Updated: Mar 5, 2021
HOW CAN WE KNOW THE MOON WITHOUT KNOWING THE SUN?
In Ancient Chinese philosophy Yin and Yang are interconnected, interdependent and complimentary opposites which originate from, consist in, and transform into each other. In Chinese cosmology the universe was created out of primary chaos, and organized into receptive yin and active yang cycles. The ever-changing relationship between the two poles engenders the constant fluidity of the universe and our life. Yin and yang are the two sides of our existence: yin is more subtle, intuitive, feminine, mysterious, passive, while yang is dense, lighter, active, masculine, and more dynamic. For the Daoist, the equilibrium between the two is Dao, i.e., the tranquillity found in the centre of the universe, and the path leading to this centre. In the Dao De Ching the famous sage Lao-tzu describes Dao as the source of the universe, infinite and exhaustible.
Everything is part of Dao.
Dao is life.
Have you ever noticed similar patterns in your life? Moments of action, changes, restlessness followed by times of retirement, contemplation, and peace? Usually after an energetic, dynamic and perhaps somewhat unbalanced period, full of action, there is a moment of silence, a moment for digestion of experiences, reflection on past events and, eventually, a greater steadiness of the mind. As with life, in yoga, after muscle stimulation, the body needs to rest and digest, to release and relax, which help us for achieving physical, mental and emotional stability, and can bring us back into balance.
SO WHAT IS YIN YOGA?
Yin Yoga is a slow gentle practice, which combines physical postures with an awareness of the subtle body. While more active ‘yang’ styles of yoga target the muscles, yin targets and affects the connective tissues, which include our fascia, ligaments, joints, cartilage, and bones. Yin Yoga sequences are slow-paced: one holds the posture for 3 to 5 minutes; and allow for one’s exploration of the body, its sensations and its edge. Each posture is held longer in contrast to yang practices, in order to deeply relax the muscles, stimulate the connective tissues, and improve the flow of vital energy Chi in the body.
The connective tissues can lose their elasticity if they are underused—usually through a sedentary lifestyle or aging, and can bring stiffness or limited joint mobility. By slowly loading various types of connective tissues with weight and by remaining longer in a pose, yin yoga aims at training the muscular fascia to become more flexible and ligaments that support joints to become stronger.
This creates space for our muscles to lengthen more in yang practices and our joints to safely enjoy an increased range of mobility during our daily movements.
As a practice, yin yoga combines aspects of hatha yoga, the concept of the meridians in Chinese medicine, Taoist philosophy and Buddhist meditation techniques. It aims at improving the flow of Chi through the energetic channels (or meridians) in the body, a process that enhances our emotional well-being, immunity and organ health.
Organ health for the Taoists signifies much more than the state of our physical organs, as we know them in the West. In Daoism, it is believed that there are three main organs—‘brains’ or spaces in the body where the energy is collected, stored and transformed. They are located respectively in the lower abdomen, the heart space and the brain. When activated, these spaces become the source of Chi that flows throughout meridians running all over the body. Chi is created by the generative energy, Jing, stored in the kidneys. The goal of the Daoist is to refine the vital energy Chi, created by Jing, into spirit energy Shen, which is stored in the central ‘brain’ (the heart centre); and then the Shen energy into Wuji (the ‘brain’ at the base of the skull, which collects energy from the senses). Each of these centres or ‘organs’ has a personality and controls certain actions and emotions in the body.
In contrast to the Indian yogis, who were seeking spiritual immortality through liberation from the endless cycles of death and rebirth, in Daoism, the liberation was achieved through transformation of the normal body to a ‘perfect’ body, i.e., a body that preserves these three energies—Jing, Chi, and Shen. According to the Daoist, throughout our life, these energies start to disperse, which, in turn, leads to a disease.
However, we can restore them and regain our health and longevity through an internal transformation, which involves physical and mental exercises. For the final stage, in which the vital energy Chi transforms into spirit energy Wuji, meditation is required: the mind has to become empty of thoughts, and all signs of duality extinguished. Immortality is achieved through the inner alchemical practice of changing the body, managing the energy, and practicing meditation.
Before working on our mental transformation, one has to master the physical changes and improve the physical state of the body. Thus, we first need to start with our physical practice.
HOW TO PRACTICE YIN YOGA?
To enter a yin yoga pose, we just need to relax the muscles and let gravity do the work. The alignment in yin yoga, therefore, is different from the concept of alignment in yang practices, where it serves to direct lengthening to specific areas of the body and to avoid over stretching of the ligaments. Since yin yoga relies on gravity to support the postures, one might be allowed to round the spine in postures in which one is used to maintain the spine lengthened, for instance. Additionally, every practitioner comes with their own history of injuries, skeletal composition, and joint insertion, and these factors strongly influence one’s access to the pose. Thus, ‘correct’ alignment varies, depending on the practitioner.
This brings us to the idea of finding one’s edge in a pose. During yin practice one has a longer period of time to find the fullest expression of a pose. The body is slowly expanding and in this process it might be that more than one edge appears. When reaching the first edge, the practitioner has the time to explore, to feel the body’s sensations, and hear the thoughts that might be rising. Usually, finding the edge is to find comfort in discomfort, i.e., feeling stretching sensations across the area that the pose is targeting but, at the same time, the breathing is easy and calm.
‘We do not use the body to get into a pose, We use the pose to get into the body.’ Bernie Clark
Feeling the sensations of our bodies in a yin pose allows us to get into the body. Firstly, we might notice areas of our bodies that feel stagnant or stiff, maybe we could recognize patterns in our daily movements that contribute to this stiffness; and then, we might notice that these areas of our bodies slowly begin to soften. The entire body comes to be at ease, we become aware of what happens in it, and, thereafter, we become conscious of what happens in our heart and mind. Getting into the body, we can acquire a greater connection with our self, our emotions, feelings, and thoughts, and bring clarity into our lives. Through our bodies, we can actually make choices—to react differently to the circumstances around us, to change our perceptions and make ourselves happy with what we have, to help ourselves and other human beings, to take the responsibility for our lives by becoming aware of the fact that we create our life stories. Through being in the body, we can start living in the NOW, which can lead us to a healthier and a happier life, filled with joy, love and abundance.
With yin yoga we are allowed the time and space to observe everything that takes place within us, become aware and better understand all that comes and goes, without identifying with that which is. We have a direct experience with the truth, encountering what is, letting things be as they enter and leave our lives.
We cultivate a practice of being in the moment. Once we accept all that is, we find inner peace and start living our life joyfully.