The Yin and Yang of yoga and Exercising

The Yin and Yang of yoga & exercising

Posted: 3rd March 2020 by Emma Wall

The polarities of different yoga practices & ways of exercising

Yin and Yang theory

By nature, we all have the predisposition to approach our exercise regime, and included in that our yoga practice, from one end of the scale or the other. That’s to say we naturally gravitate towards, what could be classified as a more Yin or Yang style of yoga and fitness. As yogis, we tend to be separated into those who prefer to hit it hard in dynamic practices such as power yoga or Astanga, and those who prefer a mellower approach focused on gentle stretching and meditation. 

Correspondingly power Astangis are often full-on with the other activities in their life, choosing sports and pastimes whereby they have to push themselves physically and mentally. Whereas their opposite end of the scale counterpart just prefers to go for a gentle amble or simply chill out on the sofa in their spare time.

What is Yin Yang Theory?

Thousands of years ago the ancient Daoists of China evolved a precise and uncomplicated language in which to explain the universe in opposing terms, known as Yin yang theory. And it’s through this lens of Yin and Yang that we can begin to observe our tendencies towards ways of expressing our energy. Through its teachings, we can begin to understand the importance of striking a balance between that which naturally attracts us and that which we often disregard.

Yang is used when describing the outwardly visible, transient, moving aspects of life; represented by masculinity, light, the Spring and summer. Yin, on the other hand, manifests as those things which we don’t at first notice, as the solid and dense aspects of life; represented by the dark and feminine, by the autumn and winter.

However, whilst Yin And Yang are ways of thinking about the opposites of the world, we must realise that in fact, they represent two sides of the same coin. Fundamental to this notion is the understanding that no one element could exist without the other. Because without the darkness we would not recognise what is light, as is with happy to sad, The Sun to The Moon, and down to up. So too it is with exercise that we have Yin or Yang like ways to use and move our bodies and minds.

See posts from The 5 Elements and Eastern Medicine for explanations of how Yin Yang theory correlates with The 5 Phases.

The Yin and Yang of exercise

Stressing muscles and joints

When we go to the gym we put stress on our muscles that in turn makes us stronger. This type of exercise constitutes temporarily breaking ourselves to then remake ourselves into a new and improved model. But this remaking of stronger muscles happens in the Yin like period of rest and regeneration, not the Yang energy of the training itself. And in the case of overtraining, where someone doesn’t allow rest periods for muscle regeneration to happen, this stress on the body can become injurious.

However, what many people don’t realise is that our joints also need an appropriate amount of stress to remain healthy. The difference is that our joints are considered ‘plastic tissues’ in comparison to their more ‘elastic’ muscular counterparts, making them tougher and more brittle than the belly of a muscle. This means that dynamic movement at the joint once it’s reached its full range of motion (ROM) could be potentially injurious to the joint in question. 

This is why in contrast to Yang like forms of yoga, minimal movement is encouraged in a Yin yoga practice. Instead, the long sustained holds of Yin yoga use time and gravity to work to the edges of your joints ROM, but not to the limit. Working to about a 60-70% of your capacity is often cited as a guide in Yin yoga. 

Find out more about Yin yoga, its benefits and approaches to teaching and practising Yin, on the Flow section of the Ocean Flow fitness website. 

Seal pose yin yoga

Why stress the joints?

So why stress the joints? Well as we have seen, joints are subject to the same laws as the rest of the body. And just as muscles can atrophy through hours spent going from the car, to the desk, to the sofa…so too can our joints atrophy. Injury can also be a factor in joint immobilisation, as protective patterns of behaviour initiated by the body in the acute stage of injury, then form into chronically held postural patterns.  

It’s crucial to use awareness when exercising the joints, taking particular care to find the sweet spot; where the tension can be felt enough to stimulate the flow of hydration in its surrounding tissues, but not pushing these less responsive tissues to a place from which there is no chance of recoil. By applying the safe and appropriate amount of stress to our physiology, depending on whether we’re working with Yin or yang like tissues, we can help to keep all of our structure and systems in optimal health.

So like the little black dot within the white swirl of the Yin Yang, the key to a well-rounded yoga practice and complimentary exercise regime is the balancing of that which comes naturally to you with that which doesn’t. And it’s this balance which is the key to the longevity of your practice and sport of choice, whatever shape or form it might take on.

In My Element

For an in-depth look at how to integrate the principles discussed in this blog to your yoga and mindfulness practices, check out the new book from Flow Publications:

In My Element: Yin Yoga Sequences guiding you through the Chinese 5 Elements

In My Element


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