Recently I lead a workshop with the theme, “The Yin and Yang of Yoga.” The intention we set was to learn how to balance our Yin and Yang on the mat, and apply those same qualities off the mat. Yin and Yang is the balance between the positive and negative, push and pull, the yes and no of life
Yang energy is our masculine energy; power, strength, determination, drive, motivation, confidence, attitude all characterise Yang energy. Physically yang energy is our muscular energy and strength on the yoga mat.
Yin energy exudes feminine qualities softness, creativity, compassion, love, kindness,
trust. Yin is our organic flexible energy, the ability to lengthen the body with freedom and grace. She is also the softness of our breath.
You may be aware that the world has been dominated by a Yang-based society for the past 2,000 years – a long time for our world to be out of balance. Therefore, most of us need to generate energy to counteract this predominating energy by learning to bring our Yin to the surface.
This even goes for you, gentlemen! It doesn’t mean you will turn any less “male,” and in fact, being in touch with your Yin will probably make you stand out more as a strong, individual, modern man. Evidence of this can be exemplified by the fact that women have not been come more “male” by living in a more masculine-dominated society. Feminine and masculine energies are only terms that are used to have some identification with the opposing effects of Yin and Yang.
If we only existed in Yin (feminine) energy we wouldn’t be able to survive in this world. Yang (masculine) energy is our coping mechanism, our survival instinct, our wisdom. Yang is our ability to deal with the pain and sorrow of our world. If we didn’t have any Yang energy we wouldn’t be able to survive. We could not cope with the knowledge that so many children are starving, for example. Our hearts would simply cave in.
So it all comes back to balance. I have indicated that most of us need to get with our feminine energy only because it has been over shadowed by our masculine energy. Of course, in some cases there can just as well be areas of our lives or personalities that are out of balance with too much Yin.
Speaking from my own experience, my yoga practice was too Yin for a long time. It was too organic, giving way to too much flexibility, and I was too light on my mat, with the result that my body was lacked stability. I had problems in my lower back, my hamstrings would pull and I had pain in my knee. It wasn’t until I went to an Anusara class that I realised this imbalance. Teachers would tell me to focus on muscular energy, as opposed to flexibility. It was so helpful to have this technique brought to my attention, and my yoga practice became stronger. Lately, I have now noticed it is time from me to pull back incrementally from this strong, muscular Yang energy in order to balance Yin and Yang on the yoga mat.
Off the mat, my story was quite different. While my yoga practice was too Yin, my day-to-day life was the opposite. Even as a yoga teacher, I was caught up with the “rat race” of modern society – and I was uncomfortably aware when I was too competitive, too fixated on achievement, and putting pressure on myself to generate ideas to build numbers in classes. This is my challenge to find balance in the paradox of trusting the philosophy of yoga, while still being able to make a living.
Today, I try to catch myself in those moments when I fear loosing yoga classes, or student numbers dropping, or not being able to cope with the demands of marketing and being self-employed. I sit with the feeling for a few moments, and then I soften and listen to my breath. I honour my character for wanting to achieve in order to survive. I honour my drive and motivation for getting me so far over the past ten years. I trust that if I soften and allow my Yin to surface that I will move forward in balance and achieve more than ever before, with a different kind of effort – one that is motivated by compassion, trust and belief, rather than one driven by fear, competition and stress.
To connect to your inner Yin:
1. Sit and listen to your breath.
2. Soften your body, relaxing the muscles from the top of your head to your toes.
3. With the exhale, think of letting go.
4. Focus on drawing the breath up the spine to the crown of the head as you inhale, and exhale the breath back down to the base of the spine.
This practice can allow you to become centred, in tune with the softness of your breath and your inner Yin.
Peace and love,