Monthly Archives: August 2013

Finding peace with the polarity of yin and yang

Our western culture finds itself in an extreme state of imbalance. We are buying too many things we don’t really need, eat too much unhealthy food and allowing our mind to be captured by a cacophony of so many voices that we can barely be alone in total silence for more than a few minutes.

We have become sidetracked. There is much we can learn from ancient eastern culture to regain our bearings. According to the ancient Daoist principle the universe is constantly striving toward a balance between the polarity of yin and yang.

We can understand the principle of yin and yang best by looking at the yin and yang symbol.
Yin Yang sign
Within the dark yin is also yang and in the lightened yang is also yin. Day turns to night and night turns to day. The entire universe is based on this polarity which is constantly in flow and in movement. Without the polarity of the male and female there would be no life. Like this universal principle the body will always try to restore balance between these energies and set the stage for the next growth cycle.

Illness, imbalance or destruction proceeds where there is too much yin or too much yang. The advertising world is indoctrinating us 24-7 on what we need to buy or do to live a happy life. In most cases we don’t even notice how subtle these influences are. These mostly “external needs” can never be met. We live a hollow life of what we perceive to be unfulfilled personal needs and wants. Our western culture feeds on us comparing ourselves with Joe next door who has “a big house and can afford to buy a sports car.”

A couple of years ago I visited Malawi, a small south eastern African country and one of the world’s poorest countries with a gross national income per capita of 870 dollars (or personal income per person annually) compared to 27,000 in the United States. I have never seen so many happy and smiling people around me than in Malawi. It is a subjective view, but still set me thinking why people in the wealthy countries look a lot more glum. This is not to be misunderstood that you need to be poor to be happy. I presume however, that the people in the mainly agrarian culture of Malawi know that they are dependent on each other and feel a much greater sense of being part of a caring family and community.

In the Book of Wisdom, the I Ging, one of the central themes is finding the right moment to withdraw into yin or to become pro-active by going into yang. The Daoist and other wise women and men teach us that we need to let go of attachment and that this is one of the main reasons for misery and unhappiness. Unhappy and sad moments in our lives are just as transient as the happy moments. Thus the happy person is the one who has found peace in himself or herself that everything is impermanent, in a constant cycle like the seasons going through birth, growth, death and rebirth. Sadly much of organised Christian in the West focuses too much on the crucifixion and pain aspect. It is my personal view that the deeper meaning of the Christ is that we constantly go through cycles of birth, crucifixion and resurrection. After walking painfully over the path of hot coals lies growth and light.
Yield_and_Overcome_Cover_for_Kindle (2)

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A walk through Switzerland – a different Camino

All across western Europe a network of ancient trails used by pilgrims for centuries are being re-discovered as a growing number of people are realising that taking a long walk is one of the best ways to get your stress level down.

During the Middle Ages it was common practise for at least one member of the family to walk by foot to Santiago de Compostela in Spain to pay homage to what is believed to be the burial place of St. James – one of the Apostles of Jesus. Many did not survive the hazards of disease, bandit attacks and other accidents.


Following a series of recent best-selling books on the Camino including “The Pilgrimage” by Paulo Coelho and “I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago” by the German entertainer Harpe Kerkeling, tens of thousands of people are again walking the Camino every year.

The main route, the Camino Frances, from Roncesvalles to Santiago is 737 kilometres long and will take the hiker several weeks to complete. The route is well signposted and the “peregrino” or hiker will find a pilgrims hostel in almost every village on the way where he/she can stay at a cheap price overnight. It is a far cry to the hazardous route from the days of yore.

After taking my first “small” 120 kilometre walk from Saria to Santiago several years ago I have literally become hooked to these ancient paths. Since then I have understood why many a wise teacher has pronounced that getting back into sync with nature “is your best healer”. Walking helps you find your natural rhythm, relaxes your breathing and has many other positive health effects.

On one of my longest trails lasting more than four weeks, which I walked with my good friend Tom, we took the more rugged Camino del Norte along the coast from Urquera to Santiago. It was an exhilarating experience, off the main route frequented by most other peregrinos. The landscape is spectacular with mountains, a rugged coastline and remote villages.

This year my wife Alyce, our Dalmatian dog Klara and I did a short stretch from St. Gallen to Einsiedeln in Switzerland. During the Middle Ages most pilgrims from northern Europe walked the same route, gathering at the famous monastery in Einsiedeln before commencing on the long route through France and Spain. Walking slowly by foot through a country makes you see so many things you would never see when travelling by car, bus, train or even bicycle.

After a long afternoon walk up an Alpine hill during summer temperatures of well over 30 degrees Celsius we found a hut next to the road and a fridge filled with cold drinks and ice cream. You merely put into a bottle the money for the drinks you consumed. I couldn’t help but wonder what such a gesture of trust in one’s fellow man would have meant in my home country South Africa with its spiralling crime rate. Camping sites in the Swiss Alps are spotlessly clean and equipped with all the necessary utensils with obviously no danger of theft and vandalism. People had warned us not to take a dog on the walk but we were positively surprised how accommodating and dog-friendly the Swiss really are.

True, Switzerland also has its problems, but somehow the Swiss for centuries have managed to stay on track with a grass roots democracy based on mutual tolerance for different religious, language and cultural affiliations with a broad consensus on this common value system. A general scepticism in big government is deeply embedded with the cantons or regions having wide legislative freedoms. The result: A healthy and vibrantly affluent society.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Genes versus lifestyle

Are we victims of our genes or can we largely influence our health?

 The debate has been raging all the more since the 38-year-old actress Angelina Jolie went public earlier this year by revealing that she underwent a double masectomy after discovering she had inherited a cancer gene that killed her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.


While it remains a very personal and painful decision to undergo such a radical step, one side of the medical profession is lauding Jolie while others are questioning whether this was really necessary.


For the past decade most research has concluded that genes play a major role on whether we are obese, die of a heart attack or cancer. But this appears to be only half the truth. A new field of research called epigenetics tells us that the choices we make in our daily living and in what environment we live can actually alter our health at the molecular level, even if we are born with genes that give us a predisposition of contracting certain types of disease.


The good news here is that we have the choice. We have the freedom to decide how healthy our lives are going to be. The amount of exercise we get, the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe has a huge effect on our health.


According to the research, exercise may well alter the expression of our genes in a positive way, preventing a variety of disease such as Alzheimer, heart and circulatory problems.


Certain types of stem cells appear to determine their direction at an early stage, depending on how well we exercise and what food we eat. Using treadmill-conditioned mice, a team of researchers from McMaster University, United States, led by the Department of Kinesiology’s Gianni Parise has shown that exercise triggers those cells to become bone more often than fat. In sedentary mice, the same stem cells were more likely to become fat, impairing blood production in the marrow cavities of bones.


 “The interesting thing was that a modest exercise program was able to significantly increase blood cells in the marrow and in circulation. What we are suggesting is that exercise is a potent stimulus, enough of a stimulus to actually trigger a switch in these mesenchymal stem cells,” according to Parise

The research appeared in a paper published by the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized