Last night I bolted upright in my bed at 4am, after having one of the worst dreams of my life. In it, I received news that my 4-year-old son was dying, and within moments he was gone. I experienced a heart-wrenching grief that felt as real as any in waking life. I clung to his favorite stuffed animal, wailing, and I begged to understand why this had happened. There came a moment when I suddenly realized I was dreaming, and I tore myself from sleep with immense relief. I laid in bed awake for some time, ruminating on my dream and the very real emotions it had elicited in me. I was reminded of the workshop I had taught a few days earlier in our yoga teacher training, on the subject of Yin Yoga.
Yin (in yoga and in life) is the shadow side of our striving world. Yin is associated with darkness, depth, passivity, mystery and nighttime, whereas Yang is associated with light, heat, activity, daytime, and what is outwardly seen and obvious. Much like the image of the Yin/Yang symbol, Yin contains Yang (and vice versa) and exists in relationship to it. For example, a cup of warm tea is yin compared to a pot of boiling water. A Hatha Flow practice is Yin compared to a Crossfit workout, but Yang compared to a Restorative Yoga practice.
Yin becomes Yang, and vice versa, and these transformations can occur slowly over time, or quite suddenly. We see this in the rapidly changing weather patterns this week, as the weather zigzags from cool rain to extreme heat overnight, and then back again.
So what does all of this have to do with my dream? The final factor in talking about Yin Yoga that has been sticking with me all week: Yin controls Yang. Balance between the two will occur, whether we invite it or not. With our Yang-dominant culture, we reward those who overcome obstacles and exhibit strength, but we undervalue the need to rest, restore, be still and experience silence. We push ourselves to do more, get more, be more, while putting off our innate need for mystery, passivity, slow processing and inner quiet. I hear story after story of people pushing themselves to the point of injury or illness–that breaking point is yin controlling yang. The need for rest was there all along, and by ignoring it we force it to take us over. Carl Jung wrote, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
For me, becoming a parent brought an onslaught of Yang energy into my life: high levels of activity, the warmth of small children who give and receive love so easily, the noise, hustle and bustle. I spend most of my day on the bright surface of life with my children, reflecting to them the safety and abundance of the world so that they might develop resilience and an inherent trust in themselves and others. What is unseen and ever-present (the Yin side of raising young children) is the constant vulnerability. The more we love, the more we fear losing what we love. My husband took my 4-year-old to school on our big cargo bike yesterday and, sensing my nervousness, sent me a photo after he had safely arrived. We did not speak of my fear, but he intuited it, because he feels it too.
My dream last night was the shadow of my experience as a parent needing to be seen and felt. It was Yin controlling Yang.
Yoga practice for your shadow:
Whether you practice Yin Yoga or not, we can all benefit from welcoming our shadow side to the yoga mat. Who are you striving to become? In that striving, which parts of yourself have you ignored or banished? Can you invite your whole self to the yoga mat, warts and all? Can you let your lazy self have a yoga practice this week? What about your incompetent self? Can you be willing to explore the mystery of your yoga practice rather than go in with an expectation of what it is? What is happening on a deeper, slower and more subtle level in your practice?
If your practice includes journaling, try this prompt:
What is present in the shadow that I am carrying right now?
Try a Yin or Restorative yoga class:
We offer 2 weekly Yin classes: Tuesdays at 7:30pm and Wednesdays at 7:15pm. Restorative yoga has a different lineage than Yin, but is an excellent practice for increasing Yin energy in your life. We offer 2 weekly Restorative yoga classes: Thursdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 4pm.
Also, join me on Saturday, June 24th for a special Summer Solstice Yin practice in the evening! You can register here.