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  • Writer's pictureWellFit by Jennie

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Updated: Mar 5



WellFit by Jennie services include Personal Training, Health Coaching and Education, Fitness Assessments. Available person to person in Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Central Virginia, VA or online nationally.


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Julie (*not her real name) was frustrated and perplexed.  At age 50, she enjoys a thriving career. Married to her college sweetheart, she is in the sandwich generation with 2 teenage kids and 80-something parents who have significant health issues.  Julie values and believes in an active lifestyle and the power of exercise.  She goes to indoor cycling and other high-intensity interval training classes several times a week and tries to run on the days she cannot make it to the gym.  Despite her efforts to take care of herself, she has gained 15 pounds in the past 2 years, has a nagging knee injury, and is constantly exhausted yet struggles to get a good night’s sleep.  All of her medical testing has come back clear, and her doctors are at a loss.  What could be going on?

 

Before you dismiss this as normal for perimenopause or menopause, consider that, although common, this is most definitely not normal.  There is a lot of talk about women in midlife and hormones, but little acknowledgement that this is also the age and stage of greatest responsibility for many women.  Of course the resulting stress often contributes to physical symptoms, as it would in any person.  But this post is not about women.

 

Our “hustle culture” values productivity and doing over being.  Many of us are set up to be ON all or most of the time.  Our calendars are supposed to be filled with activity, travel, and friendships on top of our family and work responsibilities.  When asked “How are you?” we roll our eyes with a good-natured grin, replying “busy”, after which both parties agree that “busy is good”.

 

Many clients wonder what is wrong with them for feeling tired, as though taking a nap or going to bed early is a sign of weakness attributable to illness or aging.  Rest might as well be a 4-letter word. We often grab that cup of coffee (or other stimulant) rather than allowing ourselves to experience the fatigue and letting our energy rebuild naturally through true rest.



The Yin and the Yang

 

Life needs to have a balance between work and rest, fire and water.  Yang energy is that of motion, activity, effort, and outward directedness; Yin energy is that of stillness, silence, rest, and inward focus, physically and mentally.   We need both in order to enjoy optimal physical and mental health. 

 

Exercise activities like high intensity interval training aka working OUT, while often very beneficial, also take energy out of the body.  Many work and social activities can deplete energy as well, especially if one is naturally introverted.  (Note that introverted does not mean shy; introverts restore their energy in solitude, while extroverts restore by spending time with people.)

 

Many people, like Julie from above, start their usual exercise in an energy deficit, only to find themselves further depleted after exercise sessions.  If you can relate to this conundrum on any level, how exactly do you restore balance?

 

 

Dr. Quiet

 

We may not need or have use for a medical doctor to alleviate our collective fatigue and restore health.  Internationally known fitness and wellness expert Paul Chek speaks of “Dr. Quiet” as a key ingredient necessary to reset health. 


Sometimes we forget or dismiss the fact that we are biological beings subject to the laws of nature.

From a broader perspective, according to traditional Chinese medicine, we would do well to honor the seasonal cycles that underlie good health.  Sometimes we forget or dismiss the fact that we are biological beings subject to the laws of nature.  Cultural influences are at work when we refuse to submit to our natural cycles because it is inconvenient or might interfere with our productivity.  There are many examples of this phenomenon, such as imposing arbitrary time changes for daylight saving time.

 

 

Restorative Activities

 

The following is a list of ideas for activities that tend to restore energy and remediate a Yin/Yang imbalance.  While there is some overlap between some of these, I have labeled them in distinct categories for simplicity. 

 

Intentional breathing  A focus on the breath, especially lengthening the exhalation, will generally activate the parasympathetic nervous system, producing a greater sense of calm.  An example of this is the 4-7-8 breath. Science journalist James Nestor goes into great detail about the pivotal role of the breath in our health on episode #492 of the Ten Percent Happier podcast.

 

Meditation  Use the breath or a different focus as an anchor for a sitting meditation.  You can also just sit and stare without necessarily calling this meditation!

 

Restorative exercise  The eastern practices of Tai Chi, Qigong, Yin and restorative Yoga, or slow contemplative walking restore energy to the body.  Stretching also falls into this category.



Yoga Nidra  This style of yoga does not involve any movement.  Rather, it is performed by lying still in Savasana (on your back) and listening to a body scan meditation to rotate the focus among the various parts of the body.  My life changed when I discovered this deeply relaxing practice.  You might cover yourself with a blanket as the body tends to cool down during a Yoga Nidra "nap".  For an extra treat, place a lavender eye pillow over your eyes as well.

 

Sleep  There is a reason sleep has been described as the best medicine.  During sleep, the body and mind undergo a process of cleanup and assimilation of any stresses incurred during the day. See my post How Sleep Works for more detailed information.

 

Rest and downtime  The body and mind cannot restore themselves with sleep alone.  Intentional “unproductive” time provides a chance for conscious rest.  Definition of downtime can vary from one person to the next.  One person might feel restored by reading a novel, whereas another might find balance puttering around the house.  Often it is how something is performed that determines the restorative value.

 

Water  Taking a nice hot shower, Epsom salt bath, or spending time in water in a way that is relaxing to you can do wonders for your energy level.  The practice of Watsu - being safely held while being moved about in the water by a trained professional - can be deeply calming on a number of levels.

 

Creative arts  Playing or listening to music, painting, sculpture, and knitting are examples of hobbies that function as active rest.  The Mozart Effect describes in detail the favorable neuroscientific changes associated with music.

 

Connecting with nature  Ways of experiencing nature may include walking through the woods, sitting by a lake, looking at a painting of a beautiful natural setting, or grounding with your feet in the grass or an indoor grounding mat.  See my Barefoot Benefits post for more detailed information about the practice of grounding.

 

Massage  Getting a massage falls into the realm of soft tissue care and generally promotes deep relaxation and rejuvenation.  Using a foam roller or massage tool for self-myofascial release also constitutes soft tissue care and optimizes stretching, but may not feel as relaxing as receiving a massage. 

 

Journaling  Write in a journal to process your day, safely express various emotions, get clarity on a difficult issue in your life, and calm your inner child or younger psychological “parts” regularly. Unburdening the mind and emotions has an incredibly powerful healing effect.

 

Prayer  If your spiritual walk includes some form of higher power, prayer can be a tremendous source of centering and comfort.  The positive physiological changes associated with prayer - if this is something that resonates with your personal belief system - are undeniable.


Meaningful relationships & community Loneliness is a significant stressor. We are wired for connection, and being with others in a meaningful way is calming to the nervous system. Both introverts and extroverts need other people, just in different dosages.


Being with a beloved pet Dog and cat owners are well aware of the benefits of being with their companion animals, who are there whether we need comforting or laughter, accepting us for who we are and however we feel.

 

Ironically, restorative activities can also be overdone.  I would suggest that you reflect upon your own life to finding a starting point, identifying just 1 or 2 ways of incorporating more Yin energy in your life if you are out of balance.  It is also important to consider whether there is something you can do less of or subtract altogether as you go about replenishing your reserves.

 

On a side note, it is worth mentioning that there are people who need to cultivate more Yang/activating energy to rise up out of a slump. Yang activities can help complete a stress cycle. Nevertheless, in many cases, individuals need to incorporate more calm and quiet. In optimal conditions, we can oscillate between Yin and Yang, between periods of stress and calm.

 


A Realistic Plan for Our Client

 

Ultimately, there are several steps Julie could take to restore balance, energy, and health in her life.  When she first presented, her body was so stressed that she was not sleeping and was holding onto extra weight despite healthful eating and exercise.  Take a moment to consider your ideas of what she might try before reading on.

 

We ultimately agreed that she will start with:

-       Replacing half of her high-intensity exercise sessions with Yin or restorative Yoga.

-       Taking an hour-long nap one afternoon a week.  She will listen to a Yoga Nidra meditation to induce a deeply relaxing state even if she cannot fall asleep.

-       Writing short journal entries right before bedtime.

-       Talking with her family about the need for time to herself and making arrangements that preclude interruptions unless it is truly an emergency.

 

What other ideas do you have??

 

 

Rest is Productive

 

I would suggest framing your rest and quiet time as productive.  This is often the place where the magic actually happens.  We get to feel stronger, more energetic, and smarter when we commit to some “Dr. Quiet”!

 

What am I doing this weekend? Sometimes the answer is “as little as possible” when I know I need to restore balance to my body and my life.   

 



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Tracy Federman
Tracy Federman
28 feb

Another great article! I read Nestor’s book a few years ago and found it very informative. The attached interview was a nice reminder. Thanks, Jennie!

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