Learn To Balance Yang Energy In Yin Yoga
Written by Sophie Nusselder
Next to dynamic “Yang classes” (like vinyasa and ashtanga) which are merely focused on strengthening the muscles, most yogaschools offer Yin Yoga these days. Yin Yoga. This sounds quite a relaxing, slow and easy style don’t you think? Well, I must admit, it can be quite challenging, for the body and especially the mind. Nevertheless, I love it! Yin Yoga has taught me to learn to balance “Yang Energy” and soften the heart.
What Is Yin Yoga? Yin yoga is a technique developed by Paul Grilley (a student of Japanese yogi Hiroshi Motoyama). In Yin Yoga you maintain a sitting or lying posture (asana) for at least 3 to 5 minutes, in which you seek to relax the muscles. The postures invite you to create space for stillness while nourishing the connective tissues (like ligaments, tendons, fascia, bones and joints). As connective tissue is more rigid, it needs a different approach than the more elastic tissues (muscles) of our bodies. Connective tissue lengthens, strengthens and opens up slowly, effectively and safely when continuous pressure for a longer period of time is applied.
Qi Yin Yoga poses are also designed to improve the flow of qi, the subtle energy said in Chinese medicine to run through the meridian pathways of the body. It is suggested that these meridians are created by the connective tissue. Improved flow of qi is hypothesized to improve organ health, immunity, and emotional well-being.
Yin And Yang All life is ruled by the interplay of two dynamic forces, known in traditional Chinese medicine as Yin and Yang. They’re opposite yet complementary forces, never equal, but cycle together in harmony. Yin yoga is based on the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang, opposite and complementary principles in nature. Yin is the stable, unmoving, hidden aspect of things; Yang is the changing, moving, revealing aspect. Other Yin-Yang polarities include cold-hot, down-up, calm-excited. In the body, the relatively stiff connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, fascia) is Yin, while the more mobile and pliable muscles and blood are yang.
Shifting The Mind From Yang To Yin In a Yin pose the body is still, but the Yang energy (active mind) is still there. So the mind has the time to start thinking thoughts, planning life, identifying with the (sometimes insufferable) pain we feel in parts of our body. Example: when I am in “toesquat” sometimes my mind wonders if my toes are going to fall off. While being in a pose, we are invited to manage sensations in the body and emotions, which are coming up. We are asked to direct and guide the Yang energy that arises when the body is still, to ground this energy and send it down.
This is why when I teach Yin Yoga, I often talk students through the postures as if they were trying to meditate. On a basic level this is to help the students mind shift from Yang to Yin, active to passive.
Being Open And Vulnerable In The Pose Yin yoga is working on our emotional bodies in the same way as it works on our connective tissue: it activates us to change at that deepest level. It breaks down barriers in order to make new, more resilient structures. I remember in my early days of practise, when I was opening the hip joint in pigeon pose (Ekapada Raja Kapotasana) the only thing I could do was cry. Later my teacher told me we hold all emotions, like sadness, fear, guilt, stress, in our pelvis and hip area, so when we open the muscles there, that can be powerful enough to bring on tears. Nowadays the flood of emotions aren’t as intense any more, but still, Yin yoga gives me the ability to be open and vulnerable. Yin yoga invites me to explore how to be soft, how to hold myself open while being in a sometimes challenging pose. My best friend in a Yin pose is the breath. The breath guides and protects me. The breath gives me the courage on the way to face what comes.
Balancing Yang Energy In Yin Yoga Balancing is not a static act. Imagine the typical depiction of weighing scales: two plates held by a common string suspended at a point halfway between them. When two equally weighted objects are placed upon the scales, there is a slight swaying motion, like a pendulum. If one side is too heavy, the scales tip and balance is lost. When both sides are equal, there is still a slight oscillation around the middle position. This rebalancing is the returning to wholeness and health.
The ancient Chinese called this middle point “the Dao”. The Dao is the tranquility found in the center of all events. The center is always there, even if we are not always there to enjoy it. When we leave the center, we take on aspects of Yin or Yang.
Experience “The Dao” In A Yin Pose Sometimes during practice, for a moment, it’s like time has stopped existing. I’m in the pose, observing the breath. I experience “what is”. I experience the tranquility in the center of all events, ready to leave this space again to take on aspects of Yin and Yang.
Namaste, Sophie Nusselder
Picture: Boukje Kassenaar Photography: www.boukjekassenaar.nl