The Importance of Leisure
It can happen to any of us, men or women. We reach a certain age and all of a sudden we wake up to the fact that not only are we older, we feel older. While there are many joys of aging, physical discomforts are not among them.
Robert, age fifty-six, has been my patient for the past fifteen years. He has always taken great pride in his fitness routine and his ability to stay in good shape despite long hours at his high-profile job. His position with a prestigious law firm requires considerable travel, late night meetings, and never-ending piles of briefs to address in the messenger bag always at his side.
I see Robert once a month and treat him for lower back pain and general balancing of his kidneys and immune system as he is prone to frequent colds.
Robert is kind, emotionally stable, and balanced, even when challenged by stressful situations. However, the past year has been extremely rough—an extended family member took his life, his mother became ill, and his wife has had a very difficult time coping with the suicide of her family member.
Following this upsetting sequence, Robert came into my clinic upset and visibly shaken. He had gained weight, was fighting off a cold for several weeks, lacked energy, had night sweats, and could not get a good night’s sleep despite his exhaustion.
Six months prior to their family loss, I noticed that Robert’s hair was really starting to thin; now, almost overnight, his hair had turned from blonde to silver. He also needed to have his eyeglass prescription changed to a stronger lens.
Through the years, Robert and I have had several spirited discussions about the value of sleep, meditation, lunch away from his desk, stopping after a ten-hour day, and relaxing on the weekends. He knows he works too many hours but continues to push his body despite my words of caution.
Robert perfectly fits the profile of kidney qi deficiency with his frequent colds, backaches, premature graying of the hair, rapid hair loss, eye weakness, and night sweats.
In Oriental Medicine, we call kidneys the “minsters of health” since they are responsible for and relate to the area of reproduction, growth, and regeneration.
When diagnosing any patient I always take into account the strength of the kidney pulses as they are the root of the balance—the yin and the yang—within the body. The kidneys house our willpower in addition to our “ming men” fire—also known as the gate of vitality and the source of the body’s EnerQi and qi—and the fuel for the body’s internal organs.
One of the kidney’s most important jobs, in the creation of heat and fire, is the movement of energy that fuels us, not unlike an engine. “Ming men” fire heats the body and allows the kidney essence to have the power to perform the daily tasks required for proper body functioning. The kidneys are the battery pack of the body; their strength and health must always be addressed.
Clearly Robert was experiencing kidney imbalance; his internal engine had overheated and was in need of rapid repair.
I immediately put Robert on a kidney qi– and yin-building herbal formula. I asked him to get blood work so we could gauge his hormone and system functions. I used moxabustion over his kidneys and on his immune system points.
We reviewed and tweaked Robert’s diet, and he committed to cutting back on his work schedule. He agreed to spend time relaxing every evening and getting to sleep earlier.
I started seeing Robert every two weeks for acupuncture and we reviewed his weekly leisure and meditation plans. I formulated a vitamin protocol to build the adrenals and strengthen his hormone production, which was below normal as I had suspected.
Within two weeks, the night sweats stopped. Over the next three months, Robert slowly lost the extra weight he had gained. He was able to fight off what felt like a cold last month and has not had a backache. He is exercising with more vigor and starting to feel stronger physically and emotionally.
Most importantly, Robert has come to understand and value the importance of leisure and sleep. He is embracing his scaled down working hours. He talks about the merits of maintaining equilibrium in his life.
Robert has come to realize that health and happiness are his real wealth. He gets it. His ideas around his identity have slowly begun to change.
“Leisure is not the attitude of the one who intervenes but of the one who opens himself; not of someone who seizes but of one who lets go, who lets himself go, and “go under” almost as someone who falls asleep must let himself go . . . The surge of new life that flows out to us when we give ourselves to the contemplation of a blossoming rose, a sleeping child, or of a divine mystery—is this not like the surge of life that comes from a deep, dreamless sleep?” – German Philosopher Josef Pieper (1999)
Pieper, J. (1999). Leisure: The basis of culture. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund.