Friday, August 1, 2008

Vacation: Bringing our yin into balance

Ah, summertime.

It is the season for fun, activity, sunshine and hopefully, vacation! Having just recently taken a vacation myself, I am acutely aware of how important rest and relaxation are for overall health. In a world filled with day-to-day demands that often tax our nervous system; an extended break is just the ticket toward balance.

My favorite image depicting balance is the Yin/Yang symbol. Universally recognized, this symbol is often misunderstood. In its simplest terms, it depicts the two opposing, and at the same time, complementary aspects of life. Yin qualities are characterized as soft, slow, substantial, water, cold, conserving, tranquil, gentle, and corresponds to the night.

Yang qualities are characterized as hot, fire, restless, hard, dry, excitement, non-substantial, rapidity, and correspond to the day.

I take the position that our society and in turn, our clients, live in a world dominated by yang energy. From the time the morning alarm clock goes off to the moment our head hits the pillow at night, our days are often filled with constant activity. In an age of instantaneous information flow via the internet, cell phones and television, our nervous systems struggle to keep up. All too often, with an excess of yang energy we end up “burning out”.

Our autonomic nervous system is in itself a great depiction of the yin/yang concept. The two components of this system (parasympathetic and sympathetic) present in different ways. The parasympathetic promotes the rest and digest response and is associated with elements of yin. The sympathetic promotes a fight or flight response and is associated with the elements of yang.

Throughout life, the yin/yang mutually transform, as do the responses through our nervous system. The maximum effect of one quality will be followed by the transition toward the opposing quality. This is why we often look for rest and relaxation after an extremely stressful period. In reality, the average American takes 13 days of vacation per year. In stark contrast, the average Italian takes 42 and the French take 37.

Historically, European cultures have relied on a period of yin woven into the fabric of their workday. In Spain, this is called a siesta and consists of a short mid-day nap. The idea is laughable for most Americans, as we tend to spend on average, 46 hours per week at work. 63% of Americans log more than forty hours per week at the office, and 40 per cent log more than fifty.

Whew! I am off to schedule my next vacation.

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