By Joshua Stevens
There’s only so much juice you can squeeze out of an orange. Our bodies are no different. They’re certainly not a bottomless well of “go juice” – but often in our modern society, we treat them that way. We just keep squeezing, hoping we have enough juice for another day. What we put out every day never seems to equal what we do to rest and recover.
The philosophy of yin and yang is thousands of years old and represents balance in this respect: Outgoing energy equals in-going energy. Open a magazine (obviously you have). We are provoked every day to go farther, push harder and dig deeper. It’s even the slogan of certain companies and products. The booming energy drink industry is evidence of this as well. “It gives you wings!” Sound familiar?
The outward going energy – going to work, training, helping others – is considered yang energy. Anytime we stay up late, drink caffeine or eat something sugary we are stimulating our sympathetic nervous system to work harder. Remember, the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our fight, flight or freeze responses. This is our “get up and go” system. It allows us to push hard and even harder. A lot of us can relate to this as our normal way of doing things. Interestingly, this energy system is also known as the male energy.
The yin energy is the inward flowing support we need to rest and relax. Our parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for this activity. Sleeping fully and deeply for eight-plus hours each night, taking a bath and eating fresh vegetables all support this system. When we take a day or two off of training each week, this allows our bodies to recover physically. When we take a breather during a stressful time, this helps us to calm down and gain perspective. This is the power of the yin energy cycle in the human body. It is often our missing ingredient in an otherwise yang day and is also known as the female side of the energy scale.
You can see that we, as a culture, are a yang society. We go and go until something tragic slows us down. We no longer listen to our body’s language of signs and symptoms to slow down and recover. We simply take a pill to quell the body’s cries for help. We gulp caffeine until our cries for rest and sleep are only a faint whimper. It is well understood that we are the most under-vacationed modern nation on Earth. I believe this is a major reason we have such a propensity for injury and degenerative health conditions in our country. We do not have enough yin.
The moral of the tale of the balance of the yin and yang is not simply moderation in all things. We need more yin in our bodies and society. It is obvious we need more rest. It’s obvious we need more relaxation. We do not need to push ourselves over the edge at every opportunity.
Yes, it can be useful to push ourselves. Look around at your life and at society. See what has been accomplished by doing so. But also observe that we need to make room for periods of intense downtime and reflection. We would all be much more satisfied with what we see in our lives and community if we did so.
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Joshua Stevens, D.C., is a holistic chiropractor in Chapel Hill and Durham where he utilizes chiropractic, acupuncture, detoxification, nutrition, and cold laser therapy with patients. A two-time Ironman finisher, he focuses on racing cyclocross and mountain bikes … much easier!