“At the Ganges in India, praying to the rising sun while immersed in water joins two primary elements and symbolizes the union of opposites: masculine + feminine, light + dark, wrong + right, and good + evil”Stephen P. Huyler in Meeting God
The Meaning Behind Yin and Yang
You know this symbol, don’t you?! Here in the West we commonly call it the “yin-yang-symbol”. But actually it goes by the name of Taijitu.
If you grew up in the 90s like me, maybe you also wore it religiously on jewelry and clothes and fake tattoos – all without really understanding what it stood for. Do you know it now? The Taijitu comes from an ancient Chinese religion called Daiosm, and it is here to teach us that everything contains the seed of its opposite.
There is always a little bit of darkness in the light, and a little bit of light in the darkness. Think, for example, of Darth Vader’s fatherly love. Or of Luke fighting off his urges to join the dark side. Nothing can exist without a little bit of its opposite element mixed in. This is the concept of yin and yang.
The crucial point is this: Daoism teaches us that we should not look at opposite forces as ‘good vs. evil’, ‘dark vs. light’, or ‘stillness vs. movement’. Instead of looking at opposites as being in conflict all the time, we can and should understand the interplay of opposites as a necessary and beautiful symbiosis.
It’s common in the West, and especially in Hollywood and in some religions as well, to present a “battle between good and evil” or “life and death.” As if these two things were completely separate and the “bad” one needed to be done away with or shoved below the surface. From a Daoist perspective, this is wrong. More than that, it is a certain cause of disappointment and disharmony in life!
The Flow of Day and Night
An easy way to think about the idea of yin and yang working together, is to think about the pattern of day and night: We can think of the dark as the yin, and the light as the yang. In this cycle of nature, yin becomes yang, and yang becomes yin over and over and over. Just as day moves to night and night to day endlessly. One is not bad, one is not good – they are two necessary and complimentary parts to wholeness and harmony : the balance of nature.
We need the dark of night to rest and renew for the coming day. And we need the activity of the day to prepare the body for sleep. yin and yang play equally important roles in all aspects of life. We need to make sure they are in balance so we don’t move into a state of disease or chronic illness. Without death there would be no birth. Without the cold, there would be no heat. We need one to feel the other.
Balancing Yin and Yang Energies
Here is an overview of some important yin and yang energies that we can harmonize in our lives:
- DOWNWARD (APANIC)
- UPWARDS (PRANIC)
For the Daoists, finding harmony between these unions of opposites is an essential part of life. Without striking a balance between our pairs of opposites within the body and the mind, we create disharmony, which leads to disease, chronic illness, and death of the physical body.
In fact, “dao” means “the path”, and is the middle way between two extremes. The Dao, according to Bernie Clark, is “the tranquility found in the center of all events, and the path leading to the center. 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.”
Throughout the day, we tend to fluctuate between yin periods (sleep, being lazy on the couch, reading a book) and yang periods (doing dynamic yoga, running errands, working, meeting friends). It seems to me that, increasingly, we are ‘yanging’ much more than we are ‘yinning.’
We are in high-energy-mode, where we run from one thing to the next, keeping our minds overly occupied with endless scrolling, engagements, and pursuit of achievements.
Wei-Wu-Wei: Effortless Doing
Wei-Wu-Wei is hard to translate exactly. But it means something like “action without action” or “effortless doing.” It is conscious non-action, the deliberate decision to do nothing for a reason.
Sounds good to me!
Wei-Wu-Wei is an important aspect of Daoism. It means deciding to do nothing. This theme was carried into Buddhism and many forms of meditation as well. My meditation teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, used to say, “When you meditate, simply sit like a disused cup on the table, nothing more.”
The practice of non-doing is important in creating harmony and preventing illness, stress, and anxiety. It also helps cultivate our spirituality and tap into our true nature by allowing us to be still and silent and comfortable with ourselves just as we are.
One way to cultivate Wei-Wu-Wei is – drumrolllllllll please – Yinyoga.
Yin Sequence for Harmony
Yin poses are meant to be held anywhere from one to ten minutes or more. When they begin practicing yin yoga, a lot of students get incredibly bored staying in one position for so long. I recommend putting on some cool, relaxing music, setting a timer, and focusing on your breath going in, and coming out. Every time your mind wanders to work or to worries, or just gets bored – remind yourself that harmony is worth the effort.
Come back over and over to feeling every sensation and pulsation of energy in your body in the pose, as you watch the breath go in and go out. Good luck, and I hope you enter a slow, melty, dream-like state by the end of the sequence. Enjoy!
- Reclined Butterfly (10”)
- Short Savasana (1”)
- Cat Pulling its Own Tail (4” each side)
- Sleeping Swan (10” each side)
- Dragon (3” each side)
- Short Savasana (1”)
- Dragonfly (10”)
- Happy Baby (2”)
- Long Savasana & Meditation (10” or more)
Benefits, Precautions and Props
Benefits : Stretches the inner thighs and hips. Good for the kidneys and prostate gland; highly recommended for people suffering from urinary problems.
Precautions : If you have an injured inner meniscus, the open-hip position of this pose might aggravate it. Move slowly into and out of the pose, and if there is any electrical pain in the knees, skip the pose entirely. Might aggravate sciatica or low back pain. Again, move slowly and with awareness, and come out of the pose in the case of pain.
Prop yourself : Use a blanket or pillow under your head for support (you can also roll the top layer of the blanket like I’ve demonstrated in the pic above). Use blocks or pillows to support your knees so that you don’t overstretch the connective tissues in your hips. Wrap a strap around the outer edges of your feet and loop it around your very lowest part of your back (as shown) to further support the knees and hip joints in the pose, and fully relax your weight into the props.
Cat Pulling its Own Tail
Benefits : A gentle twist that mildly compresses the lower back, and opens the quadriceps, upper thighs, and hip flexors
Precautions : If you have lower back sensitivity, go slowly. If you feel any pinching, either choose not to grab the bottom foot (getting into the hip flexor and thigh stretch), or come out of the pose entirely.
Prop yourself : Use a blanket or pillow under your head to support your neck, and if you aren’t able to grab the outstretched foot, either use a strap, or simply relax the foot and hand where they naturally land
Benefits : gently opens the hips, allowing gravity to do the work.
Precautions : If you have any problems with the inner meniscus of the knees, move slowly into the pose, and if you feel sharp pain, skip the pose entirely.
Prop yourself : Use a blanket or pillow under your front hip, blocks or a stack of pillows under your head, and hug a bolster or stack of pillows under your chest for the most support and surrender in the pose.
Benefits : deep hip and groin opener. Stretches the back leg’s hip flexors and quadriceps.
Precautions : Might aggravate SI Joint pain. If you feel any twisting or pinching in your sacroiliac (SI) joint, skip the pose.
Prop yourself : To be able to fully relax into the pose, prop a blanket or pillow under your back knee, and make a block tower to rest your head on to be able to fully relax your neck while you hold the pose.
Benefits : opens the hips, groin, and backs of the legs.
Precautions : Can aggravate sciatica or low back pain, if flexion of the spine is difficult or painful. If you have any inner knee sensitivities or injury, bring the legs closer together or tighten the quadriceps to engage the kneecaps.
Prop yourself : Use a blanket or pillow under your hips to tip your pelvis forward (please make sure you don’t sink your pelvis backwards in the pose). Make a creative head prop using blocks or pillows or bolsters or any combination of the three so you can completely relax your neck and drop into the pose.
Benefits : deep hip opener that releases and decompresses the sacroiliac (SI) joints.
Precautions : If you have low back sensitivity, make sure you press your sacrum down onto the floor to prevent your hips from lifting up and causing deep flexion of the spine. If you have SI joint sensitivity or injury, don’t go to deep, or even skip the pose.
Prop yourself : Use a blanket or pillow under your head to support your neck.
Benefits : Allows the body to reap the benefits of the last pose, and to re-set.
Prop yourself : Use a blanket or pillow under your knees if you would like support for your low back. You can also use a blanket or pillow under your head to support your neck.