Many of us are familiar with the phrase “yin and yang.” We recognize at once the black and white symbol, which seemingly represents polar opposites. As I look at my yoga practice, I see the yin and the yang. I love Ashtanga and our Monday Level 2 class for the vigorousness and difficulty levels of those practices. This is yoga at its most yang. But I also love Yin yoga for its slower, more meditative quality and the opportunity it gives me to ground and connect to myself in a nurturing way.
But the symbol of yin and yang is not just about opposites. In Chinese Tao philosophy, the circle of the symbol represents everything. Within this everything, yin and yang co-exist and intertwine like spooning lovers. Yang represents the sun, heat, energy, and strength. It is maleness. Yin represents the earth, cold, matter, and passivity. It is femaleness. So all is born of this interaction—the coming together of female and male, yin and yang.
In my own practice, I know that I was totally out of balance while I practiced only Ashtanga/vinyasa power yoga. My muscles were always sore. My life at the time I began yoga was very yang. I was an attorney and I was full-on all of the time. I pushed and forced my way through each day, getting as much done as I could, trying always to win each battle, and setting aside very little time for reflection. And I was profoundly unhappy.
Before I found yin in my yoga practice, I found yin in my life. Needless to say, it wasn’t a simple slowing down—it was a full-blown crash. In the middle of a trial, I short-circuited and could barely go on. Luckily, my boss recognized this immediately and took over and finished the trial. I had been practicing law very successfully for almost 20 years, but my nerves were worn raw. I knew the jig was up and I did the only thing I knew to do. I surrendered! I resigned my job and began to try to piece together a life I could actually handle—one that included rest, taking walks, writing, spending quiet time on our farm.
My yoga practice, however, still persisted at the heart-pounding, full-sweat Ashtanga/power yoga pace. It was as if I was assuaging my guilt over not working by overworking my body. After only 18 months of practicing yoga on a regular basis, I enrolled in teacher training. In the middle of teacher training, I fell on our boat. I ended up with external fixators and pins in my wrist for almost the remainder of the training. I even showed up at yoga classes with these Frankenstein-ish bolts and screws in my arm. My teacher kindly convinced me that maybe power yoga was not where I needed to be right then.
I was then introduced for the very first time to the softer side of yoga. I took a restorative class, then a Kripalu class. As I healed, I found these slower, more meditative classes took me on a journey inside my troubled self. I began to see the imbalance I had always had in my life. Thus, my yin practice was born.
In the yin and yang symbol, in the white, bright yang there is a spot of dark yin, and in the blackness of the yin there is a bright spot of yang. These spots of the enveloped opposite remind us that nothing is all yang, nor is anything all yin.