Written by Allison Walton
In Taoist and Chinese tradition, Yin and Yang is the concept of duality forming a whole, to create balance. They are very opposite, yet complementary energies. For example: day and night, sun and moon, light and dark. Both create totality and are unable to exist without the other. The general characteristics of Yang reflect that of the sun's energy: bright, fiery, masculine, and more extroverted in nature, whereas characteristics of Yin energy encompass the moon's energy: dark, feminine, cold, and more introverted.
The traditional Yin Yang symbol that most of us are familiar with is the ideal depiction of what a true state of balance looks like (visually), where the small dots within each of the two energies symbolize that there is always some Yin within Yang, and vice versa. However, in today's society, that depiction is likely be highly distorted and skewed more towards Yang energy. We tend to do a pretty great job of keeping ourselves busy and our schedules full, often to the point of feeling burnt out, overworked, overstressed and restless. Little do we allow ourselves to nurture the yin aspects of living that allow us to find balance and restore on a physical, mental and emotional level. We tend to feel guilty when we take time off, cancel plans or clear our calendars to simply let ourselves rest, but it's the intentional rest that is absolutely fundamental to our wellbeing and our ability to thrive in a demanding world that seems to require much from us, energetically speaking.
With a new year fresh on the horizon, there is an obvious change of pace that is happening. Gym facilities are packed, workout class sizes substantially increase and diets tend to change in an effort to push ourselves towards lofty resolutions and goals. Having personal goals for ourselves and maintaining accountability to reach them is extremely important, however we must take caution not to push ourselves beyond our limits to a state of exhaustion and dis-ease. That's where balance comes in, and why our studio challenge to kick off 2018 revolves around the concept of Effort + Ease. Yes, working towards finding our edge while building heat through a challenging physical practice, but equally as important, taking an extended restorative savasana to cool the nervous system back down. We advocate for the importance of both in maintaining balance while achieving your personal goals on a much deeper, more intentional level (even off the reformer/mat).
Many will say that they find the yin-focused restorative practices to be much harder than routine physical practices, because the poses are held for extended periods of time (where we don't have the distraction of our phone, TV or computer to reach for). It can be mentally and emotionally challenging, as it's the mind that becomes the most active part of our bodies. Naturally, it will feel difficult to remain in an active state of rest when we are conditioned to always be in this state of "business," but that is why these practices are fundamental, as they force us to slow down, be still, and breathe. They're like a supportive little nudge to the nervous system, helping to reduce the stress hormones in our bodies that we've accumulated from yang-heavy days.
Speaking of the nervous system, the breath is one of our most powerful tools for restoring the mental and physical body and bringing some coolness to that fiery energy. During any given day, our breath tends to solely fill up in our chest, however practicing mindful, intentional breathing is what signals the parasympathetic nervous system (our "brake pedal") to kick in. To do so, we must be sure to breathe deeply into the belly. A simple way to do so is to lie down on your back and place both hands across your lower belly, breathing in so that your hands expand away from your belly, and breathing out to soften and release the breath. The nervous system also responds well to extended exhales, so breathing in to the count of three and breathing out to the count of five is a wonderful way to experiment with this exercise, especially during the evening yin hours just before bed.
Another simple ritual to foster evening yin energy is to practice a restorative posture known as legs up the wall. We often guide several variations of this posture at the studio during our restorative-style classes, but essentially, it's a placement of the legs slightly angled or flush against any wall in your home (preferably in a quiet, calm space) with a pillow underneath the head and a blanket draped over your lower body, especially the legs and feet. Similar benefits are achieved as if you were practicing a headstand (as the feet are still above the heart), however this pose encourages an active state of rest where focused breathing and introspection can take place. Acknowledging the inhale as we breathe in, and acknowledging the exhale as we breathe out. Repeating that, again and again.
Implementing a consistent daily routine that harnesses these yin characteristics in a way that works best for you is highly encouraged, so you can expect to be hearing us talk about them even more throughout this month. If you find that your challenge is attending the ease-style classes, then it's likely because there is something in them that your body needs and will benefit from. For those of you looking to learn more about creating space for more yin in your everyday lives, Allison will be hosting a workshop specifically around it this Saturday, January 13th. You may reserve your spot here, and otherwise, we'll see you in the studio!