Last weekend, I was catching up with a girlfriend when she said something kind of shocking. “I know this is controversial,” she confided in a hushed tone, “but I love January.”
She doesn’t ski or snowshoe or get anything special out of the season.
She loves January for the same reason most people – including me—tend to hate it: it’s super yin.
It’s dark. It’s cold.
Nature is quiet and seemingly dormant. And because we are a part of nature (though it’s easy to forget when we live inside and online) it can be harder to get motivated to do things.
In January, she argued, “it feels OK to do things like sleep late, stay inside all day, not talk to anyone, and take a nap. If this was my day in July, I’d judge myself.”
Uh, yeah. In our yang-addicted society that glorifies productivity, speed, efficiency, doing, and hustling, it can be easy to judge ourselves for “giving in” to the desire to rest, to nap, to just chill. It can even feel morally wrong.
But in January, doing less than you’re humanly capable of is seasonally appropriate. Once upon a time, your life may have even depended on it: if we didn’t conserve scarce resources like fuel and food, (literally the opposite of burning the candle at both ends) we would likely die in winter, as nature is not exactly supplying these in abundance.
Slowing down, doing less, and giving ourselves permission to rest – especially when we’re managing a lot – is essential. This is the heart of true self-care.
We need good deep rich, juicy yin (sleep, rest, inward, quiet, cool) to have good strong, vibrant yang (creative, warm, expansive, transformative) energy. But apart being a necessary counterpoint to the always-moving, relentless drumbeat of productivity that culture prizes and making a living often demands, we need some Big Yin January Energy for its own sake.
When we give ourselves permission to slow down, it’s easier to be better stewards of our bodies – and each other. We’re able to do things like:
- Relax, get into parasympathetic mode, and heal. These things don’t happen very well when we’re stressed.
- Be able to sense the sublte: like feel tension in our lower backs and be able to stretch it in just the right way to allow it to open up again: true self-healing qi gong, or
- Stop eating when we’re 80% full, for optimal digestion and thus gut health, immune health, and overall energy
- Sense reactivity in ourselves, thus being able to manage that reactivity, not blow up at people we love, gain deeper understanding of what’s triggering us so we can tone that down and keep our equanimity
- Sense changes in other people’s voices or body language, allowing us to inquire about and better understand and empathize with their experience, thus enhancing our connections
- Increase our ability to be present with and appreciate the present moment, thus waking up to our lives.
Since hearing of the passing of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist spiritual teacher, international ambassador of mindfulness and peace, I’ve been re-reading and listening to his teachings, among them that “true presence is the first act of love.”
We access true presence when we meet the present moment with as much mindful awareness as possible.
Whether we are sitting in meditation, moving in meditation like qi gong or yoga, washing the dishes, or eating a meal, we have the opportunity to practice giving that moment our full attention. And presence is the greatest gift we can give each other — and ourselves — especially when we are struggling.
So welcoming in the Big Yin January Energy is important.
But what if you still want to get things done?
As I’ve been suggesting, low motivation this time of year might not be a problem in that we’re part of nature and subject to its cycles.
It might also be a sign that that
- you’re fighting something off (your immune system is busy),
- that you haven’t been digesting well (converting food into energy isn’t going well – simplify! Make soup!),
- that that we’re almost three years into an exhausting, isolating global pandemic (long-term stress depletes your reserves)
- the existential resignation over the state of the world and the collapse of American democracy, (the consciousness leads the energy),
- or that you’re dealing with depression (mind-body-spirit connection is real) –all real, serious worthy of our utmost compassion towards ourselves, and attention.
Acupuncture, herbal medicine, qi gong, nourishing food, good sleep hygiene may all be important; I’m here to help if you need me – just hit reply and let me know what’s up.
I am all about giving you – and myself– permission to do less. But I also feel most alive and vital when I’m learning and growing in some way. I’ve had a bunch of continuing education classes I’ve enrolled in but haven’t completed for almost a year that I’ve been putting off. It’s felt kind of daunting to spend a weekend in class, even when it’s cold and rainy outside.
So I pretended I was one of my coaching clients and did 3 things:
1) I broke down the big, daunting thing into small digestible pieces. Rather than summoning the will to dedicate a whole weekend day to knocking it out, I decided I was going to take these classes in twenty- to sixty-minute chunks.
2) I put these class time chunks on my calendar.
3) I reduced friction: instead of having to log into the website, find a document to take notes in, O I have both the class tab and a word document open on my computer, so it’s just as easy to jump into class as it is to surf over to Facebook or play Wordle.
Not only am I over my resistance to doing these classes, I look forward to spending that time. Plus, I’m back in touch with the excitement and desire to help people that I felt when I first signed up.
Maybe there’s something you’ve been meaning to get off your plate but have been putting off. How could you make the big thing smaller? How could you reduce friction? Then commit: get it on your calendar and honor your commitment to yourself just as you would a meeting with a work colleague or your doctor.
May you receive and appreciate all the yin yumminess the season has to offer, while moving effortlessly in the direction of your goals.
Back in April, after my friends and family started getting their second vaccine shots and it started to feel safe to travel again, I booked a bunch of little weekends away to connect with friends. (As a recovering Type-A, prioritizing connection and play is a muscle I’m still developing.)
My acupuncture clinic and coaching schedules were already booked solid.
Then I was asked to be part of a very cool project: one that I believed in, and which exceeded the standard of “it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no” that had been keeping me from taking on too much during the darkest days of the pandemic. But where was that time going to come from?
I blocked what little white space was left on my calendar, said no to everything else, and spent whatever open time I had on writing.
Like, every free chunk of time.
Unsurprisingly, my nervous system felt compressed. My sleep suffered. I felt a backlog of undigested experience and emotions accumulating, creating a distance from myself I hadn’t felt in awhile. I felt that all-too familiar sense of my energy depleting.
It was just a tiny taste of the chronic overdoing mode that I used to operate in all time — and I found intolerable. Thankfully, crunch-mode only lasted a few weeks, and since then, I’ve been able to double-down on doing less.
I’m excited that I can finally share The Thing that was worth the push: it’s a new platform called Inaura, designed to connect seekers of mental-emotional-spiritual-energetic wellness with potential guides. I’m one of the founding guides for Chinese Medicine and qi gong, and the thing I was working on was writing the website’s informational segment on qi gong.
Mental-emotional-spiritual health is so needed. There are so many ways to go about achieving it beyond just drugs, or even their natural herbal equivalents. Inaura starts you off with an assessment to see what kind of modalities might be helpful for you depending on how what you’re seeking, how science-oriented or traditional wisdom-oriented you are, whether you’re looking for personalized help, a workshop, a course, or simply information.
To introduce itself to the world, Inaura has invited over 65 of its experts to participate in a really cool
It’s called The Power of You, and it’s coming up on the weekend of August 6th-8th (Friday night through Sunday).
You’ll want to tune in if:
- You’re looking for a deeper truth or understanding of yourself and the world around you.
- You’ve learned about the effects of trauma, and want to address it, but don’t know where to start or what to do.
- You find yourself triggered, reactive, and activated in a constant fight or flight mode without tools or practices to relax, calm down, regulate and unwind.
- You’re looking for healthy communication tools
- You struggle with anxiety, depression, addiction and/or dissatisfaction with life.
- You’re curious about all the different paths to heal and grow and aren’t sure where to begin or find practices that work for you
You’ll hear from experts on Neuroscience, Somatic Therapy, Subtle Energy, Trauma/PTSD, Spirituality, Meditation, Subconscious Beliefs, Attachment Repair, Addiction, Purpose, Psychedelics, Breathwork, and much more.
Oh, and I did I mention that I’m going to be part of the event?!
I’ll be one of the featured experts the Energy Medicine Round table, at 11-12pm Pacific on Sunday, 8/8, and then leading the Qi Gong Experiential Session: Ancient Practice for a Modern World from 12-12:30 PST. You can come for free when you register here: https://inaura.com/power-of-you?ref=24.
Before you roll your eyes at the idea of another online event, know this: everything is live (nothing pre-recorded), and there are no pitches or dumbed-down content– just straight-up information and experiential integration sessions led by world-class experts.
Each night closes with a relaxing, grounding experiential session – breath work, yoga nidra (sleep yoga!), and sound healing. Recordings of each session will be available within a FEW HOURS. So if you miss a session, you don’t have to wait weeks to watch the recording.
Live events of this caliber generally cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to attend – Inaura wants to bring this experience to all who need it, regardless of funds. ✨ Save your virtual seat here: https://inaura.com/power-of-you?ref=24
Hope to see you there!
PS: The moral of the story? It’s OK to tip too far yang if you then let yourself recover with some intentional R+R yin time. Balance doesn’t always mean equal. We go through seasons: it can’t be summer or winter all the time, despite the messages we’re bombarded with.
There are ZERO daily push-ups or ice buckets involved, I promise.
My challenge to myself, and to you is this:
If you’re like me, simply DOING LESS is wicked hard because
A) I pride myself on getting things done and
B) Overfunctioning is how I manage stress: it’s a survival strategy I adopted early on
C) Staying in motion is often easier than resting and feeling what’s there to feel: the worry about the upcoming election, the gross mismanagement of the pandemic, the wildfires and the climate crisis they represent, all the things that are scary, maddening, frustrating, and heart-breaking.
Yet it’s critical that we not be in go-mode all the time. There are limits to our reserves, and yet most of us have been tapping into these reserves to adapt to this unprecedented year again and again.
When those reserves start to run dry, we experience burnout. In Episode 200 (yes, 200!!!) of my podcast, A Healthy Curiosity, we talk how to move from burnout to breakthrough. I share some of my own story about burnout prevention and recovery and cultivating resilience.
It’s especially critical NOW, at this stage in the pandemic that we stop operating in varying degrees of overwhelm and overwork, as it’s become clear that we need to stay the course not for a few weeks or a few months, but for the indefinite future.
And while you might have initially jumped into Emergency Mode reconfiguring your life back in March, continuing to operate in this gear is untenable: your hormones, digestion, sleep, immmunity, pain levels, and mental/ emotional state could all be adversely impacted.
One way I see this showing up for my clients and patients is acedia: spiritual apathy, numbness, lack of care about one’s self, soul, and purpose. Pausing long enough to recognize and experience what it is we’re feeling can help snap us out of acedia, and the numbing behaviors that perpetuate it.
What does this have to do with fall, you may wonder? Because this is the season where nature moves from yang mode (busy, active, hot, moving, expressive) to yin: restful, quiet, cool, still, inward, conserving. If our ancestors didn’t start conserving food, fuel, and energy, they might not have survived the winter.
This short video I created a few years back offer some practical tips on how to do that. It still applies, with one critical exception specific to our Covid situation: we need to counterbalance the natural downward-inward tendencies this time of year with our very real need as humans to stay connected to each other.
Creating new habits and routines that can help you fill up the well to feel calm, confident, content, and energized can be especially tough if you’re already stressed or suffering from acedia. It’s way easier with help.
As always, I’m here to support you in taking good care of yourself on all levels: body, mind, spirit. I’ve added additional hours to my acupuncture clinic schedule: call 541-757-4868 to get on it. And I have room in my coaching calendar for two people looking the upgrade their energy, confidence, and daily routines. Hit reply to raise your hand if that’s you.
Me, doing less, outside
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