If you have ever spent more than 15 minutes in a conversation with me at the clinic you know that I will eventually start talking about the autonomic nervous system. I just can't help myself. It represents a real-world example of the Eastern concept of Yin and Yang and a broader theme of Safety. Allow me to explain.
There are two parts to the autonomic nervous system. One is the sympathetic side. This is the fight, flight, or freeze reaction. We will call this Yang. The other is the parasympathetic side. This is the rest and digest function. We will call this Yin. Both are necessary for a healthy nervous system, but they must be appropriately balanced. If one becomes too dominant, then disease can ensue.
We see the two systems play out throughout the day. It is our sympathetic system that gets us out of bed in the morning. It spurs the release of cortisol and other hormones that help us become active and stimulated. It is most active during times of physical or mental stress (strenuous exercise, important meetings, or tests). It alerts us to threats During the night our body switches into the parasympathetic state of repair and rejuvenation. This is also the ideal state during times of eating. This is a time of safety. There is always some amount of both systems operating continuously throughout the day, but often they get out of balance.
In modern life, the absolute number of stimuli has increased in the form of bills, texts, emails, ads, cars, electricity, etc., which has shifted the balance more to the Yang side. We aren't taking enough time to eat our food and sleep (modern humans sleep about 2hrs less than we did just 100 years ago), and the negative health effects are apparent. This is where safety comes in. While most of the catastrophic elements of life have been eliminated (most of us won't die tragically or violently), most of us don't actually feel safe in our current positions. Again, I'm not talking about overt safety, but more the kind of dis-ease that gnaws at us from the inside. We aren't doing enough, we aren't earning enough, we aren't...we aren't. This kind of baseline anxiety is palpable in modern humans. So what do we do?
The answer is really quite simple, but not easy. We must intentionally set aside time to restore the balance and restore our sense of safety and belonging, and in doing so we restore it for others as well. Start a gratitude practice, block off time for meals and exercise, drive more slowly, commit to fewer extraneous obligations, save your money, pay off debts, ask for help, turn off your notifications on your devices, do something creative, listen to music, get a massage, meditate, get acupuncture. All of these are just suggestions. Tackle one practice each day until you feel like you have restored balance and know that it will always take effort to stay in balance. There will always be ups and downs. We have only control of our actions right now.
Comment below. I want to know what you all do to restore the Yin/Yang balance in your lives.