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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

The Art of Balance: Yin-Yang

Jan 01, 2022 06:00AM ● By Mila Burgess
It’s quiet season. As the days get shorter, temperatures drop and winter arrives, it feels like a not-so-subtle suggestion from Mother Nature to slow down, curl up and get cozy. Still, for many people, this time of year is far from quiet. Holiday gatherings, travel and celebrations combined with increased personal, family and social commitments can make the quiet season feel more like the busiest season of all. 

Part of the art of finding balance in life comes from the ability to create harmony between the hustle of contemporary living and intentional moments of serenity. Yin and yang are ancient Chinese principles rooted in the notion that balance is part of the natural order of things and that it is key to optimal health and well-being. 

The familiar yin-yang symbol, called a taijitu, represents the duality of opposing yet complementary and interconnected forces that exist together in harmony. The light-colored side of the symbol represents yin energy, which is grounded, quiet, soft, still, cool and connected to qualities of contraction, femininity and inward focus. It’s associated with the moon, the Earth and the oceans. In contrast, yang energy, represented by the darker side of the symbol, is active, fiery, fierce. It expresses itself through movement, expansion, growth, light and heat and is considered a masculine force. 

Illustrated by the single drop of the opposite color on each side of the taijitu sign, the
yin-yang philosophy is founded on a “both/and” logic, acknowledging the paradoxical nature of things that coexist. For example, a person can be both strong and flexible or can practice both self-discipline and self-compassion. Nothing is only yin or only yang; the qualities are interdependent, and both are necessary for anything to thrive. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) teaches that all of the organs and meridians, or energy channels, in the body are assigned a yin or yang energy. Because yin and yang are in a constant state of flux, illness and disease can arise due to imbalances. According to TCM, good health is achieved and maintained by striking a balance between yin and yang. In fact, the role of acupuncture in TCM is to eliminate blockages along the meridians in order to promote the free flow of yin-yang energy, optimizing wellness. 

Like TCM, yoga applies the yin-yang perspective to the physical body. The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj,” meaning “to join or unite.” The physical practice of yoga is a union of opposites, much like the relationship between yin and yang. A well-rounded yoga practice invites practitioners to move through a series of poses that creates balance. Sequences include complementary actions such as pose/counter pose, inhale/exhale and open/close. The movements flow seamlessly together, not in spite of being unified opposites but because of it.

In the Yoga Sutras, a collection of Sanskrit axioms about the theory and practice of yoga that is considered to be the foundational texts of the practice, author Patanjali wrote, “sthira sukham asanam.” Loosely translated, his words suggest that one should engage in yoga poses with sthira—strength, stability and steadiness—on the one hand and sukha—comfort, relaxation and joy—on the other. These two qualities are opposite in nature yet equally important to develop. The modern yogi is also encouraged to engage in a well-rounded practice that includes both yin- and yang-style classes. 

Yang-focused activities include active yoga practices that develop muscular strength, endurance, stability and the flow of movement. Yin-style yoga, on the other hand, invites participants to practice mindfulness in grounded, passive, long-hold postures that benefit the connective tissues and joints and promote flexibility. True to the yin-yang perspective, opposites are not mutually exclusive; it’s common to experience some yang in yin classes and vice versa. Most importantly, making time for both types of practices helps optimize the physical and mental benefits of yoga. 

The yoga mat also provides a space to nurture one’s ability to flow from yang’s quick, expansive actions to yin’s slow, inward-turned stillness using the power of breath as a bridge between the two states. The breath softens edges when things challenge the mind or body on the mat; it can serve as the off-the-mat pathway to peace and calm even in the midst of chaos. It’s as important to find the balance between yin and yang off the mat as it is on, and the more unity experienced on the mat, the more equipped one is to find it off the mat.

When we get stretched too thin in one facet of life, negative effects will be felt in other parts sooner or later. It’s difficult to feel good when life is out of balance, and if the pendulum swings too far towards yin or yang, it’s not sustainable long-term. The balance between the two keeps us grounded and primes us for optimal wellness. 

Although the yin-yang philosophy is an ancient one, balancing these two complementary yet opposing forces in the busy-ness of 21st-century life makes vibrant, sustainable health and well-being more attainable and enjoyable. ❧

Mila Burgess, E-RYT500, YACEP, teaches at LifePower Yoga in Sandy Springs. She is the owner of Metta Yoga, offering workshops, private lessons, virtual classes, teacher trainings and retreats. Contact her at [email protected] 

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