Monday, November 11, 2013

Finding Balance: the yin with the yang

I've been away from writing for the past while. I found myself in a mid-school-year slump and was fairly deficient in life. What I mean by that was that I just felt so depleted. I've spent so much time on patient research, and reports... putting way too much pressure on myself and forgot all about balance.

I was getting palpitations, my anxiety was an everyday occurrence and although I thought I was still managing self-care, I realized (too late, mind you) that it was the wrong type of self-care.

I forgot all about balance! I was drinking 2-3 cups of coffee per day trying to perk myself up, but it wasn't working as well as it had in the past. I was running as much as I possibly could, forgetting all about my yoga.

It was a sit-down with my clinic advisor that reminded me what I was totally forgetting: The yin/yang balance of energy. And it's totally ironic because I use this model with my patients on my Chronic Fatigue/Fibromyalgia clinic shift. But we're all vulnerable to this pattern!

The Yin Yang Theory:
Yang represents movement, heat, motion, fire. It is adrenaline; masculine in nature. Whereas Yin is nurturing; it is substance, water; female in nature. Where Yang is energy and activity, Yin is matter and rest.  They are opposites, but neither can exist without the other.

For example, coffee and other stimulants are Yang in nature. So is a cardio workout (like running). Whereas sleep or a restorative workout is Yin in nature.

Although your Yang will go up and down, there are certain aspects of our lives that contribute to a depletion of Yin: overwork, poor diet (not eating enough or not eating enough nutrient-dense foods), lack of sleep, and chronic/daily stress.

So we try to get through our day with caffeine to keep us awake, or we keep busy and run around like crazy with tasks and work, but if we don't nurture the Yin side of our energy balance, we start making more and more "withdrawals" from the Yin piggy bank to make up for our spent energy on the Yang side. And over time that piggy bank gets more and more empty (or "less full" if you're an optimist). 

I recently fell into this imbalance and needed a reminder to take care of my Yin side, otherwise I'd have nothing left to give of myself and I would ultimately crash.

How to restore Yin to avoid burnout:
There are many things that we can do to help rebuild our Yin side. The key is to think "restorative". Just because Yang is motion, movement and energy doesn't mean that we have to stop exercising, but we need to balance how we exercise and how we take care of ourselves.
  • Restorative or Yin Yoga - as it is actually called. I went to a hot yoga class and felt amazing afterwards. Slow movement and deep breathing can do wonders! The best part is at the very end where you lay on your mat in the beautifully warm room and breathe. This is time for just you. Don't think of anything or anyone else. Your yoga instructor should remind you of this during your class. 
  • Qi gong - another Yin building type of exercise that matches breath work to slow and controlled movement
  • Hydrotherapy: I spent 2 hours at Body Bliss, an amazing hydrotherapy spa. But don't worry, for those of you without access to Toronto's therapeutic waters, you can easily make-shift your own at home.
    • Take a nice warm epsom salt bath. Epsom salts are made from magnesium. They help to relax your muscles, especially if you're feeling any strain.
    • Do contrast showers at home: 3-5 minutes hot water, alternating with 30 seconds as cold as you can tolerate. Repeat for 3 cycles. This will improve circulation and help boost your immune system. After the cold you can bundle yourself up in a nice warm robe or big fluffy towel and rest to allow your body temperature to regulate. 
    • Use the saunas or steam room at your gym. Just remember to end your treatment with a cold shower (at least 30 to 60 seconds). 
  • Ditch the stimulants, and drink more water, or tea like Nettle tea. It's nourishing and contains vitamins A, C, K and minerals like calcium, potassium and iron. 
  • Pace yourself. I got a little too crazy with my workouts. Running makes me feel so good that I was going for runs too often. Give yourself a break from the cardio every so often and focus on stretching or holding yoga positions. 
  • Get some sleep! There are many options out there for those who have a hard time going to sleep or staying asleep. There are botanicals (teas) and things like melatonin that can help assist your body in falling into it's natural circadian rhythm - talk to your ND about the best course of action for you.
  • Get nourishment through food. Eat nice hearty, warm foods like stews or soups. Avoid caffeine, sugar and alcohol ... though I wouldn't say no to a small glass of wine once a week :)

And lastly remember that it's always okay to say no to someone. If someone asks a favour of you and you really need time for yourself, it's okay to say no and to take care of you. Give yourself permission to rest - you don't need to justify yourself to anyone.