Monday, February 13, 2012

Yin Yang

As a kid, my goal in life was to grow up to be a hippie.

When I was little, I had a pair of denim colored Keds. They were too cool for words, and I made them even cooler with ink drawings all over.

Peace and love signs. Flower power. Kilroy was here. And the Yin/Yang symbol.

I never really knew what the Yin/Yang symbol meant, but I would draw it all the same.

When I was younger, I thought it had something to do with infinity and, as I grew older, I realized it had to do with opposites.

But, it was not until yoga that I came to understand that Yin and Yang are really about duality, and its meaning was impressed upon me the other day in the studio.

We were in Tree pose.

Standing on one leg, the other leg bends at the knee with the foot in the groin. Hands come into prayer, and the body stands still, looking straight ahead at a stare point, or Dristi.

After holding the pose for a bit, the hands interlace and lift up overhead, eyes following, all the while standing on one leg. The torso tilts back; eyes look for the back wall – a standing backbend.
Stand strong, the instructor said. Don’t be concerned about instability. After all, instability is only the opportunity for stability.
I was wobbling on my left foot, listening intently, and something clicked. Instead of thinking about how I could not hold the balance, I thought about the opportunity to do so.

My body calmed, I rooted into my standing leg, and I became still.

Yin and Yang.
The Yin/Yang symbol comprises two opposite shapes nestled together. Something positive cannot exist without the knowledge or experience of the negative. All is one, nestled together, and this is explained in the second verse of The Book of Tao, the ancient, classic Chinese text. The verse unveils the concept of the harmony of opposites – or the Yin and Yang. A portion follows:

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

We switch standing legs, and I bring the other foot to the groin. My hands return to prayer, and I find my focal point.

In yoga, a lot happens through enacting opposite forces simultaneously. We push down to go up.

In tree pose, one leg presses down and straight while the other is up and bent. The arms stretch upward while the shoulders press downward.

In Handstand, the hands press into the floor while the legs lift into the air.

In arm balances, the torso leans down and forward while the hips and legs tilt up and back.

Yoga poses appear to be the physical manifestations of the second verse of the Tao! Who knew?
So, it appears that my almost falling over in the yoga studio was really just an opportunity to stand up strong, straight and balanced!

This idea of the negative giving rise to the positive, and vice versa, seems so simple, but the reality of such situations, as in some yoga poses, often proves difficult.
I interlace my fingers and reach my hands over my head while rooting down in my standing leg. The opposite movements actually facilitate my balance if I relax into it.

It occurs to me that Yin/Yang, the second verse of Tao and yoga itself are all really about acceptance.

And therein lies both the opportunity and the balance.

Not a bad lesson to learn while hanging out in a tree. 


  1. Anne, I shared this with my sweetheart, who is also a yoga instructor. She said your insights are "better than most of what I read in the Yoga Journal". Keep up the interesting blog. Thanks.

    1. JTS - Whoever you are, thanks so much for your kind words. They are most timely because I often wonder for how long I can have something interesting to say. I think as long as I do yoga, I will.