A few years ago, I went through a period of waking up every morning at 3 a.m. I was overextended and desperately needed the rest, but lay there, awake and lucid, unable to fall asleep again until about 5 a.m. Has this happened to you? No amount of cajoling or chamomile tea or daily exercise convinces your internal rhythm to let you sleep through the night, and – if we’re maybe a little bit alike – leaves you feeling cranky and irritable the next day.
I was utterly frustrated: Didn’t my body know this was a very stressful time and what I needed was not insomnia but actual REST?
In fact, that’s precisely (and paradoxically!) what my body knew.
When I told an acupuncturist friend about this habit, she suggested something I never would have considered. My body, she said, was claiming its yin time. Yin time? Was that even a thing? Yes, she said, and evidence of a foundational principle in traditional Chinese medicine.
She explained that when we are busy, stressed, filling every moment – operating in the yang, you might say – our body feels the absence of time spent not doing. Whether we are daydreaming or walking without destination, those “unproductive” spaces where time lies fallow also feed us. Yin is quiet, heavy and dark. It is a balancing force to all that heat and movement. In waking hours, my body was so busy that it never had time to experience stillness. And so, at 3 a.m., I was forced to.
Yin is the winter to yang’s summer, so it might seem a little funny to bring up this phenomenon at just the moment when we see spring bursting forth. The thing is, we still need pauses. Out breaths follow in breaths, music beats wait until the next – even when the sun comes back and we are outside and moving, our bodies crave yin time. It may even help us sleep.