yin-yang-symbolVery often I do this one particular posture (Marichyasana A). I do this pose for very specific reasons. To stretch the muscles that surround my shoulder blades because when those muscles get tight for me a headache is not far behind.

In this posture I normally take a very “yin” approach. Once I’ve created the bind with my hands, I simply allow my head and shoulders to round over and hang heavy towards my extended leg.

No struggle.

No sense of pressure.

Just allowing gravity and the bind to open up my tight back muscles.

But one day I decided to actually try the full posture. In the full expression of this posture you actively reach your forehead or chin down to your extended knee.

When I attempted this I was astonished to learn how much of an abdominal strengthener this posture was. As it took so much core integrity to actually fold deep enough to get my chin on my knee.

This experience revealed yet another benefit to marichyasana A, but it did more than that.

It reminded me that there are two main ways to approach everything, including a yoga pose.

In this situation, nothing changed about the mechanics of my marichyasana A that day, the only thing that changed was my approach in doing it.

Life off of the mat mirrors this idea as well.

The idea that while the task may be the same there is both a YIN way of approaching it and a YANG way of approaching the same task.

A yin approach to life and yoga is a more open and “allowing” kinda stance. In a yin yoga class, you are encouraged NOT to push. Not to exert effort, but instead to relax into the posture and allow gravity and time to open up the places that are tight for your body.

In life a yin approach to a task requires us to allow. To place ourselves fully IN the situation and task. To be present and fully alive in it. But to let go of our force or exertion as it pertains to its outcome.

On the other hand a yang approach to yoga is what most of us are accustom to in the West.

This approach emphasizes assertion, focused effort and efficiency. So in my marichyasana A practice that morning I moved into yang territory as soon as I set an intention to get my head down to my knee. As soon as I created a sense of assertiveness and effort, the posture (which didn’t physically change) became a yang posture for me in that moment.

In life a yang approach is also assertive (sometimes aggressive). Its emphasis is on getting it done in the most efficient and/or cost effective way possible.  A yang approach to a task or situation actually focuses on achieving a particular outcome and not just a feeling of being present in that moment.

In other words a yang approach is often a “means to an end.”

The fun thing about yoga is that it doesn’t indicate that one approach is better than the other.

Yang is equally as important as yin and vice versa.

On our mats there are times when we absolutely need to be in that moment and allowing the pose to be the pose. But there are other times when we have a goal of achieving a certain pose expression, or we need to get a particular benefit from the posture so we assert our efforts towards that goal.

Our time on our mat is a delicate balance between paying to assertiveness (yang) and playing to allowing (yin).

This lesson of course extends off our mats as well.

We can choose in any given moment to taka a forceful, outcome driven stance, or an open receptive stance to any and every task. We can even take both stances at the same time.

So the next time you are washing the dishes or folding laundry you can choose to be present and allow the task to unfold (no pun intended) naturally. Or you can focus your attention on getting the task done as quickly as possible, because I know you have other things to do.

The question to ask yourself in these situations is “which way of being (yin or yang) will serve me best in this moment?

It may very well be the yang approach if you have a tight deadline and your child is waiting for you to pick them up from soccer practice.

Or it may be a yin approach if you have the time to fully engage and enjoy the moment.

In other words, balance is the key, both on and off the mat.

What about you? Are you more yin or yang in your approach to life and yoga?

Could you use more peace, energy and focus?

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