What is Yin?

What is Yin?

–by Camila Nieuwlands

“What is yin?” I imagine some of my completely (so far) imaginary audience wondering to themselves.
To my understanding yin is a state of mind, a way of being, one side of a coin to which the opposite side, yang, is a concept I have been more familiar with for a long time now. Yin is newer to me and may be to you also so please, come explore this concept more with me.
Many of you may be familiar with the terms yin and yang in relation to taijitu, the chinese symbol of dualism below. The balance not just being in two separate halves but also in having a small element of yin within the yang and vice versa, symbolised here by the smaller contrasting coloured circles.

This idea of dualism states that everything has an opposite that is creating balance in the universe. We often tend to put certain characteristics under the specific bracket of yang or yin. For example:

Yin Yang
cool hot
female male
left right
moon sun
dark light
soft hard
passive active
internal external
heavy light
solid hollow

It is common in Western society to idolise yang characteristics and shun yin ones. We are praised for being busy, and often seen as lazy if we’re passive. We are urged to be strong (and constantly seem to seek being stronger) yet shy away from being weak in any perceived manner.
Growing up in a female form in this patriarchal western culture I have taken this idolisation of yang to heart, being extremely active, efficient, multi-tasking, multi-hat-wearing, proudly showing my strengths while keeping my vulnerabilities to myself.
I became hooked on yang style yoga, getting sweaty and charged up on ujjayi breath as if it was speed for yogis. After class I would hurt in that pleasing achy way of having done vigorous activity, believing my body had been well used and after a rest it would be stronger than ever. Yet that rest would be either incredibly fleeting or not occur at all.
Balance was rarely present in my day to day life and it began showing up in my body and state of mind. I felt rushed all the time; under pressure; unable to breath spaciously. Injury after injury was occuring, I felt like I was on a roller coaster emotionally. 

Exhaustion was a regular feeling, along with the weight of expectations not being met. Confusion reigned also: here I am doing all these vibrant yang activities, I should be generating more energy for myself, yes? This is what society works so hard to persuade us is best.
Yet the truth that has been surfacing more frequently for me to see with glaring clarity (not to say that it is then easy to apply) is that I require more balance. 

Balance between action and relaxation, between creativity and logic, feminine and masculine, us and them. 
You see it is also very Western of us to see yin and yang in such a clear cut black and white manner. Anything can be viewed as yin or yang if seen from differing angles.
It’s all a matter of perspective. The lens you view the state/situation with and from where you are standing when viewing with that lens.  We all carry different lenses which we apply at different times. We do not need to view yin as inherently good and yang as bad or vice versa. We only need to know that at times our lives are far too much one or the other and we need to introduce balance, to let both states exist fluidly.
I personally experienced a deep dive into yin earlier this year in a 100-hour Yin Yoga Teacher Training with Nik Robson of Yin Culture. It was an 11-day journey that took me deep into myself gently yet with resounding impact. I experienced yin asana (poses) as well as a spacious way of moving slowly and mindfully through each day. Up at sunrise, bed at sunset.  Chanting, meditation and breathwork daily. Meals that took time to conjure and eat. Silence. Beautiful long stretches of silence where none of the 30-odd people there spoke at all. Ceremony. A technology detox for 11 days.
This cultivated a land ripe for planting the seeds of my sankalpa (intention/affirmation/vow), and for producing deeper levels of self awareness.
Still, by the end of my time there, I actively yearned for yang again. I needed to balance out my sudden abundance of yin. I came home from this experience seemingly the same yet also vastly changed, internally. 

So how do we embody more yin in our daily lives? How do we welcome/create more balance? Do we just go to more yin yoga classes? Well, yes, yin type of classes are  a start and can definitely provide you with an embodiment experience and there is so much more you can do to create harmony.
For me, welcoming more balance looks like introducing more yin elements into my every day. Allowing myself an extra 15 minutes when I wake to chant and practice pranayama (breathwork) so I  start my day intentionally, not rushing headfirst into the land of Facebook, news or work. Giving myself gaps of 30-60 minutes between appointments etc so that I can make my way to where I need to be slowly and calmly.  Committing to chunks of time where my phone (which lives on silent) is set aside, going into nature for walks or just sitting outside listening to the birds. Allowing my head to be with my heart. Going to bed early, pampering myself with a night at home instead of that gathering that everyone is going to be at.
These things were hard to do at first, there were feelings of guilt to unpack. I would treat myself well but only in secret in case others thought I was lazy for not being busy all the time. I didn’t even believe that I deserved to have a calm, easy, graceful life. Yet, like any practice, the more I did it the easier it became and the more I saw the rewards. There would be vast swaths of calm, ease-ful living when I gifted myself with yin.
My default is still to lean towards yang and I rely on my body to inform me when I am imbalanced. Every morning I start my day with a cleansing breathwork practice involving nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breath) to see which side of my nostrils is blocked. Left for me signifies I need more yin and right being blocked  (which happens rarely but does happen!) signifies I need more yang.  It is never a case of being forever balanced between the two states. It is a constant dance of balance and checking in.  
I invite you to grow aware of your imbalances and to seek out ways that work for you, to find your centre. Listen to your body and heart as they speak to you, and they do all the time.
To quote my teacher Nik: ‘Slow down, tune in, let go, wake up’. And here I would add: Find your centre.