Balance and moderation is important for everyone, but especially athletes. Most competitive sports & athletics require an intense amount of physical exertion, which can easily set a person up for injury, over-use, & tendonitis. Physical symptoms of over-use can include golf or tennis elbow, sprained ankles, sore shoulders & knees, & shin splits - though this list is by no means exhaustive.
Physical effort falls under the designation of "yang" according to Traditional Chinese Medical theory. While the definition of this is not vital to understanding, it's important to know that for optimal health, our bodies need a nice balance between two elements: yin & yang. Yang is attributed to the day-time & sunshine; also to movement, heat, & action. Yang is typically "male" & considered to be the "sunny side of a hill", according to Chinese classical texts. Yang could also be male hormones, such as testosterone. Yin on the other hand, is the dark side of the hill: it is dark, cool, restful, & more feminine. This could also be attributed to female hormones, such as estrogen. It's known from a Western model that men & women both need testosterone & estrogen, just in slightly different proportions. TCM is the same in that it requires yin & yang to balance each other. Yin & yang share a deeper relationship as they also engender & help the other to grow & flourish. You cannot have one without the other or death results.
It's easy enough to imagine that most sports & athletics are extremely yang in nature because they are all about movement. In that regard, not only can over-exercise deplete yang (less energy & endurance) but it can also consume yin. The body will dip into its savings account - yin storage - to pay the bills when yang decreases. Yin includes all of the nourishing, lubricating, & regenerative aspects of our bodies. This can include saliva, synovial (joint) fluid, & blood. Without enough yin, there is not enough to nourish joints, muscles, tendons, which can lead to injury, degeneration, & atrophy. Deficient yin can also lead to sleep problems & disturbances, night sweats, hot flashes, dry skin & eyes - the list could go on. This is the flip side of exercise. We all know daily exercise & movement are important to wellness, but it's easily over-done, especially in the case of athletes & weekend-warriors. I have often seen athletes at the "peak" of health, suffering from horrible insomnia, & this is often a direct result of this over-consumption of yin. They may also feel anxious & un-able to calm down at night. These are all symptoms of depleted yin.
So what can help? Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine are excellent for balancing yin & yang, though it's important to realize that building yin is typically not an over-night process. This is why moderation & balance are super, super important! As an athlete, it's essential to have rest days - true rest - but that could even mean going for a nice relaxing walk, stretching or a more "yin" based / restorative yoga practice. In general, our world is VERY yang. We are encouraged to push our bodies & minds. Rest, relaxation, & quiet activities are not considered admirable pursuits - or things we only do on vacation or as a treat. I want to encourage you to find "yin"-building activities that you enjoy to participate in regularly. That could be acupuncture, massage, yoga, meditation, visualization, tai chi or sitting quietly and drinking a cup of tea. However, that does not mean over-thinking or worrying when you are enjoying a quiet moment. If you are not sure how to clear your mind & stop the thinking, try breathing. Journaling or writing things down can help. Clear your mind - I assure you that the majority of the things we fret about are over-exaggerations or out of our control. Know too that whatever is weighing on your mind will still be there AFTER you take some YOU time. It can wait. Put the phone down & take a nap! Also know that where the mind goes, the body will follow. If you can find a calm mental state, your body will fall into alignment. If the mind is anxious & exhausted, the body will fatigue & fail.
For personalized ideas & treatment, please schedule an appointment. And if you're in pain from over-use or injury, I can help get you back on track with that too. Here's to your health! - Holly Christiansen, Licensed Acupuncturist at Bluegrass Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine in Lexington, Kentucky.
About the Author:
Holly Christiansen, Licensed Acupuncturist, currently practicing in the gorgeous, horse capital of the world: Lexington, Kentucky.