted, drinking 3-4 cups of coffee rather than the normal 2. Your allergies have been really bad recently and you're feeling pretty gassy these days. You know you're off kilter, but why? How did you get to this point? Maybe it's a low thyroid? Maybe you have a hormone imbalance? Your friend swears that going guten free cured all her ills. Maybe you should try that too? Or the master cleanse... maybe THAT will get you back in balance.

Not likely.

Some of the most powerful changes that we can make in our mental and physical wellbeing are some of the simplest things to do... and most easily overlooked. While there is an appropriate time for cleansing, often what our bodies are really craving is a routine- a more BALANCED routine. In order to do that, it's important to first look at our lives within the paradigm of yin and yang. These partnered qualities can be used to describe everything in our lives, from the activities we do, to the foods we eat. The two qualities are opposites, yet not mutually exclusive. Yin is the quality known as more female. It is nourishing, slow, dark, cold and solid. Sleep, seated meditation, taking a bath are all yin activities. These activities nourish us by slowing down our nervous systems so that the body and mind can rest. During yin activities, our bodies undergo the cellular repair that is necessary to stay healthy, and keep stress at bay. On the other hand there is the quality of yang (rhymes with "long"). Yang is considered the more male quality. It is active, bright, hot, energizing, and light. Running is a very yang activity. It increases your heart rate, makes your body temperature rise, and burns calories so that you can burn fat and become lighter. Mental activities can also be yang. Writing a proposal for an important client while under a strict deadline is also a yang activity. You may not be moving your body much, but your brain is working tirelessly, your stress is high causing your heart rate to increase, you may even start sweating as your body temperature rises. This mental stimulation can be energizing, but can also use up too much of your energy and end up depleting your body.

If you were to apply this paradigm to the activities of your daily life, where would you fall? Which of the two qualities- yin or yang- dominate your schedule? As an exercise, you can write down the activities of your day from the time you get up, to the time you go to bed. Do this for a typical work day, and a typical non-work day. What activities are physically active, or yang? Which activities are more sedentary or yin? Which activities are mentally taxing or very stressful, and therefore yang? Which activities are relaxing or maybe a bit boring, and therefore more yin? Most of us don't have balance in our daily lives. For some of us, there is too much yin. Take the person who sits working at a computer all day, then drives around in his car doing errands, and then finally goes home to unwind on the couch. Someone like this may have way too much mental yang and physical yin, translating into chronic fatigue, poor digestion and a few extra pounds. This person would benefit from more physical activity and mental rest. Brisk walking or jogging for 30 minutes while listening to soothing music or an interesting podcast would generate more yang physically, and more yin mentally. Or maybe he does jumping jacks and sit-ups during the commercial breaks of his favorite TV show, rather than passing over them on the DVR. For others, yang dominates our daily lives. Take the nurse who works on her feet all day, and then goes home to care for her children. Her only "me-time" is the hour at the gym every day while her child is at daycare. This woman might suffer from anxiety, insomnia, and acid reflux. What she desperately needs is some more high quality yin to nourish her mind and body. This woman would greatly benefit from breathing exercises. I recommend setting two alarms in the morning- one for the time she has to get up, and one for 15 minutes prior. I would have her rest one hand on her chest, and the other on her low belly. I would have her breathe deeply into her low belly first, feeling as her abdomen, and then her ribcage and lastly the top of her chest rise. As she exhales, she would feel the air first be released from the top of the chest, then the ribcage, followed by her abdomen, with her low belly being the last part of her body to release the breath. Such a breathing exercise is very calming for the nervous system and relaxing for the mind. It is also wonderful for promoting blood circulation to help wake up in the morning to get your day started on the right foot. Someone who is yang-dominant like this would also benefit from doing self-massage with natural warm oils. I recommend coconut oil or sunflower oil as both have natural detoxifying properties. Take 15 minutes before or after your shower- depending on how moisturized you want to be- and rub the heated oil all over your body. Spending 15 minutes a day being mindful and loving towards your body can be one of the most powerful forms of therapy- mentally and physically. Just as with anything, practicing these habits of mindfulness can inform all the activities of your daily life, making it easier for you to notice when you're dissociating from your body or pushing past emotional limits. This connection between mind and body... yin and yang... is the balance that we really need for health and wellness.

So what quality predominates your daily life? Is there a difference between your work days and non-work days? Wherever you see an inequality, you should write an activity into your schedule that will help balance the scales. I recommend actually writing it on your calendar and making this new activity non-negotiable. Over time, these things get incorporated into a routine that is natural and effortless.

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