Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang
Unlike more traditional systems, Yin Yoga was created from an international set of sources. All hatha, or movement yoga, is descended from Hindu texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika; however, Yin practice also looks to Daoist beliefs and teachings. Where traditional yoga is defined as a path to ‘union’, Yin Yoga can best be understood as a road to ‘balance.’

Think about this difference. When we work towards ‘union’, we visualize an amalgamation, with different parts blending together to create a coalition. When we consider ‘balance,’ however, we strive for equilibrium. A metaphor for traditional yoga might be a chemical solution, where a Yin metaphor might consider a house made salad dressing – oil and vinegar don’t mix, but we can combine them in a way that allows both ingredients to shine.

All energy – whether physical material or the possibilities suggested by force, momentum, resources, and strength – can be classified into one of these two groups, Yin and Yang. The latter is the more obvious energy, that which lights our way and allows us to expand. Conversely, the former can be thought of as more ‘occult’, or hidden; yin energy is that which allows us to slow down and retract. Yang is practical, movement oriented, outside; Yin is spiritual, stationary, and within. Our job as yogi/nis is to learn how to balance each of these so as to live in harmony.

Although nothing is completely Yin or Yang, certain things are classified as leaning more in one or the other direction. In the human body, muscle and skin tissues are Yang, or active, while bones and ligaments are Yin. Because of this, it makes sense to think of traditional yoga as a way to maintain Yang tissues, perhaps by moving in and out of poses or by setting up and then actively holding. But this only helps part of the body! Because joints and ligaments are Yin, we use a different methodology when these are the target. We want to be gentler and to relax as much as possible to avoid damaging delicate areas. In order to do this, we need to incorporate time into our practice, holding poses for longer to allow the body to adapt and integrate. In general, a Yin pose will have a softer or less intense ‘edge’ and will be held for a longer amount of time.

Consider two poses: Paschimottanasa, or Seated Forward Bend, and the Yin version, known as Caterpillar. The two look similar on the surface – but each is practiced differently. The first, a Yang posture, requires the use of muscle tissue. We extend the back and perhaps the legs; we may use a strap to enhance the stretch. When coming into the second, however, we fold forward, allowing the back to round. If needed, we raise the hips by sitting on a bolster; we may also use a strap or other props to make sure that the body is fully supported. And then? We relax and let go of muscle tension. We retreat into the pose and hold it, passively witnessing the response from the body as it changes each second. We stay here and allow the Yin tissues to be worked. Albeit differently from Yang parts, our Yin areas also need to be maintained; using the concept of Yin/Yang, we can target different areas with what each needs.

You Should Also Read:
Yin Yoga
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Yin Yoga
Review of Complete Guide to Yin Yoga

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