by Nichole Santoro, LAc
The great minds of ancient China, including philosophers like Lao Tzu, and medical practitioners like Zhang Zhong Jing, recognized that life and health depend on a dynamic balance between opposing yet complimentary forces. The terms yin and yang are used to represent this relationship and to describe the continual process of natural change. When there is harmony, yin supports yang and yang protects yin. Our culture tends to value and reward manifestations of the yang including what is hot, male, outgoing, growing, active, displaying, spending, consuming, aggressive, rational, conscious and focused. Yin provides the counter balance to yang activity, for recovery and refueling. If we only praise and encourage the activity without understanding its source, we are in danger of neglecting or over-consuming the elements of which we are unconscious. Yin is substantial, cohesive and gives depth and weight. It is feminine, passive, open, yielding and hidden. Left to itself, yin is static and will flow downward with gravity. Because it gathers, collects and stores- it nourishes and sustains life. It is the abundant valley of the world. This balance is seen when we recognize that the dormant, restorative winter engenders the energy of the spring or, the deep subconscious creativity that gives rise to the inspirations of the conscious mind, or that just getting a good night sleep helps us to be on-point the next day. By nurturing our yin side we are able to be our best selves when the time comes. Reserves of yin and yang both decline naturally with age.
Women are naturally more yin as we have the ability to receive and birth new life. Because of this women are more impacted when yin declines. The transition into menopause is the hallmark time when reproductive hormones (yin substances) start to decline and impact a whole host of systems in the body. This collectively manifests in “Yin deficiency” symptoms such as hot flashes, sweating at night, flushed cheeks and dryness of skin, hair, eyes and mouth. Physically it may become more difficult to relax and rest even to the point of insomnia. The physical signs are usually more advanced, while the early signs are more emotional and psychological. By being mindful of nourishing our yin we are able to ease the transition into the menopausal period with fewer symptoms and more grace.
Follow these tips to help you conserve your resources, nourish your yin and age gracefully. The younger you start- the better!
- Turn your brain off. Forcing use of the intellect, especially at night, will eventually drain the yin. If you have a mentally demanding job it is imperative to balance that heightened activity with some kind of meditation.
- Put the brakes on caffeine and other stimulants. The use of stimulants definitely drains our reserves. At first forcing the energy feels exciting but as our reserves dwindle, we need more stimulants just to get out of bed in the morning.
- Find the balance with your exercise. For many of us the simplest way to conserve yin is by refraining from certain activites. This will naturally happen and we should honor the change and not think of ourselves as weak when we don’t have the energy to say, run or play sports like we used to. Engaging in activities like yoga, Tai-Chi, swimming and walking are great ways to slow down a bit, but still get the physical stimulus we need.
- Give it up to the universe. We can’t control everything and often time people work themselves up with worry, anger and frustration. The way we use our minds and emotions has a strong effect on our hormones and therefore our store of yin. Strong emotion or incessant thinking takes a toll on our resources over time and has physical effects.
- Use the right foods to fuel you. Yin tonifying foods are moistening and cooling. They include very nutritious foods such as creatures and plants from the seabed, various meats, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans and moist and cooling fruits. Specific foods include; apple, pear, avocado, banana, cheese, clam, duck, egg, honey, kidney and black bean, malt, mango, oyster, pomegranate, royal jelly, seaweed, sesame, spinach, sweet potato, tofu and watermelon.
- Find the right herbal tonics for you. Yin tonics promote flesh and fluids, plumping up the tissues and moistening and soothing the mucus membranes. They promote healthy blood formation and help to regenerate skin, bones and brain tissue. The tonic herbs are a concentrated form of nutrition that exceed the ability of food to build reserve energy beyond our everyday energy needs. Tonics should only be prescribed by an herbalist who will take into account your unique health picture
Finding the balance between yin and yang and knowing how to nurture both is the key to health of body, mind and spirit. For a holistic approach to aging gracefully, stop in for a visit!