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
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
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!