Yin Primer

What is Yin?  

In Chinese philosophy (specifically Taoism), yin and yang are two halves that complete a whole.  You likely are familiar with the Taijitu symbol below - a black and white circle with a wavy line and two dots - which symbolizes the Yin (dark) and Yang (white).  The Yin Yang concept links to duality, or the sense that one part cannot exist without another.   For example, in duality: up cannot exist without down, hot without cold, happy without sad, the "haves" with the "have nots."  Something or someone is "whole" when Yin and Yang support and nurture one another over time.  

Qualities of Yin & Yang:

Yin and Yang refers to energies that balance each other.  Each "complete" person or experience has both Yin and Yang elements.  Below is a partial list of words that describe the concepts.   


A couple of important notes:  

First, the descriptive words have no judgement attached.  For example, "negative" does not mean something bad (or good).  Think of old school photography - you need the negative (film) in order to develop the picture.  At the same time, "negative" may indicate gloom or pessimism, but in an appropriate sense.  For example, feeling sad or "negative" is healthy depending on the circumstances.  Part of the joy of yin/yang for me has been to uncover my biases towards certain words or concepts, and then to "lean in" to those that I have previously labeled as undesirable and "lean away" from those I viewed as desirable.  It helps to achieve a sense of Balance and shift my Perspective.


Second, yin and yang qualities are relative, not absolute.  Every single person or thing contains both Yin and Yang.  For example, men are not Yang and Women are not Yin.  Rather, it's complicated and layered: two energies within each of us, always at play.  Related, something may be very Yin in one circumstance yet Yang in another.  A classic example is the moon.  Compared to the sun, the moon is yin.  But compared to earth, moon is yang - brighter, lighter, more energetic .  (I know it's confusing and this examples shows the limits of "defining" these concepts with words!).  


There are a lot of levels and layers to Yin and Yang.  Think of the symbol: the whole circle contains large parts Yin and Yang (in flow with one another as the wavy line indicates), and yet beyond that there is Yin within Yang (via the dots) and vice versa.  Anyway, it can make our heads hurt to intellectualize (yang), so just know that you understand it in your heart (yin) and all will be well.  ;)


What is Yin Yoga?

There are Eight Limbs of yoga.  Most folks in the West equate the third limb, called Asana or posture, with "yoga."   Asana practice simply means putting your body into shapes.  The theory is that by doing poses: a) your body is more primed to sit in meditation later and b) the chi, or life force energy, is better able to flow through you which creates all sorts of wonderful effects.  Maybe we'll delve deeper into yoga theory in another blog post... 


Almost any yoga class in a studio, regardless of type, is an Asana class.  Yin Yoga is an Asana practice defined by long holds (3-5 minutes on average) in passive seated or supine positions.  Most Yin Yoga descriptions focus, almost scientifically, on the physical aspects of the practice:  gently stressing connective tissues, joints, and facia that surround muscles in order to increase circulation to the joints and enhance flexibility.  (The Further Reading resources below contain much more detail on physical theory and benefits.)


What I find most intriguing, and really life-changing, is the stillness of Yin Yoga.  "It is a quiet practice, a simple practice," says Bernie Clark, "but it is not an easy practice."  It's not easy precisely in the same way meditation is not easy.  That monkey mind wants us to be DOING something!  Yet, by adding the small, passive posture, it gives you something to focus on and an immediate gratification ("this feels good").  And then, you experience the physical changes over the course of 3-5 minutes...and the lessons magnify in crazy ways to your mental and emotional states!  Yin Yoga is amazing and worth a try, either through Yinspired Yoga or your local studio!


**Note - Yinspired Yoga is inspired by the concept of Yin, and is not always "pure" Yin Yoga.  For example, my classes may include relaxing vinyasa or movements.  Read more about Qualities of a Yinspired Yoga class.



further reading

Great article on Yin and Yang 

Wikipedia's Definition of Yin Yoga

Yoga Journal's Yin 101

Paul Grilley- Focuses a lot on anatomy and the physical body.  His DVDs were the beginning of my yin journey.

Sarah Powers - Insight Yoga.  She mixes yang, yin, and meditation and has a wonderful presence. I took a 4 day silent retreat with her - mind blowing!  

Bernie Clark - another great yin resource.



How does Yin fit into your life?  What energy does your job have? Extracurriculars?  Life with kids?  How else do you make space for Yin?