The Yin and Yang of Running

Me racing at The Stowe Triathlon 2017

I have been running for most of my life. I can hardly remember a time when I didn't do some kind of running. There have been short hiatuses from it for sure, but I always come back to this form of movement. It's simple; It's rhythmic; it's my medicine. There are probably a near infinite amount of descriptives that could be applied to this activity. It allows me to simultaneously think deeply and stop thinking to find the space of being that exists between thoughts. I will always run because it's part of who I am.

Another passion is teaching. Chinese medicine is an earth based system of science that attempts to understand the phenomena of the world and our relationship in it. It is predicated on the fundamental relationship of yin and yang. These two energies are apparent opposites, but only in a cyclical way, as in opposites of a continuing cycle. Without getting too philosophical, this is the world we live in; an apparent duality or dichotomy of opposites.

Chinese character for Yin

Yin is the soft and yielding force in nature. Yin endures and anchors. It is sometimes hidden and mysterious. The symbol represents the "shady side of the hill". Yin is the relatively still yet supple force that teaches us that true strength comes from being soft, being flexible, and being rooted. Its most obvious example in nature is water. Yin is also considered feminine from a Chinese medicine perspective. Although it is not strictly gender based, as we all have qualities that are associated with being yin, it is women who have inner strength and rooted energy in abundance.

Chinese character for Yang

Yang is movement, energy, and warmth. It is function and the animating force that infuses yin with action and activity. The literal interpretation of the character reveals that it is the "sunny side of the hill". Yang is outward and obvious, fiery and sharp at times. It can be explosive, but also transformative. In nature yang is represented as fire. Masculine energy is associated with yang in Chinese theory.

Yin and Yang need each other for life to exist. There must be a balance between these energies within and without the body. Without Yin, Yang will not be rooted. It will consume like a fire that has no bound. Without Yang, yin will sump and stagnate, quelling the fire within.

What the heck does this have to do with running?

Yin Yang Symbol

Yin and yang have 4 main aspects and as an exercise I wanted to explore these aspects as they relate to running. This, of course, could be applied to any passion or endeavor. I suppose that to have some manner of being, that is presence, when performing an activity is essential.

1. Yin and Yang are opposites.

They are opposites in a relative way and only in relation to one another. Running offers a beautiful expression of apparent opposites. There is the obvious activity (Yang) of the running itself, but underneath and hidden (Yin) is the silence that occurs inwardly during a long run. I don't necessarily achieve this all the time, and granted there are some runs where my mind continues to ask, "are we there yet?, are we done yet?" When the mind actually does quiet, however, there is a beautiful dance between activity outwardly and stillness inwardly.

2. Yin and Yang are interdependent.

Yin and Yang need each to other to exist and as stated above, the absence of one will completely bring about the collapse of the other. Sprinters are a great example of how the upper (Yang) and lower (Yin) body need to work together in order to produce power. Both the arms and legs of sprinters drive their movement forward.

Carl Lewis sprinting. Yin Yang balance of arm/leg movement.

Even though distance running is very different in form from sprinting the idea is the same. The arms are a necessary component for efficient forward propulsion.

3. Yin and Yang are mutually consuming.

Running can be an unforgiving sport if one doesn't respect their body. If one is to run competitively then there must be a balance of soft and hard running. There is a saying amongst some runners. "Run lots; mostly easy and sometimes hard." How much easy and how much hard is of course relative to the individual runner. However there are some truths that apply to us all, as we are all more alike than we are different. If there is too much intensity (Yang) this will lead to injury (Yin), which will then eventually take away our fitness (Yang). And the antithesis of that is if we do not properly stimulate the body with enough intensity we will not adapt and grow stronger. Too much running is not good and too much rest is not good.

4. Yin and Yang are inter-transforming.

The running gait teaches us about the benefit of how Yin and Yang transform into each other at regular intervals. When the muscles contract (Yang) they assist in propelling the body forward, but then there must be a release and relaxation (Yin) in order to recover and prepare to reload. The achilles tendon is a fascinating connective tissue in the body. It is the strongest tendon in the body as it can take upwards to 10 times a person's body weight while running. How can it be so strong? The answer is, by being so soft. The more supple (Yin) and soft the achilles, the more obvious power (Yang) can be produced.

Yin and Yang are ubiquitous. There is nary an activity or moment where Yin and Yang are not present. Running is my thing. What's yours?

#Chinesemedicine #yinandyang #acupuncture #ElementsofHealing

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