Ah, November. As the year creeps towards a close, the days are getting shorter, grayer, and colder. It is dark when you leave the house in the morning, and the sun has begun to go down before you leave your desk in the evening. No wonder, then, that you may feel sleepy and have little desire to get up off the couch and go out on Friday nights. Around this time of year, many patients come in for acupuncture with a complaint of feeling less energetic or a little low at this time of year.
The question is then, is this a bad thing?
One of the discussions that I often have with my patients is about the overall balance of yin and yang in our bodies. Yin and yang are simply ways of comparing two things – quite literally, yin refers to the shady side of a hill, while yang refers to the sunny side. Yin and yang exist only in relationship to each other, and they must be well balanced for us to be healthy. For example, we must get adequate sleep (a yin activity) to feel energized as we go about work and play (a yang activity).
Yin and yang don’t only apply to the human body, they are also a way of understanding and categorizing the universe. Yin is rest, nourishment, coolness, and darkness, while yang is active, movement, warmth, and brightness. We are microcosms existing in a macrocosm, and just as each of our cells should follow the balance of yin and yang of our bodies as we move through our day, we must follow the yin and yang of the world around us.
For example, night is the yin time of day; we should sleep at night. Studies of people who work night shifts show that regular day sleep can have significant and long term impacts on health. From the Chinese medicine perspective, this is because shift work forces us to ignore the yin-yang balance of the universe. Rather than sleeping at night, which is the yin time of day (and therefore should be spent restoring and replenishing), shift workers expend energy at night, which taxes our bodies and negatively affects health.
Just as night is the yin time of day, winter is the yin time of year. To some extent, it is natural and healthy to feel less energized and outward-facing than we do in the summer when our yang energy is at its utmost. The yin energy of the season encourages us to rest, to replenish our stores, and to cultivate inward energy.
If what your body craves an extra 30 minutes of sleep at night, or to be cozy and warm on your couch on a Friday evening, why not embrace this?
Snuggle up with a blanket, a good book, a cup of hot chocolate or tea, and let your body follow the flow of the universe. Know that in doing so, you are allowing your body to heal from any over-taxation during the past year and planting the seeds for a productive, energetic spring and summer.