Feeling sluggish, irritable or achy? Chinese medicine says your yin and yang energy could be out of whack
Everyone is familiar with the swirling black and white symbol of yin and yang. It beautifully demonstrates the Chinese philosophical concept of contrary forces being interconnected and complementary – and the idea of balancing these opposing life forces forms the basis of all Chinese medicine practices.
“The ancient Chinese believed that everything in the universe is made up of qi energy, including you. Qi flows like a stream around your body, through the important energy channels or ‘meridians’ that connect all your vital organs,” explains Taoist monk and traditional Chinese practitioner and therapist David James Lees. “When your qi energy is appropriately balanced between yin and yang, and is flowing smoothly, it leads to good physical and emotional health. However, if your qi moves out of balance to either the yin or yang extremes this leads to ill-health.”
A balanced diet, mindset and lifestyle regime are all vital in helping maintain a healthy and harmonious qi energy flow. Here’s how it works…
How does yin affect the body? The yin qualities of qi energy are responsible for moistening and cooling the bodily functions, and help the body and mind to settle and rest.
Physical signs of deficiency: Dry skin, brittle hair, dry throat and eyes, night sweats and difficulty sleeping. You might also have tight and aching muscles.
Emotional signs of deficiency: Irritability, feeling unsettled and unable to relax. Sometimes feelings of frustration and anger too.
Signs of yin excess: Fatigue, depression, muscle aches, stuffy nose and fluid retention.
Foods to eat for yin deficiency: “Eat ‘cooling’ foods such as apples, bananas, pears, strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, aubergine, spinach, Swiss chard, celery, soybeans, buckwheat and sesame oil,” recommends Chinese doctor Kate Brindle (katiebrindle.com). “And also get plenty of ‘cold’ foods such as papaya, watermelon, grapefruit, tomatoes, asparagus, cucumbers, summer squash, romaine lettuce, seaweed, barley and tofu.”
Foods to avoid: “Reduce your intake of stimulating food and drinks that contain sugar, alcohol or caffeine,” suggests David, who is also the co-founder of integrative and complementary health centre Wu Wei Wisdom (wuweiwisdom.com). “Pungent foods such as chilli or ginger will help to create even more heat in your body so try to reduce these too. It’s also wise to avoid eating large meals. Yin-strengthening foods tend to block the digestive system if eaten in excess, so eat smaller meals more often.”
How does yang affect the body? The yang qualities of qi energy are responsible for stimulating and warming the body, and manifest as stamina and physical strength. When your body is yang deficient your bodily functions will begin to slow down and you’ll show signs of ‘coldness’.
Physical signs of deficiency: “If you have a yang deficiency, you’ll likely feel sluggish and not at full power,” says Kate. “You may have poor circulation and digestion, lower back pain, high blood pressure, and skin rashes or hot flushes.”
Emotional signs of deficiency: A feeling of being demotivated or a sense of hopelessness, fearfulness and an inability to cope with life’s challenges.
Foods to eat for yang deficiency: Nourishing and warming foods such as cayenne pepper, fresh and dried ginger, soybean oil, cinnamon, black pepper, chilli powder, horseradish, lamb, green or red peppers, mustard greens, onion and garlic.
Foods to avoid: “Steer clear of excessive amounts of cold or raw food such as raw salads or vegetables and chilled drinks,” says David.
In addition to eating well, stress relief remedies and gentle exercises are crucial in helping to harmonise your two opposing meridians. Here are four to try:
1. Gentle mindful exercise: “Excessive or strenuous exercise is not recommended for either a yin or yang qi deficiency,” says David. “Instead, gentle forms of exercise that also combine an element of mindfulness are great for rebalancing the qi energy of your body and mind. Qigong, tai chi, yoga and mindful walking are a few examples. Just 10-15 minutes of practice a day will help rebalance your qi energy.”
2. Breathing exercises: “Try a one-minute ‘rescue breath’ ritual,” says Kate. “This active meditation is an instant and effortless defence against stress. It restores the parasympathetic nervous system, calms the mind and heart rate, deeply oxygenates the blood and overrides any emotional negativity.” Find the ritual at hayoumethod.com.
3. Emotional self-help: “If everyday pressures leave you stressed or anxious your qi energy balance will be affected. It’s vital you explore and resolve the underlying causes of any reoccurring emotional upsets to help you build emotional resilience,” says David. “Set aside time every day to do some self-enquiry work, and dig deeper into the thoughts and beliefs that lie beneath any uncomfortable emotions.”
4. Sound healing: “Modern science now supports the ancient belief that all matter comes from vibration, and traditional Chinese medicine considers that all illness manifests from blockages of this energy, with sound used as an effective form of healing that clears stagnations and stimulates the flow of qi around the body,” says David. “During our waking state, the normal frequency of our brain waves is beta. Sound tools train the brain to move into the deeper alpha and theta brain wave frequencies. These are the frequencies that induce deep meditative and peaceful states, clarity of mind and intuition.” Find our more at wuweiwisdom.com.
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