As yogis, we often hear the terms yin and yang. Most of us are familiar with the yin/yang symbol; we may have yoga clothing, jewelry, or even a yoga mat that features the image. The yin/yang concept comes from Taoist philosophy. Yin and yang represent opposite energies, and the symbol represents bringing those energies into balance. Balance, of course, is our goal as yogis as well. Our yoga practice aims to calm us when we’re anxious, energize us when we’re sluggish, focus our minds when we feel scatter-brained, and get our brain in gear when we feel spaced out.
Balancing Yin with Yang
To accomplish these goals and become more balanced, we need to use different yogic tools and sometimes even different styles of practice. The first step is to understand the difference between yin and yang energies.
Yin energy is feminine. It is associated with the earth, coolness, and sustenance. Yin is nurturing and calming. In contrast, yang is masculine. It is the energy associated with creativity, heat, and activity. But these are overly simplified definitions. Yin cannot really exist with yang and vice versa. Each contains aspects of the other, and they function together as a whole. The key is keeping the balance.
When yin and yang are out of balance, the first thing to do is identify the direction of the imbalance. If you’re stressed out, too busy—in a sense, overheated—you’ll want to bring down your yang energy by doing something more in line with the principles of yin. Some choices are meditation, calming breathing techniques like alternate nostril breathing, or Yin Yoga, the style of practice that focus on holding poses for longer periods of time. Yin yoga poses emphasize stillness, focus, and clarity.
On the other hand, if you are too mellow or sluggish, you need to increase yang. You can do this with breathing practices such as kapalabhati (breath of fire) or a vinyasa practice that flows energetically. Yang yoga poses emphasize strength and endurance. Ashthanga yoga is a good example of a yoga style that is usually more yang than yin.
Yin and Yang Foods
Even your diet can be off balance in one direction or the other. Yin foods (ones you would eat to calm the body and focus the mind) include barley, oatmeal, yams, zucchini, lemons, berries, black beans, walnuts, sardines, spices, and milk, among many others.
Yang foods, on the other hand, are cooling and include melons, foods that are not spicy, salads, lightly cooked greens, and plenty of water.
Remember, balance is key
We have an understandable tendency to stick with practices that match our mood or temperament. Sometimes this is the opposite of what we need. For instance, a quiet, mellow person may be drawn to meditation, when a bit of power yoga might do him some good. An ambitious, type A person may think she has no time or use for meditation when calming the mind would do wonders, not only for her well-being, but perhaps for her ability to get things done as well.