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Dharma Kitchen


Yin and Yang: Practicing Balance

Carrie H

Sometimes, life hands you lots of little gifts that seem to pile up all at once. That happened to me this morning. And, two days after the anniversary of my mom's passing, with two animal spirit sightings within the span of a couple hours, I know she's in on this.

It started off with me reading a blog post by my mindful yogi friend Kelly, who poses the question about obstacles and challenges in our path. When we encounter them, do we keep going--or do we retreat and take it a sign that we need to temporarily rethink our path? She reminded us of Deepak Chopra's words, which I loosely paraphrase here: if we are working toward something and it's divinely aligned, things have a flow. When things don't flow with ease, it's often a sign that we are pushing too hard. That we need to retreat and rethink. Take a step back. The yin is the retreat; the yang is the push. 


One of the more difficult aspects of walking a spiritual path is the process of unlearning some things our culture has taught us. It has taught us to keep going. To keep working hard. To be dedicated. To aim high. To be super achievers. To strive for what you want. That all of those efforts will be rewarded, that you will be successful. There is value in the work, for certain. But at what cost? What expense? Sometimes, all the pushing in the world doesn't make a bit of difference if the boulders just aren't going to move; it's not your path. You may not now it at the time--and indeed, the not knowing is also part of the path, I think. It leads you to the next step. Learning how to just be, to allow things to unfold, to be in that flow, is a lifelong practice. This isn't to say that we just sit around and meditate and wait for things to come to us. We have to be co-creators, active participants, to put our intention and attention toward our goals. You know you're doing the right thing when synchronicities start happening. When the right people start popping up in your life at the most opportune times. This starts to happen because small, sustained efforts in your life are starting to pay off. And then once you're in that flow, it raises your vibration and life becomes a magical place. Of course, there are still such things as having a bad day, but you arrive at a place where you remember it will pass. That it's not permanent. Yoga has taught me this perspective; it's rewired my brain cells and given me these gifts, too.

I walked into a yoga class I don't normally take, feeling unbalanced and out of sorts, a little sad and cranky. The days leading up to the anniversary of my mom's passing (July 19) are often a little tense. This was no exception, but for different reasons too complex to get into here—and it's not really the point of this post, anyway. I hadn't practiced in a few days and the teacher, Krissy, told us we were going to work on the balance between yin and yang, between passive and active efforts. I was quietly excited. The hairs on my arms stood up; I had said the words "yin and yang" to her before class, unknowing of her lesson plan, as it were. (I reminded her of this afterward.) Oh, we are all swimming in the same soup, getting the same downloads from the Universe when we sleep. 

This yin and yang is really the crux of modern living. I took a class a few months ago on a Friday night with Ellen Mosko, a yin practitioner, and I did not want to speak for at least a few hours afterward, lest I break the spell. I experienced some of the best sleep in my life afterward, for the next few nights. I wanted to bottle that decompression, I wanted to become skilled in the magic of those singing bowls she used, which altered my brainwaves, I'm convinced. I messaged her afterward, asking her what we did. I'd taken restorative classes before, but this was a complete release. There is no active holding or working on integration; it's the opposite, with a release that's akin to disintegration, a mindfully slow falling apart for 3-5 minutes at a time. She told me we worked on the kidneys and adrenals.  

A lightbulb went off. The "a-ha!" moment. I realized my energy levels have been off for a long time, that my afternoons of losing focus, losing inspiration were taking a toll. I wanted to be energized, inspired, and motivated. Despite all my yoga, despite my attempts at mindful, balanced living, I was not immune to the effects of intense life stressors. I shudder to think what would have happened if I didn't have these practices; I'd likely be in a far more depleted state. (There's a whole nutritional component here, too, that I've touched upon a little bit—see my post about pizza, for example). I'm making adjustments in my practice, to take a child's pose when I need it, to not feel self-conscious or apologetic about things I can't really sustain right now in class, and to just take comfort that some days are really serious upside-down balancing handstanding scorpion pincha crazy days. And other days, it's amazing that the muscles work and the breath sustains me, even as I am experiencing extra fatigue. Somehow, those extremes are all contained in my body; they're all possible in my body, just not at the same time. 

I'm also in the process of Deepak and Oprah's 21-Day Meditation challenge. It's free, and they're focusing on gratitude as a means to discover grace. It's been lovely, relaxing and difficult, all at the same time. Some nights, I drift off into a yoga sleep state, repeating the Sanskrit mantra over and over in my head (Sanskrit works better than English for me; thanks for providing both, Deepak). I honestly think I could listen to him recite the proverbial phone book because his tone of voice is so calm. Say whatever cynical thing you might want to about the enterprise that he and Oprah have developed (separately), that they are gurus, that they are ego-driven, or this or that. People who are working toward increasing mindfulness, awakening us to our divine light within and raising our collective vibrations are all right by me. These people are doing good, and that's all right by me. Anyone who's trying to find balance in their lives would be helped by small bits of meditation, even if it's only five minutes a day. 

So, Mom, I thank you for these gifts. I know they're all connected to you, even if sometimes it isn't all roses and rainbows. 

How do you manage to find some yin space in our very yang culture? What works for you?