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Nancy Okerlund
Volume 2, Issue 2, 01/24/08

Doing the Right Thing

This afternoon I gave myself the choice of a hot bath or a cold walk in the woods. I picked the cold walk. (It was a case of "doing the right thing.")

For four hours, mainly with pencil in hand, I'd been wondering what I could say, today, about being an introvert, and I had no idea. Frustrated, I decided it was time for some action (literally).

Wouldn't you know, by the time I got out the door, I had an idea. (I almost turned around and headed for the tub.)

My study of qigong (loosely, Chinese for "energy work" and pronounced "chee-gong") has intensified in the past several months and it's giving me some new thoughts about introverts and action.

Ancient Chinese philosophy says that all energy is made up of two forces, called "yin" and "yang". Everything in the universe, including our bodies, has both yin and yang energy they can't live without each other. ("Yin/yang" is often illustrated with a circle divided in the middle by an "s" curve, one half white with a black dot, the other half black with a white dot.)

A bare bones description of yin energy would say it's internal, passive, spiritual and female in nature. Yang is external, active, physical, male.

One more important point about yin/yang: they need to be in balance. Out of balance, much can go wrong.

I'm anything but an authority on qigong or the world of yin and yang but I do trust these basic principles. And I'm clear that, if I have anything to say about it, I'm all for good yin/yang balance in my body.

I've learned enough about yin and yang to understand that it's a very complex subject but even so, when I look at the descriptions, common sense tells me that introverts predominate with yin. We get our energy from that internal world of thoughts, ideas, feelings, impressions and our behavior tends to reflect it.

On the subject of introverts and action, you could say I picked the cold walk in the woods over the hot bath for the sake of my yin/yang balance. (And it wasn't an easy choice :-))

Some years ago, when I began to understand the recent research on temperament and the distinct physical differences between introverts and extroverts, I was particularly struck with (and comforted by) the finding that it's harder for introverts to move our bodies because we predominate on the side of the nervous system that requires conscious thought. For extroverts, movement happens more easily with less intention.

It was one of those light bulb moments for me: no wonder I've always loved the part of hiking where you lie down on the ground and look up at the sky it's because of my parasympathetic nervous system, not laziness!

But in my study of qigong I'm learning that too much "brain work" creates too much acid in the body and calls for action, physical action. And that walking is very good for people because we have a point on the bottom of our feet (in from the ball) that's connected to our kidney energy channel. (And that kidney energy is life force energy, "the most important energy to our life", to quote Master Chunyi Lin.) We energize our life force when we walk!

So what's an introvert to do with a body that's inclined to be yin in a universe that wants it to be yin/yang?! (And what's an extrovert to do in a body that's inclined to be yang in a universe that wants it to be yin/yang?)

The simple answer, I suppose, is balance. Introverts, cultivate action. Extroverts, cultivate inaction. For me, both the ancient Chinese wisdom and the new scientific research keep me curious and in awe of the mystery of life in the body.

(And I managed to squeeze in a hot bath.)

End of food for thought on to some practical ideas:

A Practical Idea for Introverts

Become a brain overload detector. Train yourself to automatically get up and go for a stroll around the block, around your office, around the house whenever you sense your brain getting tired. Don't make a big deal of it. Create a habit: weary brain = time for a walk. Your body will start to like it.

A Practical Idea for Extroverts

The next time you're alone and feeling bored - about to call somebody, turn on the TV, listen to music, scrub the floor, check your email, etc. - give yourself permission to sit down for a few minutes and tune into your breath not meditating, just breathing and doing nothing fluff up your yin!

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