The Yin and Yang of Yoga

Posted by Hom Yoga on

By Abbie  Plummer

We have all seen the iconic yin and yang symbol, but few of us actually know what yin or yang means, especially in the context of our yoga practice. First, picture the symbol in your mind’s eye, and what you will notice is that there is a dot of white in the black, and a dot of black in the white. This symbolises that one cannot exist without the other; in fact they are defined by their opposition to each another. Yin represents the feminine, the moon, the cool, and the dark; yang represents the masculine, the sun, the hot, and the light.

How does this apply to our yoga practice?

Yang yoga is the yoga that most people will think of when they think of yoga – active poses, downward dogs and warriors. The purpose of an active, yang practice is usually to build heat, or tapas.

That said, there exists a slightly darker and more passive style of yoga known as yin. Yin yoga is a slower style of yoga where poses are practiced in a non-heated room and held for longer periods of time. Don’t expect to be holding warrior one for five minutes though! There are only a handful of traditional yin poses, and most of them are done seated, or while laying on the belly or back.

Some of the classic yin poses may be familiar to yang practitioners, but it is the way we approach them that distinguishes the pose. For example, in an active class, baddha konasana may only be held for five breaths and students will actively pull themselves closer to their feet. In yin, the spine is rounded, the hands are completely relaxed and there may even be a block underneath the forehead.

So how does yin and yang affect the body?

Yin targets the fascia and connective tissue in the body, as opposed to the muscles used in yang yoga. This is why poses are held longer in yin classes, and the aim is to be completely still in a pose, so as not to engage the muscles at all. While a yang class is dynamic and builds strength, a yin practice offers improved flexibility and range of motion.

However, if you are new to yin yoga, you may find it incredibly frustrating, as the silence and stillness is something most of us are not used to in our busy lives. When I first started practicing yin, I would have to say inside my own head, “Breathe in….breathe out.” Another struggle newbies may encounter is the idea of not pushing themselves into the deepest variation of a pose – yin is about yielding and letting the body open at its own pace.

Finding the balance

Just as we need balance between hard work and play in life, so too, we need a balance with our yoga practice. Yang provides us with strength and strong breath control, and yin gives us flexibility and the mental strength to be comfortable in discomfort. I invite you to discover your unique balance point.

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