Yoga Journal

The tao of Yin

WHEN I FIRST STEPPED ONTO the yogic path 20 years ago, Here’s I was quickly hooked by the rigorous discipline and self-control that Iyengar Yoga inspired in me. For two hours a day, I practiced asana sequences as scripted by B.K.S. Iyengar in Light on Yoga. I sought spiritual purity through a raw vegan diet, believing it was the only way to uplift my soul and purge my body of toxins. And I believed that with the right conditions, teacher, and amount of practice, liberation was at hand.

It’s clear to me now that my sincere effort to find peace and happiness through yoga was turning me into a neurotic freakshow. In fact, the Iyengar method’s emphasis on exactitude had prompted controlling tendencies in me that started to colonize my entire life. It wasn’t until I found myself in acupuncture to treat a back strain—from practicing Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose)—that I got the first hints that my best yogic intentions may have been doing more harm than good. Acupuncture was so fascinating to me that I decided to become an acupuncturist. And it was during my first year in acupuncture school, when we explored the fundamentals of yin-yang theory, that it occurred to me just how yang-dominant I had become.

Yin-yang theory, from traditional Chinese medicine, is a simple but useful way to analyze and understand any experience. Yin qualitiestion include traits like receptivity, allowance, tolerance, reflection, and passivity. Yang qualities include doing, directing, improving, achieving, controlling, and becoming. From a Chinese-medicine perspective, yin and yang qualities are both essential, and neither is superior to the other. When we understand their relationship, we can promote balance and harmony between them.

It turns out that in my yang-driven effort to cultivate peace, I wasthat had been causing my knees to ache and my feet to go numb. This alone kept me coming back to the five-minute Yin holds that are standard for the style, and I learned to tolerate the bitter achiness of the sensations I felt when I did the poses. I also noticed how this release of tension facilitated a more graceful flow and better mobility in my yang-dominant Iyengar practice.

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