Many of us need to slow down and find a better balance between yin and yang but is there such a thing as doing too much yin yoga? There’s an easy to that one: yes!
We can do too much of pretty much anything that is recommended to us as good or healthy. And sometimes, in the short term at least, that is okay or even needed to help us to recalibrate our lives. In the long term, we want to aim for balance, and that means adjusting to the different circumstances we find ourselves in and the different seasons of weather or stage of life. We can also think of different stages of a menstrual cycle as seasons with different qualities and needs. What is best for us today, might not be best for us next week, month or year.
If we are turning to yin yoga to balance out an otherwise very physically active lifestyle, this can be a great way to assist with recovery and perhaps even enhance your performance. However, it’s unlikely to be ideal to replace all of your more yang activities with yin yoga. A little bit of a swap is great but don’t dismiss the benefits of what you started with just because you were doing too much of it. During low energy times, a bit more yin can be great, especially as a way of still doing something with your body. During higher energy times, we may want to dial back the yin a little to enjoy our energy but we don’t want to forget all the importance of stillness altogether.
If we are turning to yin yoga to balance out an otherwise very emotionally stressful lifestyle (e.g. highly stressful jobs / mental health difficulties / challenging personal circumstances), this can be a great way to assist with learning to slow down, take a step back, connect with values and make more sustainable choices about how we spend our limited time and energy. Yes, we want to keep doing it all and help other people and not cause a fuss and not show any weakness (sounding familiar?) but do we really want to keep sacrificing our ability to feed ourselves well, get sufficient sleep and do the level of exercise that we are physically capable of and that is good for our physical and mental health? It really is hard to accept that we can’t keep things the same in the areas in which we excel as well as improving things in the areas where we are not doing as much as we’d like to.
Yin yoga invites us to practise holding back, to pause and to sit with discomfort. If we are going to face the challenges of holding back in other areas of our lives, to say no, to stop doing all the extras and to reach out for help when this could be beneficial, we have to be willing to experience the emotional discomfort this often leads to, including feelings of guilt, worries about judgement from others and the overall sense of uncertainty about what is going to happen when we change our behaviour, especially when our minds are great at telling us it will be a total disaster. And that discomfort is a more subtle, unfamiliar kind of discomfort vs the more intense powering through than many of us are so used to. Maybe we’ve applied that to the way we exercise and are drawn to HIIT, spin classes, running, boxing, intense yang yoga styles that give us a high, a sense of achievement and distract us mentally from the challenges of day to day life. But is it really distraction we need? Distraction can save lives at times of peak distress but is it sustainable as our only strategy? Probably not, so we start cutting back on the high energy things we like that make us feel good because we no longer have the time and the energy for them but we probably then find new distractions, such as social media or food or drink. And the idea of slowing down even further to do something as still and maybe even boring as yin yoga might not make sense as we “should” be doing more exercise. But then we try it, and we can breathe, we can be, we can feel. Maybe it feels wrong and right at the same time. And we do more and more because we need rest and it still counts as movement. But do we just need rest? Has it helped us to make any changes in our lives?
If you have been doing increasing amounts of yin yoga, well done for everything that took. I want you to now consider what is going to help you meet your needs in this next stage. How can you apply what you have learned to the areas of your life that matter most to you? Can you do it in a way that helps you to have some balance across those areas rather than trying to excel in just a few? Are you ready to start holding back at work so you can go home on time and eat well? Are you ready to start allowing the people around you to solve their own problems when they haven’t asked for your help? Are you willing to feel guilty for prioritising your own needs on occasion, even if someone else could do with a hand? The first stage of this can be very activating for our nervous system so we might still need to have a large amount of yin yoga or other gentle practices but as we continue, we might want to go back to some of those other yang practices that we did actually enjoy. Just because the role those activities played in our lives might not have been optimal in the past and just because we did too much of them previously, doesn’t necessarily mean we need to dismiss them altogether if we might still enjoy them or find that they help to improve our health. Maybe we can fit in yang practices a few times a week. Maybe we do shorter classes and/or don’t push ourselves quite as much now because we have learned in yin yoga to listen to our bodies and not to compete with others or our previous abilities. Maybe we get it wrong again and go too far but we catch ourselves a bit earlier this time.
Notice that in the yin/yang symbol, the dark (yin) segment contains a light circle and in the light (yang) segment there is a dark circle. I want you to do some yin yoga (or an alternative gentle practice) if it is something that will help you to achieve better balance in your otherwise very yang lifestyle, whether that be physical or emotional or both. Get in touch if you are in the UK and would like a personalised approach to this. And I want you to remember that yang is not bad. Both are healthy and needed; it is usually the imbalance that we need to address. And when we address this, we need to respect where we are at in order to meet our current needs, accounting for our current resources and abilities. It is an ongoing process of testing out, finding something that feels a good fit at a certain time, probably getting knocked off balance again, and then readjusting. Keep going.