In a culture focussed on success, achievement, and productivity, it’s no wonder that so many people have a hard time relaxing and falling asleep. In fact, over sixty-five million Americans are diagnosed with some form of sleep disorder, and many have symptoms that go undiagnosed.
Our bodies contain great wisdom, but even they have difficulty transitioning from a state of tension to a state of relaxation. When we’re unable to fully let go of our day’s pressure, stress, and busyness, we take those energies with us into the night.
Like all living beings, humans require balance to exist in a harmonious state. Just as nature is in a constant dance to maintain equilibrium within an ecosystem, people too must find their own internal stasis.
This blog post will explore some of the root causes of many sleep ailments, and discuss how Qi Gong can be used to restore balance and improve sleep.
In a 24 hour cycle, Yang is the energy of being awake and active, while Yin is the energy of relaxation and sleep.
Yin is the energy receptiveness, stillness, softness, darkness, passivity, and night. Yang is the energy of activity, seeking, producing, and day. It’s easy to notice that our society places a higher value Yang activities. Working hard, being busy, and getting a lot done is praised, while relaxing at home, taking time off, and self-care is often frowned upon.
One of the principles of Yin and Yang is that they are mutually supportive, and what is called “mutual arising.” This means you cannot separate them. You can’t have day without night, joy without sorrow, light without dark. They are essential to one another. It’s an illusion to think that someone has more energy because they work sixteen hours a day and neglect their sleep. While alertness and quick thinking may appear to be high energy, it can easily just be the more glamorous side to an unhealthy imbalance.
The modern way of living often leads to a polarizing of Yin and Yang in the body, which directly impacts sleep quality. Thinking, stress, and anxiety cause Yang energy to move upward into the head, and Yin energy to move down into the rest of the body. When this happens, the mind is awake and busy, but the body is tired and depleted. While this state of imbalance can be pushed through, it is not true energy.
Furthermore, because the mind is full of tense energy, relaxing is difficult, even though the rest of the body is tired and depleted. Herein lies the source of many sleep troubles.
Ancient Wisdom Meets Western Medicine
Both ancient and modern forms of wisdom have their ways to explain the important balance between Yin and Yang.
Ancient Taoist texts compare Yin energy to the oil in a lamp, and Yang to the flame. The flame is what is easy to notice. Its light is useful and commands attention, just as a person expressing themselves or giving a performance. But every lamp needs its oil, and every person needs their sleep to show up as their brightest self.
Western medicine explains how our sympathetic nervous system is amazing at helping us deal with tense situations. Our sympathetic nervous is known as “fight or flight,” and originally helped us to stay safe from predators in the wild. Today, it still helps us to solve important problems, but it is often chronically triggered by stress and anxiety.
How often do you really need to outrun a tiger or grizzly bear? Hopefully, it’s a rare occasion! Today’s tigers and grizzly bears are traffic, meetings, kids activities, work, obligations, and even holidays. It’s whatever triggers the stress response. The sympathetic nervous system is associated with Yang energy and is the flame of your internal lamp.
The parasympathetic nervous system is known as “rest and digest” and helps us to feel calm and process both our emotions, as well as our food. It’s an essential part of digestion and helps the body to restore and build. Just as a lack of Yin energy in the body will cause physical fatigue, the same is true if we fail to spend enough time in our parasympathetic nervous system.
The two views really explain the same thing: With too much Yang in the Upper Tan Tien (head), sleep will be difficult. With too much stress and sympathetic activation, sleep will be a challenge.
By balancing Yin and Yang — sympathetic and parasympathetic — we can be both fully alive during the day, and sleeping deeply at night.
Pre-Recorded Workshop: Qi Gong for Better Sleep
To help students cultivate a healthy balance between Yin and Yang energy, we’re offering a pre-recorded workshop called Qi Gong for Better Sleep.
The practices in this workshop work with the body’s Yin and Yang energies to reverse the polarity between mind and body. Instead of experiencing tense, frantic energy in the mind and tiredness in the body, Qi Gong practices seek to calm the mind and re-energize the body. When Yin and Yang energies become integrated throughout your entire being, it becomes easy and natural to sleep deeply, and in peace.
This workshop also teaches students how to understand their own relationship with sleep. By learning how to diagnose different kinds of sleep challenges and insomnia, Lee’s workshop is aimed at empowering students to be their own best sleep aid. It feels great to wake up full of energy and vitality, so give your lamp the oil it needs to shine bright and spread its warmth.
Click below to learn more and start practicing today.
By Ian Drogin