I’d like to touch upon the concept of Yin & Yang – the principles of The Feminine and The Masculine – to relate to the human body and our health and well-being. Although these terms are taken from the Chinese system of medicine, similar principles exist in Ayurveda. I find them incredibly useful in speaking to patients about both the energetic and symbolic aspects of our nature. Both of these energies exist within all of us, regardless of gender. Yang is the active, masculine, fiery, energizing principle. It relates to “doing.” Yin is the stable, feminine, watery, building principle. It relates to “nourishing.”In order to experience good health, we need both. In our Yang-obsessed culture, the overwhelming majority of the imbalances I treat have to do with patients who have become depleted as a result of over-activity, or the Yang/doing/masculine principle, and underemphasis on the Yin/nourishing/feminine principle.
When we go out into the world to work, run errands, exercise, etc. we are engaging the Yang/Masculine aspects of our being. When we rest, meditate, sleep, take a relaxing vacation or receive bodywork, we are embracing the Yin/Feminine aspects of our being. The issue facing so many of us today is that we are living in societies moving at warp speed and are bombarded by constant stimulation. Dr. Claudia Welch, Ayurvedic Practitioner and doctor of Chinese Medicine, refers to this as the “Stress Epidemic.” This epidemic is having a catastrophic impact on the overall health and well-being of our society. Despite our best efforts and the realization that we need more rest and rejuvenation, several of the following scenarios may prevent us from doing so:
- We believe we don’t have the time, money or lifestyle to do so
- We have a core belief that we must be constantly “productive” to be valuable
- Our minds have been moving at such a fast pace that we feel physiologically unable to slow down and take the rest we need
- We believe that if we stop moving, everything will “fall apart”
- We believe that “productivity” is equal to “doing” and don’t value the creative potential that results from engaging in more Yin activities
How many times have you asked someone how they are (or vice versa) and the answer was, “Good…busy!”? Overwhelming busy-ness has in many ways become a badge of honor and is often connected to our sense of self-worth. On a more serious level, it can be symptomatic of a lack of connection with our deeper self.
So, we’re busy and stressed a lot of the time. How does this impact us physiologically? As Dr. Welch points out in her book Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, Yang is a reducing principle and Yin is about building, restoring and creating substance. We need both to survive and experience good health. When we engage the Yang energy in an imbalanced ratio relative to Yin energy, we are in a state of constantly reducing or depleting the body and mind. This leads to mental and physical exhaustion and sets the groundwork for a myriad of diseases to manifest in the body.
On a deeper level, this calls us to consider our respect and appreciation for The Feminine and what it symbolizes. As individuals do we respect (through thought, speech and action) nourishment, food, emotional comfort, silence, rest, and rejuvenation? Does our society respect these aspects of being, and if not, how can we begin to cultivate this respect for The Feminine principle in our culture once again? The answer is…by starting with ourselves. Here are a few ways in which you can renew your connection to The Feminine:
- Eat with consciousness, in a calm environment without distraction
- Take a moment to give gratitude for your food and for those who made your meal possible, or say grace before meals
- Begin a meditation practice
- Take several short breaks (5-10 mins) throughout the workday in which you disconnect from your computer, phone, etc., and simply relax
- Be in nature
- Spend time with people who are emotionally supportive
- Receive bodywork
- Do Restorative or Yin Yoga
- Practice silence
- Do self-massage with oil (Abhyanga)
- Go to bed by 10pm and sleep for as many hours as is best for your Ayurvedic mind-body type
- Take a restful vacation or go on a retreat
- Fast from your computer, phone, iPad, etc. at least one day/week
- Spend time near an ocean, lake, river, stream
The familiar symbol of Yin and Yang illustrates how without one, the whole could not exist. This is true for our own health as well as the health of our society and entire world. When we take small steps in our own lives to respect our need for both The Masculine and The Feminine, we are indeed helping to tip the scales in the direction of collective healing.