The circular Yin and Yang symbol is well known in the West, and appears often in our popular culture. First arising in Taoist tradition, this black and white circular symbol has some pretty immense meaning. In fact, it is so vast, it represents everything in our entire universe. Going back to the moment of the big bang, when our manifested universe came to be, an explosion of dualist matter occurred – this is known as Yin and Yang.
Everything from the atoms we are made of, seasons of the year to our human anatomy and emotions can be divided into complimentary combinations of Yin/Yang. Protons (positive) and electrons (negative), day and night, summer and winter, mountain peaks and slopes, sorrow and joy – these are just some examples of how nothing can exist independently. No object, matter or energy can be isolated, it is all universally interconnected.
This is why managing our own Yin/Yang balance is important. We need to make sure our use of energy is effective, and not holding us back.
I recently had a pretty bad injury. Illness and injury is usually the universe’s way of telling you you’re out of balance.
As we drove back from the hospital, my friend said in an effort to comfort me,
“I think this is Buddha’s way of saying slow down.”
He was right. I knew this. But at the time, the thought of slowing down was terrifying.
I’m naturally far more on the Yang side of the scale. I’m active, aggressive, logical and questioning in my approach to life. I exercise every day, with a regular morning self-practice, a gym class in my lunch-break and usually some extra led yoga classes a few nights a week. I’m someone who needs to be in a constant state of movement.
So you can imagine my resistance to rest.
The last few weeks have brought me, (somewhat forced), into a state of Yin. Although my specific injury has been the major focus of my healing, I’ve found some pleasant surprises on my way back to health and harmony.
LEARN TO LEAN INTO DISCOMFORT
Attending a Yin yoga class has always been a battle. The long-hold in poses, the lack of sweat and flow, the muscles cramps, and the temptation to twitch is usually enough to deter me. I somehow always leave a Yin class somewhat emotionally drained. I can rarely hold the poses, and if I do manage to, it is only because my ego is too inflated to let other people know how uncomfortable I am. There is also an extended meditation period at the end of a Yin class – and I usually use this time to analyse and judge how much I “failed” to relax.
With my options being Yin or no yoga at all, I gradually worked my way back onto the mat.
My first time back on my mat I spent 10 whole minutes in a simple forward fold. The amount of gratitude I had for being able to practice seemed to overpower my fear and discomfort for the first few minutes.
After a while, the thoughts, feelings and sensations I can usually ignore in my faster paced Ashtanga practice started to show up. The temptation to get out of the pose and stop the practice became overwhelming. I started to twitch. And then I remembered a mantra one of my yoga teachers passed on to me – “notice the sensation, and know that it is neither good nor bad, it just is”. With this in mind, and my breath steady and deep, I stayed in the pose.
The best way to heal is to find stillness, and learn how to deal with whatever comes up one breath at a time. Both Yin yoga, and a Yin approach to situations will help you to find comfort in a not so comfortable pose or situation. Just lean into it!
DEEPEN YOUR CONNECTIONS
Exercise that focuses on muscle tissue is Yang; exercise that focuses on connective tissue is Yin. Yang yoga practices such as Ashtanga or Hatha access tissues like muscles which are more fluid-filled, soft, and elastic. Yin yoga accesses tissues like the connective tissue of ligaments, tendons, and fascia.
Our connective tissue is an energetic communicative system within our body that transfers information and supports our entire body. The way for energy to flow freely through this system, is through stillness. If we are in a constant Yang state, energy becomes blocked, and stiffness, stress, trauma and injury becomes static and unable to heal. Yin yoga poses allow you to access the power of non-action, and through not pushing and pulling furhter into poses, your body is able to connect to its’ natural state.
Not only have I worked up to a regular Yin practice, staying on my mat for an hour or more a day in Yin poses, but I have benefited immensely from pursuing stillness and deeper connections in my life too.
I’ve focused on deepening connections by spending more time with less people, having more meaningful conversations, asking the right questions and allowing space for spending time with people in silence.
I’ve also used this time of Yin to get to know my overall direction, instead of a constant movement without reflection. Yin energy can be used to focus on your foundations, so that when you’re back in balance and ready to expand into your Yang nature again, you’ll be even better resourced than before.
But don’t forget, spring only comes when winter is finished! Breathe and be patient.