White Peony Chinese Medicine - Laurel Turk, Lic. Ac.

My cat is sleeping about eighteen hours a day these days, much more than she does in summer.  People I see for acupuncture are falling asleep during their treatments more often than not.  They are yawning and dragging and complaining of fatigue, and just not wanting to do much.

This is the week that the Taoists stay in bed as much as possible—the week before winter solstice, the most Yin time of year.   We have the least access to Yang energy (think sun, light, warmth, upward, outward, fast, loud, extroverted), and are immersed in the deepest Yin (think cold, dark, downward, inward, slowness, stillness, introverted).   One idea most basic to Chinese medicine is that our bodies are microcosms of what is going on in nature, and that living in tune with the seasons is one of the most important ways that we can maintain our health.

Once or twice in the past couple of decades, I have had the opportunity to take this week off of work, and it has felt so right.  I could indulge my body’s innate desire to sleep eleven or twelve hours a night, lounge in bed and let my mind wander, and allow myself to give space and attention to things that only arise when I get quiet enough. It’s often not that fun.  The anxieties and fears and unresolved "yuck" that appear aren’t easy to navigate.  But this is part of winter maintenance—our opportunity to dig into the dark corners and clean out the cobwebs in the basement.

Usually I travel to visit family and celebrate Christmas this time of year, in addition to friends’ latke parties and solstice celebrations, on top of all my usual commitments.  I am tired and pushing too hard like everyone else.  I struggle with how to pay some nominal homage to the dark time, when I don’t have the luxury of a week off.

One of my teachers suggests going to bed an hour earlier as a basic practice before solstice.  Even if you don’t fall asleep, just lie in the dark.  When I do this I feel better, and more rest gives me more resilience in the short days.  Another practice I have done is to not use electric lights in the evening, at least on the day of solstice, but on the surrounding evenings as well.   I light candles, take baths, read by candlelight or just look out the window.  I have found it difficult to do even these small things this year.  Since many of my evenings habitually and begin and end on some kind of screen, it has felt like a wider chasm to leap in order to find my way into the unadulterated dark and stillness.

This morning I had the incredible luxury of a lazy morning in bed—nowhere to go, nothing I had to do until the afternoon.  It has been months since I had this kind of morning.  My cat was happy to have the company, as we dozed together.

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