In Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin yang, often referred to in the west as yin and yang, is used to describe how opposing forces are interconnected, and focuses on the idea of balance, e.g. dark and light, female and male, low and high, cold and hot. Everything in life has both yin and yang qualities – and healthy living is no exception.
In the modern world, often a place of confusion, chaos and clutter, we are becoming increasingly dependant on finding that crucial ‘balance’. Our bodies are like a see-saw; a stressful day at work, a sore back from poor posture, nothing to eat since breakfast six hours ago (other than four strong coffees) and a head full of negative thoughts. Call this the yang — it can tip us into a spiral of poor health that can take days, sometimes even weeks, to recover from. To balance this excessive yang we must slow down, eat well, sleep well and rehydrate – the yin.
Let’s explore just how the body and mind work, in order to achieve that perfect yin yang balance, without having to live the life of a Tibetan monk.
Living a healthy life is about stress management – both positive and negative stress. All the main areas of stress that we subject ourselves to on a daily basis have good and bad effects; we actually need a certain amount of stress to stay healthy. To achieve balance, we need to be aware of the stressors we are exposed to. The more negative stress your body is under, the more stress hormones it will produce (known as a catabolic ‘flight or fight’ state – your yang), until eventually it is no longer able to produce adequate levels of repair hormones (an anabolic state – your yin) to keep your body healthy.
Stressors can be divided into external and internal:
- External stressors include sunlight, physical pain, emotional trauma and exposure from chemicals.
- Internal stressors are the body’s natural reactions to those external stressors. For example, an unhappy relationship leading to emotional upset can very quickly manifest in physical stress, such as ulcers, which could lead to more serious diseases such as cancer.
So, what are the main types of stress and how do we balance them? There are six main areas:
- Physical stress (exercise) is required by the body to build strong bones – vital for a healthy life. However, too much exercise can suppress the immune system and potentially cause chronic fatigue, whilst not enough exercise leads to weight gain and depression.
- Chemical stress in the form of sunlight is good for the body as it produces vitamin D, helping to regulate cortisol and melatonin levels; however, we are bombarded daily with dangerous chemicals (in household and bathroom products, food, pesticides, etc) which can have a long lasting effect on poor health.
- Electromagnetic stress is good in the form of sunlight keeping us alive, but bad if we get sun burnt, or overexpose ourselves to computers, mobile phones, microwaves – all leading to physical, mental and emotional dysfunction over time.
- Mental or psychic stress is a good thing; for example studying within your chosen career with research, reports and deadlines (to achieve a particular goal) promotes mental development and positive thinking, without which the brain would not develop. However, negative thoughts can be very damaging, as can overwork, and speaking/being spoken to with negative, harsh words.
- Nutritional stress can be good and bad. Good when you eat the right food for your metabolic type, so your body can engage in the processes of digestion, assimilation and metabolising the food; but bad when you eat the wrong foods for your type, and also ingest pesticides, herbicides, and other additives found in processed foods.
- Thermal stress is good when your body can successfully regulate it’s own temperature in both cold and hot environments, but bad if you suffer from heat exhaustion or hypothermia.
Each of these stressors has an opposite – a yin and a yang. We need to encourage the positive aspects of the stressors in our everyday life and work to reduce/eliminate the negative.
How then do we manage this?
Firstly, we must be aware of exactly which stressors are affecting us in a negative manner. Try to identify the key stressors in your life. Go through those six areas described above and identify those you think are creating negative energy in your life. Often, these stem from the most basic human needs – money, relationships and food. With each stressor, make a plan that will help to improve this area of your life – do your own research; seek advice from friends, family or your health professional.
Look closely at what you are eating and drinking, as this is often the catalyst for many other stressors. It is important to eat a good balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates, adding plenty of whole foods that come from nature, and try to cut out processed/ man-made foods as much as possible. Learn to read the labels in supermarkets and take your time when you do your weekly grocery shop. The toxins and chemicals in many modern processed foods are a significant cause of many emotional and mental conditions.
Increase your water intake – we are made ud of 70% water, yet most people are dehydrated. Just by drinking more quality filtered water, many other seemingly uncontrollable stressors will be lessened. At the same time, drink less tea, coffee, alcohol and soft/fizzy drinks – all these are associated with mental and physical degeneration.
Exercise is key to a healthy, balanced you. Like food though, exercise must be prescribed according to your individual needs. Trying to lose weight only by running for an hour every day could be doing more harm than good, as we all need a mix of strength training, cardio vascular and flexibility work. Aim for 2-3 body weight or gym weights sessions a week, 4-5 days of 30 minutes interval cardio sessions and a weekly relaxation/ yoga/ pilates session. However, if you are already feeling physically and mentally stressed, do more relaxation/ deep breathing and less strength/ cardio.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of your thoughts. If your mind is awash with all the negative stressors you are trying to remove from your life, you will just be attracting these things back in to your consciousness. You must refocus your thoughts. Try writing a list of all these negative influences on a piece of paper, and then consciously throw the list in the bin. This will help your mind to dismiss everything on that list, allowing you to focus on what really matters.
Positivity is the key to a healthy life 🙂
To really achieve that perfect balance of yin and yang, we must be focusing on good things; aim to stress yourself but in a good way!
Make this a year of balance – have fun, laugh lots, sleep well, eat wisely, drink plenty of water, exercise in a sensible manner – and your body will thank you!
Reference: Paul Chek – How To Eat, Move and Be Healthy