The primary conceptual foundation of East Asian medicine is the theory of Yin & Yang, which describes the dualistic nature of everything in the universe. Yin-Yang theory is at the root of what makes East Asian medicine such a powerful tool for healing. It’s what gives our medicine its diagnostic power and ability to discern the root cause of disease, and is at the core of what ties together concepts about our physical health with our destiny and spirit.
So what are Yin & Yang? Here’s a short video that covers the basics of Yin-Yang theory:
As John Bellaimey summarizes in this video, well-being is achieved when there is a healthy juxtaposition between Yin & Yang. Practically speaking, Yin & Yang could be thought of as Being & Doing. When we are sleeping, playing, relaxing, resting, or eating we are in a relatively receptive state (being). When we are exercising, working, studying, or networking we are relatively active (doing).
Differentiating Yin from Yang moment by moment is key to finding greater physical & mental health. “Yin-Yang differentiation” is a phrase to describe this practice coined by my Taiji master, Harrison Moretz, founder of the Taoist Studies Institute in Seattle, WA. In fact, the primary reason for practicing Taiji is to practice Yin-Yang differentiation by gaining a deeper understanding of when our body is moving and when it is at rest. Over time, this process slowly reveals how receptivity and activity mutually engender one another.
With the practice of differentiating Yin & Yang comes a gradual unwinding of old patterns of disharmony and disease. Patterns of “chronic being” (an excess of Yin—such as not exercising for long periods of time) and patterns of “chronic doing” (an excess of Yang) begin slowly to unwind as healthy differentiation of Yin & Yang evolves.
Finding a more nuanced balance between Yin & Yang is a practice that brings greater health, well-being, and inner-connectedness. The intersection between physical and psychospiritual health is at the core of East Asian medicine. Acupuncture and herbal medicine may play an important role in helping to correct long term imbalances in your health. I am always available to offer what I can and to help coordinate your care if you’re in need of tools outside my scope of practice.
Practicing gratitude serves to refocus the mind on what is abundant as opposed to what is lacking. It helps to balance out the mind’s incessant craving for satisfying needs and desires, bringing us more awareness and appreciation of what it is we already have in our life.
Mounting research in the realm of positive psychology and psychoneuroimmunology demonstrates time and time again that regular practice in feeling and expressing gratitude helps to support our health, build resilient relationships, and increase overall happiness. A grateful attitude tends to lead people to feel more positive, less stressed, more likely to eat well & exercise, and get better sleep.
Below are a few ideas for how to incorporate gratitude into your daily life. With any of these practices, prioritize taking time to experience the feeling of gratitude in your heart before rushing on to the next thing. It is important not to let gratitude become yet another obligation in your life, but to really experience it in your body. With practice, this can be done in a matter of seconds.
Notice: Just take time to notice things throughout your day that you feel thankful for. This could be a tree, the fresh air, the minimal amount of email in your inbox one morning, or for someone who took the time to help you with something. Just noticing your own internal feeling of gratitude and the happiness that results is a powerful practice. For more on the power of noticing, click here.
Write thank you notes: If you’re feeling grateful for someone who has helped you out or just generally appreciating their presence in your life, send a little note of thanks to them. Email them, text them or even write a card and mail it to them.
Gratitude Journal: Keep a journal in which you write down a few things each evening that you felt grateful for that day. Slow down to experience the feelings that arise as you write your entry.
Tell someone what you’re feeling grateful for: Whether this is something about them or just that you’re feeling grateful to have had another day to breathe fresh air and take in a sunset, telling someone how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing can be a great way to deepen your awareness of gratitude and to connect with a friend or loved one.
Gratitude & Food: A wonderful way to experience gratitude throughout your day is to take a minute before you eat a meal to imagine all the people involved in making your meal possible. Sit down in front of your meal and admire the food you’re about to eat. Imagine everyone involved in the preparation of that meal. This could include the person who prepared it, the farmers who grew the veggies, grains, and/or raised the meat, the truck drivers who brought the ingredients to your local grocer. The list can get long in quickly, but just enjoy making time to thank all those involved in your meal and notice how you feel afterward.
Watch this Ted Talk:
More on Gratitude:
David Steindl-Rast’s on On Being with Krista Tippett (Unedited version recommended!)
There is a saying in the world of palpation-based acupuncture that healing happens in the empty spaces. No matter the acupuncture points being used in a treatment, the goal of any skilled practitioner is to carefully locate the empty space within the channel because therein lies the most potential to affect positive change. From a biomedical perspective, the “empty space” is analogous to the interstitial spaces in which there is the greatest potential for enhancing biochemical processes.
Take this core idea as a metaphor for a moment: healing happens in the empty spaces. How might this be true for you in your life? For many people, healing often happens when things are at their most calm and quiet. This could be within one’s body or in relationships with friends and family members. When thoughts and strong emotions fade away, a healing conversation may finally take place because caring and attentive listening was able to arise for one or both parties. This concept also applies to situations wherein a physical condition only truly heals with rest and proper nourishment.
Below is a quote from twentieth century Dutch theologian and priest, Henri J.M. Nouwen. He speaks wisely to this concept of emptiness as being full of healing potential.
“We are all healers who can reach out to offer health, and we all are patients in constant need of help. And when we look at healing as creating space for the stranger, it is clear that we should be willing and able to offer this so much needed form of hospitality. Therefore, healing means, first of all, the creation of an empty, but friendly space, where those who suffer can tell their story to someone who can listen with real attention. Our most important question as healers is not what to say or do, but how to develop enough inner space where the story can be received. Healing is the humble, but also very demanding task of creating and offering a friendly, empty space where strangers can reflect on their pain and suffering without fear, and find the confidence that makes them look for new ways right in the center of their confusion. We are all healers.”
Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.
He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive --
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees. Wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn't matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn't matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn't matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.
He says don't be afraid.
Don't be afraid.
Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.