In Chinese Medicine there are four basic substances we attempt to balance: Qi, Blood, Yin and Yang. Qi and Blood are probably obvious, qi is the energetic material component of the body and blood represents all the blood and menstrual blood of the body. Yin and yang are lesser known substances though familiar concepts.
Conceptually yin is rest, slowness, the feminine, quiet, heavy. Conceptually yang is moving, active, buoyant, rising, masculine, forceful, light. Materially yin is the fluids of the body. From a western perspective you might think of them as lymph, cerebral spinal fluid, blood, synovial fluid, etc. Materially yang would be energetic, imagine the force behind the qi or fluids in the body.
These are tough concepts to explain to patients because they are simplistic and our society has a hard time believing that complications could arise from simple notions. But think of a varicose vein. A varicose vein is caused by insufficient blood and qi. If there had been the necessary blood and qi to keep blood flowing smoothly in the vein there never would have been a blockage.
As an acupuncturist three of the four substances are easy to treat. Moxa is a great adjunct therapy to deeply warm and build qi and yang in the body. Chinese herbs and diet are great at nourishing the blood. But yin, yin is excruciating to nourish.
If you are one of my patients you may have heard me talk about building fluids in your body. Because my practice is very heavily female-focused, I spend a lot of my time nourishing yin. Women are all about fluids. Men don’t menstruate, lactate or grow babies inside of them. Men for the most part hold on to their liquids much better than women. Luckily, women hold on to their qi better than men, so we’re even.
How does one know their yin is weak?
- Scanty periods
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal Dryness
- Postpartum depression
- Vivid dreams or nightmares
- Dry skin or hair
- Running warm or hot after a lifetime of always feeling cold
What does yin do in the body?
Yin is the fluid component of the body, moistening and cooling the energetics of the physical self. The yin is the synovial fluid that supports the joints, it is the fluid in the disks of the spine, it is the moisture that plumps up muscles and skin, it is the coolness that keeps the mind from racing and allows us to sweat in tiny, imperceptible amounts to regulate o
ur temperature. Even though it is slow moving and subtle, the yin keeps us balanced and stable.
How does one build yin? How do we make and save the fluids we need?
The answer is very complicated and challenging. The fastest way to nourish the yin would be to go on a month long vacation somewhere quiet and read books all day. On that vacation one would need to sleep deeply between 8pm and 6am every night. After about a month of this level of rest the yin would start to show significant improvement. Surprisingly enough, most of my patients are not interested in this very simple and inexpensive healing technique.
Most women have depleted their fluids by working too hard, sleeping too little and doing too much in a day. The classic sign of the fluids being damaged is someone who is so wired they don’t remember the sensation of tired. They use caffeine and nervous energy to accomplish their long to-do lists and have a tendency to get sick on vacations when their body slows down for a full day.
Chinese Herbs do work wonders with nourishing and supplementing the yin and my patients see very impressive results when I put them on my best yin tonic formulas. However they could do it at home for free.
Lifestyle Changes to Nourish The Yin
- Fall asleep before 10pm
- Sleep in a very dark room on an empty stomach
- Wake without an alarm clock every day
- Limit screen time during the day, avoid it after 5pm
- Avoid rushing
- Take a nap every day
- Hydrate the body with water, limit caffeine, avoid coffee, forget soda exists
- Eat a fattening diet (full fat organic dairy, avocado, good oils, nuts, organic and local meats)
- Surround yourself with people you love
- Limit fearful moments (ie. caution around scary movies, driving in intense weather, being in crowded or loud places)
- Commute by walking or riding your bicycle
- Grow some of your own food
- Be in nature every day
- Be out of cellphone range as often as possible
- Be in nature so deep you can’t hear road noises as often as possible
- Participate in slow moving or still activities
- Create moments without any activity at all to just experience stillness
- Try not to think about work when not at work
- Stay fully in the present moment
- Practice gratitude
- Stay at home in the evening hours
The best diet suggestion for nourishing the yin is making bone stock or broth at home. This is the perfect metaphor for a yin behavior. Find good quality organic bones with marrow still inside and put in a big stockpot with lots of water and a dash of vinegar. Bring to a boil and then simmer at a low boil for hours. The bones eventually will weaken and leak their essence into the broth. Strain the liquid at the end and make into soup or drink as a broth. What to do with all the cooking time, stay home and read a book, journal, talk to a friend, do a puzzle, play cards or sit and look out the window.
It is the lack of stillness in our lives that throws us off balance. We do need both the yang activity of life and the yin restfulness in life in order to stay healthy. How can you fit more stillness and quiet in your life? How can you secure some yin time in the next week?