Rest and activity in the Year of Sagely Living

chinese_medicine_lung_organ_systemYou might wonder why you haven’t yet seen a post from me about March’s Year of Sagely Living goal. Fittingly enough, I was at a Qigong retreat all weekend in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been with some of the greatest people I know.  It was a good way to start off my contemplation of the rhythm of relaxation and focused work in my life! It reminds me that my program, while rigorous and sometimes quite difficult, does try to build in time for rejuvenation – we have a retreat every term! A luxury, no doubt about it.

When conceiving the Year of Sagely Living we decided to focus March, the time of first real visible manifestation of spring, on the balance between activity and rest. This is such a wide topic, there are a variety of possibilities within it. Originally, I explained:

Lung, Yin 寅 (Tiger)- Activity/Rest: This category will contain practices having to do with appropriate cycles of rest and activity in daily life – for instance, appropriate waking times throughout the seasons.

I am reminded to consider the Lung and everything we learned about that organ system in our classes with Heiner Fruehauf . When I read back through all the symbols associated with Lung I see a lot of contrasting elements. This makes sense given the “tension between opposites” that the actual physical Lung deals with. It interfaces between liquid and gas, it is part of what oversees the interchange between carbon dioxide and oxygen… One of the interesting contradictions we’re asked to ponder as we study the Lung organ system is the fact that while the Lung is most often referred to in terms of metal – as per the Neijing Suwen (and many other places) on the organ clock it is solidly placed in the spring! What can this mean?

I have thought of it in many ways over the last couple of years. First, the Lung/metal is in charge of descending the Qi of the body and the wood is responsible for ascending movement. This vital pillar of human physiology serves as the mechanism by which rhythm is maintained in the body. The Lung is readily associated with rhythm – along with the heartbeat our breathing rate is one of those regular things that happen all day, every day, without our even thinking about it.

Another way to look at it is simply by assuming there is something about the Lung which is Fall and something which is Spring. What parts of Lung function are similar to Fall? The Fall is crisp and cool, it is a time when the Yin energy begins to dominate strongly over the Yang. The Lung, too, is a Yin-like environment as an organ and as one of the six conformations. The Taiyin damp aspect of the Lung creates an organ that likes to be relatively cool (though not cold) and wet (though not filled!). There are other similarities, but I will move on. What parts of Lung function are in resonance with Spring energy? I think the best way to understand this is to take a few minutes and do some really deep breathing. See how the light returns to your eyes? See how your energy rebounds?

I will be thinking about the tension and similarity between Fall and Spring as I enter March and this phase of the Year of Sagely Living. I have a few ideas of what one might consider as practices to learn about rest and activity.

1. Chinese organ clock and its application: I have spoken many times on the blog about the Chinese organ clock. One of the pieces of information associated with the clock that most everyone has heard about is the two hour periods associated with each organ system. Here’s a quick rundown of the associations:

  1. Lung – Fèi : 3-5 am
  2. Large Intestine – Dà Cháng 大腸 : 5-7am
  3. Stomach – Wèi : 7-9am
  4. Spleen – Pí : 9-11am
  5. Heart – Xīn : 11-1pm
  6. Small Intestine – Xiǎo Cháng 小腸 : 1-3pm
  7. Bladder – Páng Guāng 膀胱 : 3-5pm
  8. Kidney – Shèn : 5-7pm
  9. Pericardium – Xīn Bāo 心包 : 7-9pm
  10. Triple Burner – Sān jiāo 三膲 : 9-11pm
  11. Gall Bladder – Dǎn : 11-1am
  12. Liver – Gān : 1-3am

While the organ clock is vitally important and often eerily accurate, it is still something we must look at through the lens of individual experience, cultural application and the normal seasonal changes. Regarding individual experience – this is simply recognizing the changing terrain of the human body.

While I believe the human body is essentially the same as it was thousands of years ago, certainly the introduction of many human created chemicals and conditions have altered our bodies in some way. Perhaps some are more resistant to these changes than others. Regarding seasonal changes – in most parts of the world the Yang or light parts of the day are longer in the summer and shorter in the winter. This means that the organ systems located on the “Yang” or daytime side of the clock will have, comparitively, more time in those months.

As an aside – if you have a Mac running OSX (anything before Leopard) you might want to go over to the site of my colleague, Brandon Brown. He has skillfully and artistically created a widget that takes into account these seasonal changes. At this point, it is somewhat limited in that it is focused on the West coast of the United States. He says he’ll work on a more robust version someday. 🙂 Regardless – the main lesson of the organ clock is to remember that all energy isn’t in all places at all times naturally. Everything in its time, in its season. Regarding all this organ clock business, one possible March practice would be to pay close attention to the flow of energy through my organ systems and consider how I might best organize my time to take advantage of the flow.

2.  Appropriate amounts of sleep.  In the Neijing Suwen, there are some important discussions about the importance of sleep – in particular, the optimal seasonal variations for sleeping and waking.  In general, we understand that sleeping is important to bring the Shen back to be housed in the Heart and to allow the Wei Qi to descend into the organs to begin the process of rejuvenation.  Sleep is vital!  So, when should I wake? How long should I sleep at night? A natural goal here would be to try to achieve my mythical optimum and see how it affects my life. Another would be to try some kind of artificial sleep schedule, something outside of my optimum, and see how that affects my life.

3.  Regulating relaxation.   We are all told that we need to take time to relax. But, this means many different things to different people.  In Chinese medicine school, we learn a lot about the taxing effect that continuous work has on both the Spleen and the Heart organ systems.  Depletion of the Qi and Blood leads to what is often jokingly called “Exhausted Student Syndrome.”  On my Qigong retreat, I found myself contemplating whether it is better to work very hard with little time for “relaxation” and then take a stretch of time COMPLETELY off or whether it’s more advantageous to work continuously, but with small regular breaks. Further, what is true relaxation? Watching television? Hiking? Playing a sport? Meditating? It’s a variety of things, to be certain, but what is it for me?

A subset of the relaxation question concerns the importance of taking microbreaks while doing sit down work, especially at the computer. Repetitive strain injury is something all Chinese Medicine students and bloggers should think about. One quick note – some recent software programs help you avoid long stretches at the computer with no break. One simple practice I could incorporate into my daily life is simply to use a program like that and to review my ergonomics at my desk.

I’d be interested to hear how other people think about rest, relaxation and work in their own lives. Please leave your thoughts in the comments. In my next article, released shortly, I will declare my March Year of Sagely Living goal.

About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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