Early this year Yoga Body Works added yin yoga to its list of studio offerings. The studio had been open for three years during which time our primary offering had been hot power yoga, reflected in our stutio moniker at the time (Hot Power Yoga). Indeed, Hot Power Yoga was the first studio in Newcastle dedicated to offering hot yoga classes and our teachers have been passionate about sharing this transformative practice.
All things evolve, however, and when yin yoga was added to our timetable this year, students poured into the new classes. We realised we had been missing this important piece of the puzzle - our previously yang space (associated with energy, fire, masculinity, activity, and with the sun, with change and with movement) became infused with a new yin energy (associated with stability, femininity, with matter, with form, with passivity and stillness).
Physically speaking, power yoga is a dynamic practice with movement and muscular exertion at its core. It is an active practice with significant physical and emotional benefits. From a yogic perspective it promotes the flow of 'prana' (life force or energy) throught the body's energetic pathways ('nadis'). From a Taoist perspective it removes 'qi' stagnation (energetic stagnation) by improving the flow of energy, also through the body's energetic pathyways (called 'meridians' in the Taoist tradition).
Writing for Yoga Journal, yin yoga teacher Paul Grilley reflected that in his own life, although the benefits of a yang-style practice had been great, it was the principles of Taoist yoga, which lie at the heart of the yin yoga practice, that brought the ease and calm of mind that allowed him to sit in meditation with ease. This is not to say, of course, that one style is better or more effective than the other - to suggest so would be disingenuous. There are elements of yin and yang in everything in life, and so to find balance we must cultivate aspects of both.
The important thing to understand about yin and yang is that they are relational concepts - we can only understand yang throught its relationship with yin and visa versa. We must recognise the complementarity of the concepts and constantly refresh the balance between the two. Th yin yang concept is not the same as Western dualism - the two opposites aren't divided and separate - they're not at war, but in harmony. Inside an atom a positively charge proton will attract a negatively charged electron. Spring only comes when Winter is finished. We cannot know happiness is we've never been sad.
As well known yoga teacher, Sarah Powers, describes, we must find a balance between expressing ourselves energentically and learning to be still - finding flow in stillness but also stillness in movement.
One of the differences between a yang-style practice and a yin-style practice is where we might find our edge. In yin yoga we find our edge by sitting in long held poses, observing but not changing. For those of us who feel at home in busy-ness of activity and busy-ness of mind, surrendering in this way is a fundamentally different challenge than the challenge associated with the physical and more dynamic power yoga practice.
Can we sit in stillness? Can we be a container for uncomfortable sensation? Can we observe that sensation but not try to change it? Can we recognise that time rather than effort will lead to a greater depth of practice?
In Western culture we oftern find ourselves striving - looking for improvement or change of some sort. We applaud progress and achievement, and our lives become busy and cluttered with activity and technology. This kind of stillness can therefore be a real challenge and so it is all the more important to work with this edge. It's the summation of yin and yang that form a whole - as one aspect increases the other decreases to maintain an overall balance.
I reflect on this now because I have watched the balance shift this year as the studio has evolved. The dynamism and energy of the studio remain, but they have been tempered by a sense of stability and calm. It has been fun to watch, and also to be a part of, and is significant also, because it culminated with our recent name change and rebranding. We did this because we wanted to reflect these inner changes outwardly - our own version of the yin yang symbol adorns our studio and our website, but most importantly the philosophy that sits behind the symbol informs our approach to teaching and practice. More of our teachers will be off to train with Paul Grilley in the new year, and we look forward to sharing more of this with you as our evolution continues.