Yin & Restorative: The art of pausing – part 1

02 December 2018 | By Ulrica Norberg

Since the start of civilization we have emphasized the active life (yang) in some cultures and the contemplative life (yin) in others. Now we have the opportunity to explore both and find the appropriate balance between the two. But how do we find time to figure out what we need when everything around us is spinning so fast?  What does mindful living mean in a modern world? 

Find a balance between yin and yang

For most of us life today doesn’t offer any natural breaks. We eat lunch on the go and we are constantly online or communicating on phones, laptops and iPads. We may even try to do yoga while doing these other things. But to achieve deep relaxation and mental ease, we need a practice where we can turn our senses inward and quiet the mind. We can stately claim that the need for a more inquiry based, contemplative, complementary practice, is well needed in the life of the modern human and yogi.

Yin and yang can be described as two variables; they are either on the opposite ends of a cycle, like the seasons of the year, or opposites on a continuum of energy or matter. The opposition is relative and can only be understood through relationships between the two. For example: Water is yin relative to steam but yang relative to ice. Nothing is totally yin or yang. Just as a state of total yin is reached, yang starts to grow.

This is evident in the yin yoga practice, since after you have gotten deep into relaxation and mental stillness in a yin yoga pose, the blood circulation increases and you can start to feel heat inside. You are ready to mobilize energy into movement and weight bearing.

They constantly transform into each other, just as there can be no energy without matter and no day without light. The classic energy philosophy state that yin creates yang and yang activates yin. This falls true in one's yoga practice when your breath brings stillness to the mind and you start to flow through the poses. You experience inner heat rather than extensive sweat (that cools your body). This way the metabolism and circulation increases, and your body is enable to burn toxins and impurities better.

Different types of yoga
Yoga means “to yoke” together opposites. That is also what hatha yoga, the platform for all physical yoga practice. To balance the ha (yang) and the tha (yin); the solar (doing) with the lunar (being) aspects of the practice. In this sense, our yoga practice should be a blend of yang/out/action/contraction and yin/in/observation/extension to make the whole balanced and to affect our entire health to move towards homeostatis (the maintenance of equilibrium). Yang yoga is a more vigorous yoga practice that targets the muscular tissue and through movement creates heat. Examples of yang based yoga is ashtanga vinyasa, power yoga and anusara yoga.

Through the practice of yin yoga, one targets the fascia/connective tissue in the body, which makes it a marvellous therapeutic tool for healing bodily, mental, and emotional imbalances. Yin yoga is most effective when more active forms of yoga or exercise are also practiced regularly.

Let go of your own limitations and your preconceptions when it comes to yoga
The demands of Western culture can easily lead to low self-esteem. While there is usually room for improvement, we are all amazing beings just as we are. In a yoga practice we should just get to the mat, work within our limitations, and feel how we detach from all of what inhibits us, rather than get caught up in competitiveness without looking for some specific results.

There is a misperception that an “enlightened yogi” is passively accepting of all circumstances and will not care how she or he is treated or what her circumstances may be. Study and application of your practice will erase many of those misperceptions.

For example, there is no sutra stating that the true yogi never says “no.” Sometimes practicing truthfulness and respect for yourself, others, and a given situation may result in more action as you develop clearer boundaries and integrity. This has been my experience. Before yoga and meditation, I had little awareness of my own boundaries and I had never been showed to move inwards for answers. I searched on the outside instead and I had such a need for affirmation and acceptance that I never said “no.”

For me it took many years of practice and life lived in order to move more into sattva guna; to a more centered positioning in myself where I could speak of my needs. This spiritual maturity gave me the ability to better accept different situations and of letting go of things that doesn´t give themselves automatically.

To be a yogi, you just have to practice yoga regularly. The yoga will do the rest. Becoming a yogi doesn’t mean giving up the old you and becoming someone else. However, things that are not serving you well may fall away. As you practice yoga, you move toward the more intuitive, less fragile you.

The yogi way
On the other hand, being a yogi doesn’t mean you don’t have problems; you just have more tools for dealing with them. Yoga provides kaivalya, or space around your experience that allows you to have perspective regarding your problems and what to do about them.

In yoga, we work with tension and through different techniques we wish to move deeper into it, step by step, day by day, practicing again and again, until we reach its core. Then we stay with it and use releasing techniques like slow poses, visualization, breath, and silence in order for the tension to resolve. We need to slow things down in the core of tension so the bodily systems that have perhaps been drained of energy can take some time to recover new energy, and slowly the stress and tension release their grip.

Take a sponge as an example. We leave it close to water and it will slowly start to move toward the liquid in order to absorb it. That is the code, the programming of that texture. We can look at our own systems in a similar way. The more we use them the wrong way, the more we take away from their binary code intelligence.

This idea is shared in general in medicine and, similar to yoga (though carried out in different ways), its aim is to lower the thresholds so the obstruction of flow can be reduced in order to get the blood pumping and nerves to speak with each other again. Here they use medicines, surgery, and other techniques but with the same aim, in general.

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.

—Thich Nhat Hanh

So on the question regarding if it is possible to live more mindfully in the society of today I would say yes. And the first step is to start adding more slow style practices into your life. Add the natural breaks that your life is not handing to you. Otherwise life will runa away with you.

If you wish to read more on behalf of this topic, I have written a book on yin yoga called YINYOGA – An Individualized approach to balance, health and Self wellbeing available on www.amazon.com.

This weeks yoga and contemplation

Pick one of the two yin yoga classes below and practice this twice this week. Follow up with the recommended meditation right after. The other days work on balancing this class with some stability, flowing or strengthening classes.

I also invite you to ask yourself and inquire around the following questions during the week when you have a moment before, during or after your practice:

  • Is there anything I can remove from my schedule that is not that important?
  • Where do I experience stress in my body right now?
  • Does my thoughts move around a theme? Are they pulling me towards validation? Negative criticism?

Give yourself this month of recurring stillness. Let go "yinside"! 

This weeks videos

30 min

Yoga with

Go inside for presence and to allow yourself to accept what you experience and feel, to be OK with what is. A lunar meditative yin class with Ulrica Norberg.

30 min

Yoga with

Embodied Yin: Work with the meridian pair for spleen and stomach to free yourself from worry.

20 min

Meditate with

Untying the knots when you "feel stuck" and stimulate your creativity with the Granthi Bhedana meditation, with Ulrica Norberg.

60 min

Yoga with

Root to rise – work from the ground up through the seven segments to find alignment and improve your posture.

20 min

Yoga with

Flöda igenom hela kroppen med final i en inversion – huvudstående på två olika sätt.

45 min

Yoga with

Strengthen and invigorate the whole lower back area with Gwyn Williams.

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Ulrica Norberg

Ulrica is one of Sweden's pioneers in yoga and has written several books and articles both in Sweden and abroad. Ulrica has also educated over 500 yoga teachers in Scandinavia.

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