Summer is All Yang

I know you feel it. As soon as the cold, damp cloudiness cleared and the warm sun made its appearance, our eyes are wide open and our bodies are full on ready to take on the season!

While winter is the stillness, the allowing, the releasing, the yin, summer is the yang. Yang is action and engagement. Yang is going out and doing it…the run, the yard work, the picnic, the festival.

And we love it!

In fact, our society encourages yang. Go, go, go. Do, do, do. Stronger, faster, stronger, faster. Until whoops!  All too easily, we find ourselves tight, tired and tense. Dehydrated from the run, sore from the yard work, bloated from the picnic, and all yang-ed out from the festival. 

So how can we step into the fun of summer without overdoing and overextending? Is it possible to create a yang and yin partnership this summer that provides a healthy, satisfying and balanced experience?

Let’s take it to the mat:

The yang portions of my yoga practice are the sun salutes, the strength of the warriors, the balancing on one foot and the splitting open of a backbend. Certainly these aspects are yang: engagement, action, full of fire and sometimes fierce.  

In chair pose, I can feel the yang in the burning of my legs. In this full-on yang moment, the practice is to balance the yang with a little yin by focusing on the ease of the jaw, by relaxing through the shoulders and by softening around the heart as I breathe.

Conversely the yin portions of my yoga practice are floor poses and longer holds. The surrender of half pigeon or frog. The release and rinse of a supine twist. The settling in of thread needle. The letting go of legs up the wall. These asanas target the shoulders, hips and spinal line. And, because the asanas are held for a duration, the muscles can relax and lengthen which allows the connective tissue to receive positive stress (the short version of the story). 

And yet, you know that half pigeon pose benefits from some yang engagement in order to organize the hips into optimal alignment for the deepening stretch.  There’s always a little yang in relationship to the yin.

Furthermore, as a whole, the yin asanas at the end of the practice provide a restful contrast to the earlier active (even athletic) yang portion of the practice. The yin experience allows the nervous system to settle into rest and digest mode which is supportive of immune health, counters the impact of stress, and promotes a sense of overall wellbeing.

The ability to integrate our yang and yin expressions is a skill that brings balance to our entire lives. Living a little yin and we yang and using a little yang to help us yin is key to enjoying ourselves in all seasons. On or off the mat this balanced engagement is optimal. 

Here’s a story to illustrate what I mean:

My son went back country skiing last weekend. It’s one of his favorite adventures. He has special skis for this. They are wider and shorter than typical skis. And they come with a sleeve. He drives to the bottom of the mountain, loads himself with his gear, puts the sleeves on his skis and hikes up the mountain. Last weekend it was Mount Whitney.

The sleeves on his skis prevent him from sliding backwards as he climbs. And the shape of the ski acts as a snow shoe preventing him from falling through the snow. (Did someone say ‘snow’?) Nonetheless, it’s hard work climbing up the mountain. It’s definitely yang. It takes action and effort and intention.

Once he gets to the top of the mountain, he enjoys the view, heats some food, pops open his tent and spends the night. The next morning he removes the sleeves from his skis, straps his gear on and skis down the mountain. The ride down is letting go and allowing. All yin. He just slides down the mountain on his snazzy skis.

When he gets to the bottom, he loads the car and drives home. A little tired but happy, relaxed and satisfied.

After his trip, I spoke to him on the phone. And I asked him, “Which do you like best? Climbing up or skiing down?” It was a good question because in his answer I could hear all of the things he noticed and discovered and learned. He told me about the yang of climbing. It was hard work that tested his strength. There were times when he stopped to rest (yin). But it was a great way to spend the day and brought a sense of accomplishment. He told me about the view from the top and how it touched his heart and brought tears to his eyes. Then he talked about the yin of skiing down the mountain. The skiing was easier but at first it was tough. He fell. And getting back up, finding his skis, reorganizing his gear was a lot of work (yang). After that, it was all downhill….smooth skiing. He felt excited and it was over too quickly! He shared his story with appreciation for each aspect of the experience.

And I thought, “Hmm. Integrating yang and yin. In yoga. In life.”

So, enjoy the summer. Yang it all up and stuff!

But integrate a little yin…in your practice, your run, your yard work, your festival...your life!