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Stillness: The Power of Doing Nothing With Intention

In Chinese Medicine we use the phrase “nourishing the yin,” to describe rebuilding and supporting the production of body fluids. Western Medicine might see “yin deficiency” as hormonal depletion or adrenal exhaustion. But we think of it as a liquid deficiency, everything has dried up.

We are born with an adequate amount of yin and it slowly is used as we age. We get drier as we get older. But certain things prematurely weaken the yin; think sex, drugs and rock and roll. Add to that list overwork, fear, long-term worry, trauma and excessive exercise.

One naturally nourishes the yin by sleeping deeply and without disturbance for 8 or more hours a night during the “yin time,” which to make it easy would be around 6pm-6am.  If one goes to bed too late (midnight or 1:00am) they have used the yin instead of nourishing it. If someone sleeps in late maybe until 9am, they have rested, but they have not successfully nourished the yin from 6am on. If someone dreams a lot, wakes a lot, worries a lot at night, they are not nourishing the yin, because yin by nature is restful, relaxed, and slow-moving. You can see it is very easy to damage the yin.

The phrase “burning the candle at both ends” is appropriate for thinking of the yin. You deplete the yin by staying up too late and waking too early, and working too hard while you are awake. Yin is the hardest substance to build because it requires deep levels of intentional rest.

I’ve read enough Wharton and Fitzgerald to know that back in the day people used to go on Holiday or go abroad to some place warm to recover. One didn’t go on holiday for 10 days or a long weekend. One was in Europe for a season or a year. The level of rest was much more thorough than we permit ourselves these days.

What is even worse is that there was an acceptance in those days (mind you it was among the wealthier classes) that people could burn out and the noble thing to do was take a significant amount of time off to recover and then return to life. We have lost that respect for the idea of recovery.

We all know that yin and yang need to be in balance for us to live in harmony. But we are producers, we are do-ers. We live in a very yang world. Taking time off is considered weak, or worse, lazy.

Lately my body has been calling out for stillness; deep, prolonged, highly unproductive stillness. I’m lying in bed for 30-40 minutes before rising in the morning and sometimes I spend long chunks of time sitting looking out the window. It took a while for me to notice it happening and it took longer for me to allow it to happen.

This summer we raced through airports, flew across the Atlantic, walked most of Paris in three days, hiked a mountain in Colorado, drank far more champagne than my body is used to, socialized until all hours and just generally got exhausted. So now even after four weeks of rest following our busy summer I’m still noticing this need for stillness. I always know the point at which the stillness is enough for the day when I suddenly remember the laundry and care that it is still in the washer.

So many times I hear patients talk about eating better, exercising more, coming to my yoga classes more often, eating less sugar. What they don’t understand is that without rest none of that is possible. Rest supports and nourishes the yin, which in turn builds will power and the desire for action. The desire for action is a clear sign when the body is refreshed. It is very different from action due to obligation, which depletes the yin and further exhausts the body.

What if we could intentionally step back and fully see our physical and mental health? What if we could see or guess which symptoms would clear up with rest. How could you then incorporate rest and stillness into your life in a way that would be meaningful and productive?

I’m self-employed so when I think of things like future planning, employee retention, employee health and sustainability it is in my best interest to make sure I have adequate amount of time for wellness so I can keep seeing patients for the next 20, 30, maybe 40 years. It is time you start to think of your mind as boss over the employee of your body. If your body isn’t taking care of itself your mind has to step up and consider if the body is going to be capable of providing for the mind long term.

Stillness is a very manageable form of rest, it can happen in an elevator in between floors. It can happen at a red light or in the line at Starbucks. The best moments of rest are when we fully permit the body to be still and enjoy doing nothing at all.

Image credit: evdoha / 123RF Stock Photo

3 thoughts on “Stillness: The Power of Doing Nothing With Intention”

  1. Hello!
    I just stumbled onto your blog through an article search. I wish that your practice was closer! I just wanted to compliment you on your articles. I really appreciate reading them.

  2. I love the voice in your writing as well as the info. It’s calming. I needed this some time ago but my doc never had any time to really sit down and explain this perspective to me .Hoping and praying
    I still have time to heal. Thank you.

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