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The Mutual Interdependence of Yin and Yang in a Toddler

Putting our baby, Peyton, to sleep, whether for a nap or for the night, has never been easy… especially for me, who lacks my wife’s physiological advantage to match what is probably her more calming energy and cooling constitution. Thus far we suspect, for better or worse, that our daughter’s constitution is more similar to mine.

There was an entire three-month period, somewhere between her 10th and 13th months if I remember correctly, that no matter what I tried failed—she wouldn’t sleep for me—and it drove me insane with all of the typically childish new parent emotional extremes: Frustration, exhaustion, resentment, etc.

I tried bouncing her, rocking her, petting her on the upper back, petting her on the lower back, doing more of a tushy pat than a pet (supposedly the key for our babysitter), and feeding her until she finally and predictably refused the bottle completely. Almost nothing worked during this interim, until one day I came up with a different idea.

One day in mid-tantrum, instead of trying to gently calm her I decided to cradle and hold her tight on my lap, restraining her from squirming away from me while screaming and crying with that rageful fatigue seemingly unique to babies. I squeezed her close so she knew I was there, so she knew that I cared, but at the same time I wouldn’t let her go—at least not for a few minutes. I’d hum into her frontal lobe, gently kissing her forehead, to contrast my fully grown man arms locked around this poor 25-pound angel when all she wanted was off my lap. When I finally let her go she’d collapse face down on the bed next to me, and I’d return to yin. I’d lay next to her petting her back and she’d fall asleep almost instantly. It was the perfect depiction of the mutually interdependent relationship between yin and yang.

In order to enter yin, to fully relax and go to sleep, Peyton had internal yang fire that first needed to release. Maybe we didn’t get quite enough out running around on the playground, or maybe as I prefer to think, her fire was so fueled by the excitement of being with Daddy, that my task was a much taller one than the likes of the babysitter. In any case, she was dealing with a very normal amount of hyperactive central nervous activity that had to vent, and by restraining her physical movements while allowing her to vocalize frustration, she was finally able to viscerally experience the fatigue subdued beneath her heat.

As adults we are no different. If we do not nourish our body’s yang, our yin will eventually suffer, and vice versa. A lack of movement or physical exertion over time may engender an inability to calm down, which can manifest in any way from insomnia to anxiety, irritability, or systemic dryness, as our healthy metabolic fluids dry out due to systemic inflammatory heat.

Conversely, we must nourish our body’s yin in order to experience healthy yang energy long term. Yin is best represented in life’s pauses, as many yoga teachers instruct us to be mindful of the moments between breaths, the end of our exhales and beginning of inhales. Taking a pause while eating our meals, pauses in the middle of each day, periodic vacations, lunch breaks, or 15 minutes to simply lie down and close your eyes. Every form of stoppage will nourish our yin, which will then logically allow us to fully experience our healthiest yang.

After a long nap, a stoppage, Peyton’s energy levels return to infinite, and our cycle continues. I take her to the playground, chase her up and down slides, play full-contact swings, and sometimes just let her run around the periphery of the park. My own yin is as under-nourished as it’s ever been, so I must compensate in other places. Going to sleep earlier, stealing naps whenever possible, eating a bit more animal protein, and ensuring to stay hydrated, as fluids are yin. Fortunately, we’ve since passed the phase of restraint strategy while segueing into her apparently close to complete understanding of language. Now I just do the petting and patting, cuddling next to her, and whisper to her: “I promise I’ll be here when you wake up.” Lately that’s what works best. But check back with me next month. Surely, it’ll be something different.

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