Stillness is Work!
Lazy is great. Don’t be afraid to indulge in slowing down. We need it!
Society pushes us to wear our stress as a badge of honour, proving how busy we are. We’re pushed to multitask and stay in constant communication. In today’s fast-paced world, our yang is in overdrive from constant stimulation, while yin is diminished because there are no pauses. The majority of the imbalances, diseases, injuries and pathologies that I see in patients are a result of overwork, worry, exhaustion and a failure to slow down.
In particular, people often experience a “crash” at the end of the year, around the holidays, after exhausting every bit of energy to finish year-end deadlines and dive into holiday preparations and celebrations. There’s no balance; our holidays are often not very relaxing!
What it looks like
In Western medicine, you might get a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue, while in TCM, it’s considered a kidney Qi deficiency, more specifically a kidney yang deficiency leading to a kidney yin deficiency. Let me explain how this works...
In TCM, the adrenal glands are part of the water element and relate to kidney Qi. The kidneys determine the length and quality of your life, by regulating yin/yang and water metabolism, as well as an array of other important Qi functions.
Yin Qi is resetting, calming and gentle, which relates to the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and healing. It relies on cortisol as the yin hormone to buffer the effects of stress.
Conversely, yang Qi is active and stimulatory, which is connected to the sympathetic nervous system and is driven by estrogen and testosterone as well as adrenaline and norepinephrine. These last two are commonly known as our “fight or flight” hormones because they are released in times of extreme stress and regulate the body’s ability to combat imminent physical danger.
When we are stressed, cortisol production shoots up, peaks and then falls dramatically as the adrenal glands become exhausted, no longer able to secrete cortisol to keep up with the body’s demands. This process throws the balance of yin and yang into a state of yang Qi deficiency. A common issue that afflicts many people in Western society is the overstimulation of the “fight or flight” response to non-danger triggers—basically, the high stresses of our everyday lives. This overstimulation leads to chronic adrenal fatigue and eventual kidney yin Qi deficiency.
The kidney’s state of yang Qi deficiency can manifest itself through a wide range of symptoms. They include depression, anxiety, mood imbalances, irritability, weight gain, insulin resistance, increased glucose levels, chronic fatigue, decreased sexual function, low thyroid function, weak back and knees, insomnia, light headedness, cold limbs, asthma, hair loss, urinary issues, poor memory, bags or circles around the eyes, forgetfulness, irregular menstrual cycle, lack of stamina and endurance, difficulty with urination, and a cold sensation in the knees and back. Basically, over time, kidney yang Qi deficiency causes our bodies to break down.
Eventually this leads to yin deficiency, too! When the body is undergoing an early stage of stress, it produces more cortisol. But in prolonged stages, the secretion of cortisol is diminished. This lack of cortisol now becomes a kidney yin Qi deficiency. The adrenals are exhausted from the overproduction of cortisol and now cannot produce enough cortisol to meet the body’s demands from stress. This is often manifested by signs of chronic fatigue, nausea, weight loss, muscle weakness, abdominal pain, soreness and weakness of lumbar region and knees, dizziness, tinnitus, hearing problems, dry mouth and throat, heat in the palms and chest, spontaneous sweating and constipation.
So what can we do about it?
Yin nourishment—meaning rest, relaxation and recovery time—is so important! If you cultivate your yin Qi, your adrenals and immune system will be strong enough to support the body’s functions. The act of stillness or slowing down aids in reducing the excess release of stress hormones; it allows for the body’s yin to replenish in order to nourish our body from the inside out. When we are still, we’re doing the hard work of actual healing and rebuilding. Our bodies are really busy at the cellular and energetic levels. We need to let our bodies rest so they can do their hardest work!
Western medicine recommends 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on a daily basis for heart health and an array of other benefits. I would say we need to take just as much time for the act of being still, as a necessary contribution to healthy living and disease prevention. We need to make room for laziness as a normal part of our routine.
In several parts of the world, it’s normal to take a “siesta,” which means resting or taking a nap in the middle of the day in order to reboot. This practice is in alignment with the idea of using stillness and slowing down to nourish and cultivate your yin. It’s about balance. Pacing yourself.
We might not all be able to take a mid-afternoon nap. But we can find other opportunities to nourish stillness.
Take a pause right now and notice your posture, your breath, the speed at which you are going about a task. Try to work into your daily routine a practice of stopping the usual grind to observe what your body is telling you and where you may be holding tension. This is a first step toward developing a clearer awareness of when you need to rest.
Yang adrenaline gives us the ability to react to both normal and emergency situations, and yin cortisol minimizes the effects of stress on the body. When we’re both exercising and resting, or facing stress but also using calm-inducing techniques such as breath work, these two hormones give us the very core of balance.
You have the opportunity to change and adjust your approach at any time. Why not now? Who is telling you not to, and what is their agenda? Happiness in life will not come from doing what you believe others want you to do; it comes from letting your Qi guide you. Listen to what your body is telling you and learn what you can do to improve the quality of your everyday life.
It’s never too late to start. You can put yourself first and connect with your body in a way you’ve never known. When you make an effort to cultivate your peaceful yin energy, you’ll realize relaxation and stillness are there for the taking; they have always been there. They’re just waiting for you to let go and rest.