The Yin and Yang of a Home Practice

Woman Meditating

Lainie Devina via YOGANONYMOUS, 04/27/2016

Each yoga practice is a unique, never duplicated experience. Even if you perform the same poses in the same order, you arrive on your mat with a body, mind, and energy level specific to that day. Yet, we often disregard our daily state when choosing our practice, and miss out on the chance to modulate and optimize our energy. The wonderful thing about yoga is that it can offer us exactly what we need—provided we are paying attention and are willing to listen.

As a senior teacher with a personal practice that spans decades, I have had the opportunity to observe my practice morph over time to sustain me in any circumstances. More and more, I find myself gravitating to one that supports my energetic needs of the day by being a restoring refuge during times of busyness, and a powerful expression when my schedule is calmer.

It is nourishing and empowering to create a home practice that brings equilibrium to your daily energy, and there’s a simple prescription for how to do this:

When your day is "yang," make your home practice "yin"—and vice versa.

Yin and Yang Energy

Yin and yang describe the opposing energetic qualities that exist in all of nature. Yin is cooling, restorative, and nourishing, while yang is heating, invigorating, and stimulating. Each is the essential counterbalance to the other—and each requires the other’s equalizing effect. Rather than a static, black-and-white juxtaposition, these two qualities constantly ebb and flow to create a perfect homeostasis.

Many of us live yang-oriented lives with high-paced demands and nonstop stimulation, and we seek out more of the same with vigorous asana practices. Yang activities are positive, but just as we need sleep to have energy to be active, we need yin practices to restore and rejuvenate.

When I say “yin practices”, I am not referring only to “Yin yoga”—the style that uses long holds to apply moderate stress to the connective tissues of the body. Yoga styles offer us a complete spectrum from yin to yang: restoratives and Yin yoga on one end, traveling through gentle yoga and Iyengar, to Vinyasa Flow, power yoga, and Ashtanga on the other end. To be well-rounded and healthy we should incorporate aspects of the whole spectrum, and a yin activity is any one that restores and rejuvenates you.

When to Go Yin

I encourage you to observe how your energy shifts on days when your schedule is busier. Resist the idea that you should always be pushing to the max, and use the mindfulness you cultivate on the mat to check in with your prana, or life force. You will begin to notice how your energy fluctuates daily and even hourly, and you can track the patterns of activities that deplete and restore you. This is a process of svadhyaya (self-study), because not only will individuals react to situations differently, but your own experience will vary depending on the energy reserves you carry at that moment.

Consider a day of public speaking and social engagements. An extrovert may find this invigorating, and need a strong practice at the end of the day to burn off excess yang energy in order to settle down for sleep. For an introvert, however, this could be energetically taxing, and what they require to restore homeostasis is a quiet, relaxing practice. But if the extrovert in the example was recently ill, or has been under stress, they may have less in the tank to rely on, and pushing themselves to a yang extreme could lead to burnout. Your environment, personality, and recent history are all things to be aware of as you seek energetic balance in your practice and life.

As a mother and full-time teacher, I show up for my family and students every day. My life is deeply fulfilling but can be extremely busy, and my personal home practice is the secret weapon that allows me to always give my best to those around me. When my schedule is hectic and fast-paced I take time for long holds and meditation, and when I have less on my plate I crave and enjoy a fierce physical practice.

Your home practice is one place where you can actively cultivate energetic balance. By engaging in the dance of yin and yang, you learn to ride these fluctuating waves and experience a deeper connection to your own essential nature.