Sixteen years ago I bought a set of beginner yoga classes (on VHS!) out of curiosity. I was recently unemployed, battling stress-related digestive issues, and needing some new resources in life.
So I popped tape #1 in the VCR. An hour later, I felt calm but energized, my back didn’t hurt anymore, and I even felt taller. (Feeling taller is a big deal when you’re 5’2”.) I was hooked.
Finding the right exercise is challenging. Running is fun, but it’s 90 degrees and humid half the year in central Texas. Gyms and high-impact movements are not my jam. I often return to walking, with or without my dog, but a walk doesn’t always get at everything that needs stretching, strengthening, or calming.
Yoga has been my constant, even when I abandon my mat for months. This morning I woke up tired, after a long day and a night of restless sleep. I didn’t want to skip yoga, but I also wanted to respect being tired. I’ve learned that really energetic yoga sometimes has the paradoxical effect of making me even more tired.
Why is this? Chinese medicine explains it well, through the simple concept of yin and yang. When we feel still or tired, that’s yin. If your tiredness is just a temporary slump, sometimes adding a burst of active, warming yang activity works well to balance you out.
But what happens if you’ve been tired for a long time? This happens to many of us: people with stressful jobs, mothers juggling too many balls, Type A personalities who find it hard to slow down. In those circumstances, we get tired at a deeper level, and pushing ourselves to be very yang might not be what we need. Instead, we need to nourish our yin, to grant ourselves the gift of true rest.
This is what I love about yoga: it offers yin and yang. This morning I chose a simple yin practice: seated postures held for a longer time. It’s been a leap to keep my practice slow most of the time, because I live in this active, fast culture. Exercise is supposed to make you sweat, right?
But since I’ve made that leap, I enjoy yoga more. Despite taking it slow, I get off my mat with more energy, not less. And on days when I wake up ready to move more, I choose an active practice, one that really does get my heart rate up, and that feels good too.
This is the most fundamental concept in Chinese medicine. Yin and yang exist in everything and are constantly shifting to achieve the most balance possible. When we honor that, we honor what our bodies deeply need. You don’t have to do yoga: just move through whatever activities you choose with the recognition that yang requires yin to exist, and yin requires yang. We can’t exist with only one side of the coin. Namaste and shalom, y’all.
(Bonus! My favorite yoga resource: if it’s hard to get to a local studio, I love the classes at doyogawithme.com, a donation-based online resource. They offer short classes, long classes, classes for beginners or more advanced practitioners, and a nice mix of yin vs. yang options. Plus, all the teachers have lovely Canadian accents. I have no affiliation with them and get nothing from recommending the site: it just makes me happy.)