Yoga to balance the yin and yang
Learn the fine art of balancing the yin and yang in your everyday life.
What does “balance” mean to you? Have you ever achieved it and, if you have, have you managed to sustain it? I liken the notion of balance to perfectionism in the sense that it’s just another form of control; holding a state of balance is impossible if we’re living in the moment because the moment often calls for us to swing into “doing” mode — and with vigour — just like the moment can call us to “be” — to be still and silent for pockets of time in which we recharge. We need the yin to be able to sustain the yang just as much as we need the yang to appreciate and fully savour the yin.
We need the yin to be able to sustain the yang just as much as we need the yang to appreciate and fully savour the yin.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from swinging between burnout and the “do less” movement it’s that peace and harmony don’t lie in balance — they’re in the dance between doing and being; masculine and feminine; yang and yin.
One thing perhaps we can aim to achieve is maintaining a sense of “heart through the hustle”; calm in the storm, a steady breath in the most confronting situations. And instead of striving for perfection, we can practise dancing delicately between the doing and being. I call this place The Intersect.
The Intersect: embracing effort and ease
The Intersect is about bringing the states of effort and ease into everything you do. It means that when you show up, you show up fully to meet deadlines and start projects but you bring with you a gentle fierceness. It also means that when things feel quieter and there’s less opportunity on the horizon or you’re forced to lie dormant through illness or injury, there’s a deep knowing within you that your cells are being renewed and your energy is being refuelled. You know you must allow that to happen, to lean into it and be restored, but also to remain open to what lies ahead. There’s a gentle alertness that anything could happen. Busy is just a natural state of life as is kicking back and waiting with intention. It’s the inclusiveness of both states, and everything between, which makes life so beautiful.
Here is a yin-yang yoga sequence I call The Dance. Practise applying equal part effort to ease or what we call in yoga sthira sukha in each pose, especially in the shapes that require more physical application; bring heart into the hustle.
The Dance: a yin-yang yoga sequence
Great for: the nervous system and your state of mind.
Lie down on your back and let the breath come into its natural cycle without adding anything to it or taking anything away. Practise “rest” for a few minutes and observe your relationship to that stillness.
Great for: hips, groins, chest and shoulders.
Take the essence of that “restfulness” you just cultivated and bring the soles of the feet together and let your knees fall out to the sides. Extend your arms either out to the sides or above your head to lightly grip opposite elbows. Breathe generously and gently for a few minutes.
Great for: activating and strengthening the core muscles and creating heat in the belly for you to take into the hustle when required.
Busy is just a natural state of life as is kicking back and waiting with intention. It’s the inclusiveness of both states, and everything between, which makes life so beautiful.
Hug your knees into your chest for a few moments. Straighten your legs towards the ceiling and flex your feet. Interlace your hands behind your head sending the elbows out to the sides. As you inhale lift your chest towards the ceiling and lift the bottom tips of the shoulder blades off the ground. This becomes your “base”. Exhale then lift the tailbone up towards the ceiling. As you inhale, lift both ends and hold for a moment. Exhale, lower to base. Repeat six rounds and then rest on your back to feel the effects.
Great for: strengthening the shoulders and arms as well as decompressing the spine and lengthening hamstrings and calves.
Hug your knees into the chest and rock and roll yourself gently up and down the spine, building enough momentum to cross the ankles, place your hands to the ground shoulder-distance apart and step back into downward-facing dog with your feet hip-distance apart. If you feel tight in the shoulders or hamstrings, bend your knees to lengthen the spine. Stay for five–10 breaths.
Great for: lengthening the calves and hamstrings as well as building strength in the arms and shoulders.
Inhale your right leg up and back behind you so that the hips stay square to the ground. Either bend the left knee a little or ease the left heel towards the ground.
Great for: building core and shoulder strength as well as providing a sweet release for the upper back and neck.
From three-legged dog, exhale and curl your right knee to the chest, drawing both shoulders over the wrists. As you press your hands into the earth, ease your mouth towards your right knee and round the spine. Maybe you can kiss your knee! Pause for a moment to build strength and calm while letting the head drop so the neck releases and you feel space between the shoulder blades.
Great for: building focus and strength in the lower body while toning the abdomen and stretching the hip and groin region.
Place your right foot between the hands and turn your left foot out 45 degrees. As you inhale take your arms out and up as you lift your torso so the hips and shoulders are square forwards with palms facing each other, shoulder-distance apart. Press down into the outer edge of the back foot and stack your right knee over the ankle. Stay for five breaths.
Great for: building core strength and practising grace under pressure.
Take your hands to the ground and step your right foot back next to the left. Line your shoulders over wrists while drawing your lower abdominal muscles and side waist in. Energise your legs to lightly lift the knees. Soften your gaze in front of the hands and stay for five breaths.
Great for: same benefits as high plank with an extra kick of strength for the arms, shoulders and core.
On an exhalation, tip your shoulders just forwards of the wrists and lower halfway down to the ground so that your wrists and elbows stack. Hold low plank for a breath before moving into upward-facing dog. This is perhaps the most challenging place to practise grace under pressure. Can you bring an attitude of ease into this pose?
Great for: opening the chest and shoulders, stretching the abdomen and improving spinal health.
On an inhalation from low plank, point your toes back (tops of feet are now on the earth) and ease the chest forwards and up, drawing your shoulder blades together. Press your palms into the earth while drawing your shoulders down your back. Legs are lifted and toes point back. Stay for a breath or two as you apply equal part effort to ease.
Engage your core, press your palms into the earth and lift your hips up to roll over your toes and back into downward-facing dog. Starting from three-legged dog, repeat this sequence on the left side, aiming to find a sense of flow. Focus on gentle but generous breaths and finish with the twist below.
Great for: aiding digestion, spinal health, easing lower back tension and opening the chest and shoulders.
Lie on your back and hug both knees into the chest. Lengthen your left leg along the mat and take your left hand to the outer edge of the right knee. On an exhalation, take your right knee across the body to the left while stretching your right arm at shoulder height. Take 10 breaths and then switch sides.
Rest back in savasana after your twist. Stay as long as you need. Your body will know when to come out.