Following the losses and unpredictability of 2020 as the pandemic hit, as part of my New Year Resolutions I had dedicated 2021 to the Yang 阳 practice of cultivating resilience and fortifying myself, and sharing this practice with others. I wanted to become unshakeable, so however the river of life flowed, whatever turns and dips might come ahead, in my raft I would always be ready. But Yang, on its own, is incomplete.
The true nature of Yin-Yang
In many texts 阴阳 Yin-Yang is often written as Yin and Yang. The reality is however, there is no Yang without Yin, and vice versa. There isn’t even an ‘and’ separating them because it is, they are, simply, Yin-Yang. Because it is a single concept made up of 2 separate words however, the closest representation that reflects the truth of this is Yin-Yang.
We cannot understand Yin 阴 without Yang 阳; the two are polar opposites that are mutually dependent and thus inseparable, and these forces describe the nature of all things. One can study Yin, and Yang separately, but this is meaningless without experiencing and embodying Yin-Yang in its entirety. In the words of Efrem Korngold and Harriet Beinfield, authors of Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine:
Deeper questions on Yin-Yang
At the end of 2021, regaining my trust and connection with the world, and realizing a predominantly Yang approach was incomplete, I dedicated 2022 to practicing and embodying Yin, which included deepening my continued studies to support women through the most yielding practice of all: menstrual cycle awareness. Through my teachers Alexandra Pope and Sjanie hugo wurlitzer, founders of the Red School, I came across a powerful framework called the ‘Two Vias, ‘Via Negativa’ and ‘Vita Positiva’, reflecting Yin-Yang as pathways, or manners with which we interact with the world, and an extensive table comparing these polarities and their characteristics across a variety of situations.
You have probably heard descriptions of Yin-Yang as the shady and sunny side of the mountain, Moon and Sun, Black and White, Passivity and Proactivity, Feminine and Masculine, and so on. Beyond these more superficial comparisons, though, YinYang offers much greater depth, with a few interesting comparisons below, with the first being perhaps the most interesting of that – that Yang is associated with receiving answers, while Yin is associated with asking questions.
7 Questions and Yin Yoga poses to embody YinYang off the mat
I first came across Bernie Clark’s blog post on adopting a Yin approach to new year resolutions in the last days of 2021. Bernie notes that most resolutions are Yang 阳, about changing or doing- I will lose x kilos, make x $, find a new romantic partner, so on and advocates instead for adopting a Yin 阴 approach, prioritizing acceptance, compassion and being- I will love my body as it is, I will feel grateful and abundant with my existing financial and living situation, appreciate my romantic partner, etc so on.
For 2023, in place of New Year Resolutions, to embody Yin-Yang fully, I have formulated guiding intentions in the form of seven questions, accompanied by 7 Yin Yoga poses that I intend to return to periodically as 2023 unfolds. I invite you to join me. Before beginning:
- Feel free to practice each of these separately, or all 7 of these along with these question prompts as a sequence.
- When practicing you may wish to have a notebook or journal and writing materials nearby to jot down any threads of thought or insights as they come to you.
- When practicing them as a sequence, be sure to leave at least 45 seconds to 1 minute for any preferred rebound of choice (rebound pose, rebound movement, or remaining in stillness observing).
- When practicing these poses as a sequence, leave 5-15 minutes at the end for savasana, ideally with a Yoga bolster under your knees.
- Yoga mat
- 2 Blocks
Allow ease in discomfort and uncertainty in Toestand pose
Question: Navigating uncertainty and discomfort
How might I allow ease in situations of tension, discomfort or uncertainty, especially when dealing with paradoxes, like scenarios where two parties at odds both seem to be both ‘correct’?
Pose: Toe Squat (2-3 min)
Instructions: Start on all fours with your toes tucked under and start to walk your hands towards your knees and your bum towards your heels. Feel free to lean forward, use blocks or cushions under your hands as support if it is too intense for your upper body to be completely upright.
Benefits: Toestand stretches the ankles and feet, lengthens the plantar fascia (connective tissue on the sole of the foot) and stimulates all six lower-body meridians – the bladder, kidney, stomach, spleen, gallbladder and liver – which all begin or end in the toes. As a challenging pose for many it’s also an ideal one to practice cultivating ease in as the discomfort arises.
Meditate planning and improvising in wide-legged child’s pose
Question: Cultivating trust and acceptance
How might I allow and accept in unexpected situations? How might I get equally comfortable with planning and improvising?
Pose: Wide-legged Child’s with palms up (3 min)
Instructions: From all fours with toes untucked, widen your knees apart and sit your bum towards your heels. Lengthen your arms out by the side of your ears, and turn the palms face upwards towards the sky. If your head does not touch the mat, use any cushions, blankets or blocks to support it.
Benefits: A restful healing pose, wide-legged Child’s pose targets the Spleen, Kidney and Urinary Bladder meridians as well as the Liver meridian. In this variation, leave your arms outstretched in a gesture of openness to allow, accept and receive, while also stimulating the meridians of the inner arms, the Heart, Pericardium and Lung.
Trust the journey in Sphinx pose with interlaced fingers, knuckles on Ying-Tang point, third eye
Question: Staying present
How might I welcome calm confidence and presence on this unknown journey ahead of me while letting go of anxiety, fear and distraction?
Pose: Sphinx with YingTang Acupressure (4 min)
Instructions: From all fours, lie prone on your belly, lengthen your legs and untuck your toes. Bring your elbows under your shoulders, about forearm distance apart. Move them half a step forward and interlace your fingers, letting your eyebrow center rest on either your thumb, index or middle finger knuckle(s)
Benefits: As a gentle backbend, Sphinx helps to open the chest, lungs, and low back to connect with your heart. This variation empowers you to connect with intuition and insight through self-acupressure by placing the knuckles on the YinTang 印堂 acupressure point between your eyebrows. This gentle pressure also provides an additional point to draw your awareness towards, supporting you to stay present.
Allowing and asserting in Happy Baby / Stirrup pose:
Question: Power with as opposed to Power over
How might I cultivate compassion to work with myself, rather than over, or even against myself, especially on ‘bad days’ where my body, mind or emotions aren’t as I hope or intend them to be? How might I do the same for others?
Pose: Happy baby / Stirrup pose (3 min)
Instructions: Lying on your back, bend both knees and move them to the sides of your chest. Hold on to the back of the thighs, shins, ankles or outsides of your feet.
Start by asserting more effort, working your upper body. Press the shoulders and the back of the neck down into the floor, trying to get the back and whole spine flat to the floor. Then gradually let go of the effort until you are completely allowing yourself to be held in this position.
Benefits: In this deep hip opener that releases and decompresses the sacroiliac (SI) joints, you can allow gravity to do the work, or assert effort one by using arm strength. With gravity helping in this position, one can experience a gradual transition from asserting to allowing.
Exploring Lineality and Cyclicism in Bananasana
Question: Linear vs. Cyclical
How might I remind myself that though time feels linear, many processes, including my growth, and growth of others around me, is cyclical?
Pose: Bananasana: Left (2-3 min) Right (2-3 min)
Instructions: Lie supine and lengthen your arms overhead. Slowly arch your body sideways to the right. If you wish to you can hold your left wrist with your right hand and cross your left leg over your right. Stay for 2-3 minutes, then come back to the center, observe the differences between the sides, before repeating on the other side for 2-3 minutes
Benefits: This puts the spine in lateral flexion and stretches all the side body tissues and muscles such as the IT band and intercostal muscles, stimulating the Gallbladder meridian and Heart and Lung meridians (if arms are raised overhead).
Opening up and narrowing down in Swan pose, upright and sleeping
Question: Opening up vs. Narrowing down:
How might I balance cultivating curiosity through asking questions to open up possibilities with cultivating clarity through receiving answers to narrow down options?
Pose: Swan: Upright (2.5 min), Sleeping (2.5 min)
Instructions: Begin on all fours and pull one leg out in front. You can start with your front foot close to the inner groin. If your hips are more open you can take greater external rotation in the front leg by drawing your foot up towards the front of your mat.
In this variation, take 2.5 minutes in the upright position while meditating on opening up to possibilities, experiencing it as a backbend which compresses the lower back and can help maintain the health of the lower spine. Then take 2.5 minutes folding into sleeping swan, focusing on cultivating clarity through narrowing down and receiving answers. If accessible to you, in sleeping swan, you may wish to keep your arms outstretched with the palms facing up if you wish.
Benefits: Swan pose or pigeon pose creates external rotation in the front leg, and targets the quads and hip flexors. In the sleeping swan you experience flexion (forward fold), while in upright swan you experience extension (backbend).
Enjoying the journey while moving towards the destination in Fish pose
Question: Destination vs. Journey
How might I trust the process, and enjoy the journey even in moments, on days where I seem to be taking a detour?
Pose: Supported fish pose (5 mins)
Instructions: Prepare 2 Yoga blocks, place one so it is the tallest, the second so it is long. Bend both knees, and gently, back facing the blocks, lower yourself using the support of your hands so your thoracic spine rests on the second block and the back of your head rests on the first. Allow your knees to open out but keep your feet together, coming into a butterfly position in your lower body.
Benefits: Fish stretches the intercostal muscles between the ribs, muscles and fascia of the chest, shoulders, abdominals and neck, while stimulating and stretching the belly as well as the throat, empowering you to connect with your heart chakra and your throat chakra so you can listen to your heartfelt intention and speak this heartfelt wisdom. Butterfly position in the lower half of the body stretches the groin, adductors, hamstrings, knees, connecting you with the sacral and root chakra to cultivate safety and trust.
When practicing these poses as a sequence, don’t forget to leave 5-15 minutes at the end for savasana, ideally with a Yoga bolster under your knees.