Let me start this article with a big universal truth: 95% of things you’ll hear about Eastern philosophy, energy, meditation, and similar “esoteric” topics is utter unsubstantiated nonsense, propagated by charlatans, mostly Westerners at that, who want to further their own agenda and/or swindle some cash from you. There, I’m glad we got that out of the way right off the bat.
Another thing I’d like to point out is that you can actually reap a lot of benefits by applying some of the core teachings related to Yin and Yang energy, even if you are not a spiritual person, simply because most of these principles were discovered through good old-fashioned trial and error. The Chinese have a beautiful way of explaining complex concepts, but, as with any ancient teaching, you’ll find a certain amount of overgeneralization, instances where correlation is equated to causation, and some logical leaps.
Forget about the narrative and focus on what works
Long story short, thanks to millennia of scientific advancement, we now know a whole lot more than the ancient genius philosophers did about the way the human body and the physical world around us works, so the old wisdom should be taken with a grain of salt.
I pride myself in being a pragmatic person who doesn’t like to “take someone’s word for it,” but I’ll also take empirical data over pure speculation any day of the week. This is why I have dabbled in things like meditation, Qigong, natural medicine, and Eastern philosophy, and it’s also why I’ve been known to quote the Bible on occasion, even though I am an atheist. If there are sound principles that work within a belief system, I don’t care about the flowery narrative that is used to explain them to people.
I’ve heard everyone from gypsy fortune tellers to certified medical doctors talk about the negative effects of an imbalance within the body and how the mind can affect the body – which boils down to stress, poor nutrition, bad habits, lack of quality sleep, lack of physical activity, or too much of a certain kind of activity – and have found that everyone recommends pretty much the same things.
Some call it energy, some use fancy Latin, but the truth is, the Yin and Yang analogy is the most efficient way to get the point across. If you want to be healthy and happy, you need to bring balance into your life.
The characteristics of Yin and Yang energies
It is said that, due to the hectic and predominantly sedentary modern lifestyle, most people today tend to be more Yin, but the prevalent energy in your life will depend on a number of lifestyle factors. Here is a basic distinction between Yin and Yang:
- Traits associated with Yin energy: feminine, passive, cold, dark, negative, inward, soft, down, back.
- Traits associated with Yang energy: masculine, active, hot, light, positive, outward, hard, up, front.
1. Eliminate heavily processed foods from your diet
Our ancestors believed that we were, quite literally, what we ate – the hunter who got the kill was awarded the heart and liver so that he might absorb the physical attributes and health of the animal he had hunted down. This idea is not too far off base – you won’t start jumping like a gazelle or sprout buffalo horns, but you will get a ton of micronutrients from these organs, as well as things like creatine and protein, which play a major role in building muscle tone and keeping the body in optimal shape.
Heavily processed foods offer very little in terms of essential nutrients, but they are packed with fat and salt. If you see the words “trans fat” or “hydrogenated vegetable oil,” stay away from those products, and focus healthy ingredients that require some preparation, e.g. fresh meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, fruit, seeds, and nuts.
2. Invest in effective Feng Shui to balance the energies in your home
Even those that don’t really believe in the power of feng shui, myself included, cannot deny the harmonious beauty and utility of an interior that has been designed with feng shui in mind. For me, it has always been a good set of guidelines for interior décor, as opposed to arbitrary rules of style that keep changing as new fads appear.
Our environment has an incredible impact on our psyche. You should start by choosing the right exterior door, as it is the gateway for the energy entering the home and the first thing people see when entering your home. Make sure that you have enough space inside to move around freely, and that everything is positioned in a way that allows a free flow of energy, and be mindful of shapes and colors.
3. Keep track of your macro nutrient intake
Just staying away from junk food isn’t quite enough to create a good yin yang balance within the body. You have to be mindful of the amounts of macro nutrients you are taking in, i.e. keep track of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. A good balance between these three nutrients will help your body function at optimal levels, but it can vary depending on your lifestyle and whether or not you are on a diet. You’ll need to experiment a bit to find what works best for you.
4. Eat plenty of diverse vegetables and fruit throughout the week
A balanced diet is essential for balancing the yin and yang energies within your body. Too much of one micronutrient can block the absorption of another or have a directly negative effect on the body. The easiest way to ensure that you have a truly diverse diet is to try and eat veggies and fruit of every different color throughout the week – red berries, carrots, and darker berries all have a good amount of antioxidants, but they all have a different form of antioxidant, and have different amounts of other micronutrients.
5. Get your finances in order and put some money aside
Financial issues are one of the main causes of stress in people’s lives, but if we dig deeper under the surface we tend to find a host of underlying issues that cause us to be careless with our money. We tend to overindulge in small hedonistic pleasures from the moment that paycheck arrives, and then turn to payday loans when things get tough, which only makes things worse for us in the long run.
The problem here is an abject lack of happiness in our lives – something is missing and we try to fill the void with food, drinks, and shiny objects. By forcing yourself to cut expenses and save up, you get a clear idea of which things are nonessential, and you can work on fixing the emotional or other issues that are causing you to throw your money away on temporary fixes.
6. Limit your alcohol and drug intake
The liver is considered to be a naturally more yin organ, but our lifestyle often puts a lot of stress on it, e.g. through excessive drinking and drug abuse, and we boost the yang aspect. This can create a significant imbalance and lead to increased irritability, as well as a number of health problems. It is one of the most common causes of an energy imbalance, and is also quite an easy fix, at least in theory. You just have to kick your bad habits and either limit yourself to 1-2 servings of your favorite alcoholic beverage a day or give it up altogether.
Light drugs like marijuana tend to numb the mind, making us passive, and are thus yin in nature, but this may not be best way for your body to rest if you are already overly yin. Hard drugs should be avoided like the plague, for obvious reasons.
A huge disclaimer before we move on: if you have mental health or serious physical health issues, consult a doctor and follow his or her advice, don’t try to self-medicate with “natural remedies” or meditate your troubles away.
7. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise
The heart is the engine that drives our bodies, and we tend to abuse it on a daily basis. Too much yang, and you’ll have problems with high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat, too much yin and you’ll have poor circulation and higher risk of blood clots.
Stimulants like coffee should be taken in moderation, or avoided altogether if you have problems with erratic heartbeat, but even those with more serious heart problems can benefit from light steady state cardio exercises, e.g. long walks at a relaxed pace.
Those in good health can do cycling, running, or swimming three times a week in addition to this to strengthen the cardiovascular system and balance the yin and yang energies in the heart.
8. Strengthen your muscles to speed up your metabolism
Extra muscle mass on the body, if you train smart and keep everything balanced, can help improve posture and boost your metabolism. Although lean muscle won’t exactly burn hundreds of calories just sitting there, the body will burn a decent amount just to maintain the extra muscle. The additional training needed to put on extra muscle will also improve blood circulation, strengthen connective tissue and even improve bone density. However, you must not overexert yourself or focus solely on building strength, as this can cause an overabundance of yang energy.
9. Know which activities are Yin or Yang-based
As long as you combine strength training, which is yang, with exercises like stretching or yoga, which are yin in nature, you will create a good balance. This is actually a sound principle – you need to warm up properly before each intense session, and the body needs to be stretched, cooled down, and rested properly to avoid burning out. Too much yang, i.e. powerful and intense exercises, can lead to low blood sugar, insomnia, aching joints and a number of other problems. This is why you should combine both and spread out your yin and yang activities throughout the week.
10. Go to bed earlier and have a good night’s sleep
Not only will getting enough sleep on a day-to-day basis improve your concentration, but it will also allow your body to regenerate, regulate hormones, and create a good balance between yin and yang. It is also best to go to bed earlier, so that you can wake up near dawn and sync your body with the natural daily yin yang cycle.
11. Take a short walk in the morning with the first rays of the sun
Our bodies need the sun to create vitamin D, which is essential for bone health in both men and women, as well as maintaining sufficiently high testosterone levels in men. A short morning walk combines several useful aspects into a single activity – you get plenty of sun and fresh air, you do some light cardio and you tap into that yang energy that is more prevalent during the first six hours after sunrise. It is a great way to wake up and warm up the body and prepare it for the busy day ahead.
12. Avoid “detoxes” and other ill-advised health and fitness fads
We’ve already stressed the importance of a balanced diet, but I have to warn you against “cleanses” and “detoxes” or any similar nonsense. Subjecting your body to extreme fasting, where you only drink a specific juice, tonic, or a unique brand of New Age snake oil, and eat nothing, or next to nothing, is not a smart move. It will only lead to micronutrient deficiencies and make you weak.
Your body already has systems in place for expelling toxins – through sweat, urination, and bowel movements – and it adapts really quickly to a healthy diet, so there is absolutely nothing to gain from these “detoxes.” You only risk creating an even greater imbalance within your body and developing eating disorders with such methods.
13. Meditate or engage in internal forms of martial arts
A good way to ensure that you are stimulating yin energy is to take up an activity that is simple and fun, and doesn’t take a lot of time. Meditation is the perfect solution, as you can reap huge benefits with just a 10-20 minute session a day. You can also do internal martial arts like Tai Chi, Baguazhang, or Xing Yi (Hsing-I), which place great importance on the yin side of things, but also have a yang component, at least the styles that have retained the effective combat components. These will teach you how to build up and release energy effectively and will promote a good yin yang balance in the body.
14. Get more loving physical contact from those close to you
We might not be aware of this, but that good old-fashion physical contact is very important in keeping our energies in balance. When you hug someone who is dear to you there is a huge surge in dopamine and oxytocin, hormones that relieve pain and cause a feeling of blissfulness. Since we are under a lot of stress throughout the day, we need these little moments of utter joy and relaxation to calm our mind and allow the body to counteract all that pent up adrenaline. In more esoteric terms, you need that positive energy to balance out all the negative energy that builds up.
15. Don’t wait for the world to give you something — fight for yourself
Waiting for handouts, or for the world to give you “what you deserve” is the fastest way to become complacent and tilt the energy scales to the yin side. Yin energy is passive, inward, and if you start becoming a hermit who sits at home and mopes, it will negatively impact your career, social and love life, as well as your psychological health. You need to take more action and tap into your yang potential – seize the moment, work on fixing problems straight away, and just generally be more active throughout the day.
There will be days when you’ll be running around like crazy, but after you’ve dealt with the biggest issues on your to-do list, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the blissful yin-centric periods of rest and recuperation with a book, video game, or a cup of coffee with a close friend.
Don’t let anyone tell you that balancing the yin and yang in your life is a quick fix, or that it is something incredibly mystical and spiritual. There are a lot of sound scientific principles involved in this process, and it takes a lot of dedication to create good habits and find balance. Try out some of these tips, and give them a few months to really start to work – you’ll see a positive change soon enough.