Your alarm goes off, but the sun is still down. Most of us struggle to get up and get going as the darkest, shortest winter days draw near.
We tend to resist the fatigue with every fiber of our being. We have work to do, holiday gifts to buy, families to feed, hobbies to throw ourselves into, and more.
But what if we’re tired because we need rest, or need a break? Of course life requires that we must do what we must. And I want to welcome you to examine what is essential and what is not.
Do you need to be up late watching TV? Do you need to be the one to head your PTA, or professional organization, or organize that food drive?
A large part of you may be screaming, “yes, it has to be me! If I don’t do it, who will?!”
A gentle suggestion - that’s not your problem. Your problem is to be healthy. Do what you need to do to be well enough to do the things you love, and the things you must. If you struggle to get up and going, that’s a good sign that something needs to give.
In order to take action and do things, we use a precious resource called “Yang.” Yang is active, loud, bright, and energy. So, if you want more “get up and go,” you need to cultivate more Yang.
Here’s the catch: Yang comes from another precious resource called “Yin,” which is the substance of who we are and is a necessary counterweight to activity and action. Yin is quiet, stillness, darkness, and substance.
To be in health, these two resources must be evenly balanced within us. You’ve probably heard of these ideas before (see my blog post: Education Series: Yin and Yang), and you’ve probably seen the symbol known as the “Tai Ji.” This Daoist symbol shows that these two forces are mutually productive and consuming. When one is robust, the other becomes weak. To generate one, the other must be consumed. So, the more Yang you want to be, the more Yin you need to cultivate.
So, what can you do to cultivate Yin?
1) Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is the act of observation. A good place to start with mindfulness is to be quiet and still in the body while breathing. Take a breath in and notice what parts of you move? What sensation do you feel in your nostrils, throat, and mouth? You can even notice the skin in contact with your shirt moving as you breathe - notice the skin of your chest, arms, belly, and back.
You can also find a lot of videos on YouTube with guided meditations. I recommend the body scan style of meditation for beginners. When you can learn to be present to your still body, by virtue of calming the mind (which is a form of activity in and of itself), being still, and being present to the body (which is substantive), you are cultivating Yin.
I recommend starting with just a couple of minutes each day as you begin your adventure with meditation. When the mind wanders, I recommend a mantra of “I’m a beginner” to bring you back to the meditation. Rather than reprimanding yourself for having an unquiet mind, this mantra helps you to remember that this is a practice, not a performance. Just bring yourself back to your breath and continue the meditation.
2) Take a REAL lunch break
I recently spent some time with someone visiting the United States from Israel. She came to the US for a work trip, and spent the week working with her American colleagues. She was shocked at how little time they took for lunch, and how many of them ate at their desk.
Digesting food takes energy and time. When we work while we eat, we don’t have enough of our body’s energy focused on making more energy for our future selves. Although the whole process of digestion may take several hours, the initial thirty to sixty minutes are crucial time for chewing and introducing the food to various enzymes and fluids. A lot of action occurs in the stomach and pancreas during this time. When we take time to enjoy our food mindfully, rather than rushing through lunch while working up tomorrow’s expense reports, we give our body more time and energy to pull all of the vital nutrients from our food and prepare us for the next few hours of work or play.
I recommend trying this practice for three days in a row. See how you feel at the end of those three days and decide if you want to try for another three days. Every three days is another opportunity to renew the practice, and (you guessed it) remind yourself that you’re a beginner!
Quick aside about being a beginner, my teacher once told me, “I hope that in my dying breath my last words are ‘I am a beginner.’” You have always and will always be in practice, not a master. These practices only work so long as we are practicing them. so if we can let go of our desire to be good at them, and simply desire to do them, they will serve us all the more.
3) GET. MORE. SLEEP.
I know, I know. Your doctors, friends, colleagues, kids… everyone tells you this. That doesn’t make it any less important (in fact, I hope it helps you to really drive home how essential it is). Sleep is such an important life function that if anything is getting between you and your sleep, I would consider it urgent! If you’re struggling with insomnia, talk to your doctor, consider acupuncture.
If you’re struggling to “put yourself to bed” because you’d rather be playing, or watching TV, or working, I would consider this to be a behavioral concern. Consider reaching out to a behavioral health specialist like a therapist or social worker for help managing your maladaptive behaviors. Consider acupuncture as a support for this change.
If you have engineered your life such that you don’t have enough time for sleep between work, hobbies, or other obligations, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you that your life may need some rearranging. This may be tough to hear and to accept, but it’s pretty crucial for your health
4) Cut caffeine and alcohol
You read that right. I know, it sucks. But, this is probably one of the most important things you can do to help reclaim your energy. Not only can caffeine make it harder to fall asleep at night, but it also burns through Yin, and therefore limits how much Yang we can naturally engage in. Remember that in order to have Yang, you must consume Yin. When you take caffeine, you’re telling your body to burn through Yin to generate a ton of Yang. So, using caffeine just undoes all the hard work you’re doing to cultivate Yin through mindfulness, taking breaks, and getting enough sleep.
And alcohol also interrupts sleep. A few hours after consuming alcohol, the body floods the system with neurologically arousing hormones, and that makes us more awake. This is a compensatory mechanism to help us counteract the neurologically depressing effects of the alcohol. Even if you don’t have insomnia, drinking alcohol can lessen your sleep quality and make for lower-energy days.
Acupuncture can be a great help as you learn to go Yin and cultivate more energy. Acupuncture is all about connecting us to our true resources and needs, and reminding us what’s happening in nature. If mother Earth is going Yin, she’s calling us to go with her with shorter days and longer nights. We would do well to listen.
This blog is not intended to replace medical care. If you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms and fatigue, please go to urgent care. If you’ve been experiencing fatigue for an extended period of time, please talk to your doctor.