YIN & YANG
This month we present to you a blog about yin & yang. You are most likely to have heard this concept and seen this symbol before, but where does it come from?
The Yin Yang symbol comes from Taoism, a religion that originated in China founded by Lao Tzu. It was first recorded in the 14th century BC, and holds a lot of meaning.
Tao means the way, and there are many books written on it, stemming from the Tao Te Ching. It is about living in harmony with the way. There is much to learn from both yin & yang, rather than opposing them against each other in a "good vs. bad" manner. Zou Yan, another ancient Chinese philosopher who in thought represented the Yin and Yang School, proposed the theory that life undergoes five phases: fire, water, metal, wood, and earth - which move from one into the other following the principles of Yin and Yang. In Chinese mythology, the creation of the universe gave birth to yin & yang, and it was the balance of these two that made the birth of Pangu, the first human, possible. The symbol also appears in the I Ching (also known as The Book of Changes, which in summary presents the idea that ever-changing relationship between the polarities of yin & yang that keep the universe and life in motion). Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that our health is directly related to the balance of yin & yang qualities within ourselves. In a nutshell, the concept originated in China a long time ago, influencing many schools of thought that followed, and it continues to do so up to this day and age.
What is Yin & Yang?
Yin means dark and negative, while yang means light and positive. Yin & Yang is symbolized in a multitude of physical manifestations. Typically yin are: feminine, black, dark, north, water, passive, moon, earth, cold, even numbers, estrogen, sleep, valleys, soft, shakti. Typically yang are: masculine, white, light, south, fire, active, Sun, heaven, warm, odd numbers, testosterone, wakefulness, mountains, hard, shakti. The list could go on for both, as In fact, everything in physical manifestation can be attributed to having either a yin or a yang dominant quality. Some examples of Yin & Yang that give a better idea of the principles of Yin as receptive and Yang as active: winter & summer, female & male sexual union, student-teacher relationship etc.
While yin & yang seem to oppose each other, what this Chinese philosophy brings is a deeper insight in which they are actually complementary and interdependent. A few popular expressions that express this you may have heard before, are for instance: "tragedy turns into comedy" and "disasters are blessings in disguise." Everything contains the seed of its opposite. Yin and yang are relative to each other, not opposites as is often misunderstood. For example, an eggshell is yang, the egg yolk is yin; a gas pedal is yang, the brake pedal is yin; sunbeams are yang, the shadows are yin; throwing a ball is yang, catching it is yin. When yin receives the action, it completes it. Once a given quality has reached its peak, it organically starts to transform into its opposite quality (think of the grain plant that has fully grown in mid summer (yang)- after this point it gives seeds and proceeds to die back into the winter (yin).This principle can be observed in pretty much everything around us. One can turn into the other. Destruction makes space for new creation and regeneration. Yin & yang can't exist without the other. Where one ends, the other begins. Day and night are not opposites, they are gradual processes relative to each other.
Duality - Yin & Yang within each other
The notion of a duality is a paradox, because two apparently opposing forces are always complementing each other as two parts of one and the same coin. Although everything has a dominant yin or yang quality, nothing is 100% yang or 100% yin. Note that in the yin yang symbol, there is a little white dot inside the black half, and a little white dot inside the white half. This represents the yin within the yang, and a yang within the yin. There can be action within relaxation, and relaxation within action. They find themselves within the other, optimizing each other. When one is too active without a sense of relaxation, we can for instance think of the warrior who does not have a peaceful mind. It is the warrior with the peaceful mind who succeeds in the end, as he is able to persevere. Following that train of thought, action within relaxation happens when we keep our awareness alert in the middle of deep relaxation, such as is the case in the practice of Yoga Nidra, in which we gradually enter into deeper states consciously, leading us to lucid dreaming and high states of consciousness in which we can access and get in touch with very deep parts of our being which is otherwise a more difficult practice.
Yin & Yang in Yoga
To start off, the whole practice of Hatha (ha =Sun, tha= moon) Yoga is intended to bring balance to the yin & yang aspects of our being so that we can live in harmonious equilibrium and bring our energies to the center and up (allowing Kundalini Shakti to rise - topic for another blog!). Yang practices stimulate dynamism, while Yin practices nourish the restorative aspects of our being.
There are also certain branches of Hatha Yoga that focus either particularly on the yin or yang aspects, and others that bring them all together - depending on what is needed. Ultimately the goal is, as with every other form of yoga, unity and balance.
Yin Yoga is a slower practice in which poses are held for a longer time in a relaxed way, working on the body's deep connective tissues and joints. Yang Yoga is a more active practice (such as Vinyasa Flow or Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga) that activates the body's muscles and blood flow, cultivating strength, flexibility, and stamina and flexibility. Yang styles of yoga are those with rhythm and repetition like Vinyasa Flow. By the way, all of these are available with us at the studio, so you can choose whichever practice meets your needs best.
One more thing to be mentioned on yin & yang from a yoga standpoint is that ajna chakra (third eye chakra) - keeps the yin/yang aspect of our being in optimal balance, and when pure, unclouded, sees with the conscious eye what the more impure, unconscious eye cannot. So doing practices related to this chakra will benefit the yin/yang balance of your overall being!
Seeing things as ultimately good or bad, along with other judgments of the kind, is limited and also merely a matter of perception (i.e. not necessarily real!). When we seek balance in everything we do: at home, on work, and in relationships, we begin to embody wisdom and pave the way for transcendence. It is only when we can embrace the paradox within our being that we are able to transcend duality. Why not make an effort to see things from another point of view? That is part of the great wisdom of flexibility, which also makes growing old invigorating and enriching!
While women and men archetypally represent the polarities of yin & yang respectively, we (well, at least I do!) aim for an inner alchemical marriage of the two polarities within our very self regardless of gender, as is beautifully exemplified by Ardhanarishvara (the half Shiva, half Parvati androgene). Yin & yang dance together in every aspect of the universe. This whole manifestation is born out of the interaction between yin and yang. One doesn't make sense without the other, and life could not be possible without both. Shakti is always dancing around Shiva - they are never separated.
Thank you for tuning in, and until next time!
Aldona from saktiisha