Arms of fire
The terms Yang and Yin relate to two energetic polarities that form and define our reality. The Yang relates to the active, concrete, bright, forceful aspect of all living things, and the Yin relates to the passive, ethereal, shadow and surrendering aspect of life. To be healthy we want both aspects of ourselves to be full and balanced.
The Yin practice has grown from the Daoist philosophy that at the centre of the constantly swirling polarities of Yang and Yin there lies the Dao, the tranquility at the centre of all life. Yoga practice developed into the modern period with a strong emphasis on the active, muscular and mentally goal-oriented side of the yoga tradition.
As we can read in the 8-limbs, the physical and forceful aspect of the practice is an important but not complete part of the whole practice. The Yoga Sutras also describe states of total surrender, meditative absorption and utter stillness. The Yin Yoga practice has therefore developed to nurture this quality in our practice.
In honour of the Chinese roots of Daoism, Yin classes 'treat' students and sequence according to the meridian lines from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). There are 5 elements that are associated with the most common 12-14 meridian lines. The meridians are often used in 'yang:yin' pairs to instil balance in the practitioner. The 'Yang' side of the body is the back, where the skin is coarser, hairier and tans more easily. The 'Yin' side of the body is the front, where the skin is more delicate, sensitive, pale and less hairy. Think of the phrases: 'put your back into it' to apply effort (a yang quality), and 'they are so open hearted', referring to an emotional, sensitive capacity (a yin quality).
Over this summer period, in my Yin and Yang Yin classes we are exploring the Fire element. This is connected to 4 meridian lines: the heart (yin), small intestine (yang), pericardium (yin) and triple heater (yang). These meridian lines all run through the front and back of the arms and chest (look up these lines online). So in the classes we look at energising and aligning the arms, shoulder and chest to generate a free flow of energy and release of tension along these lines. It is connected to blood chi (life force) and if out of balance, vulnerable to shen (spiritual energy) disturbance.
The emotion connected to the fire element is joy: about embracing, and gracefully withdrawing so we conduct healthy relationships with ourself and others. The fire element governs our ability to communicate and build strong honest relationships. You will notice that when you feel shut down in a relationship your chest will close and arms will become heavy and stiff. When you are connected to your passion you will naturally gesticulate with your arms, and when you have a healthy joyful relationship with yourself and others you will embrace using your arms and heart.
In our yoga practice we can work into these meridian lines by bringing more awareness to how we are using our arms as an expression or communication to ourselves, to the space around us and to others. Become intimately aware of how you are placing your arms in relation to your heart. Extend from the heart centre all the way (front and back) to the tips of your fingers and feel the palms of your hand come alive with sensitivity.
To bring this element back into balance, in addition to coming to practice Fire-sequenced Yin and Yang Yin classes, make sure you sleep well. We can 'burn out' if these meridian lines are in excess and our emotions can fly off the handle quickly. If you are in excess in this element, i.e. socially frenetic, hot, erratic and struggle to steady a quick, busy mind... place the hands in grounding mudras (such as gnana mudra or cosmic mudra) and meditate for 10 mins morning and night, also be consistent in your bed and waking time. Eat cooling foods and take up more Yin yoga and meditation. If you feel deficient in the fire element, i.e. lonely, passion-less, blocked in your communication, practice a little warm, hot or vinyasa yoga or stick with fire themed yin yoga and eat warming spicy foods in the day time. Try the 'ego eradicator' arms above your head kappalabhati breath of fire for 5 mins in the morning.
'Everything in the universe, organic and inorganic is composed of and defined by its Qi. Chinese thought does not easily distinguish between matter and energy, but we can think of chi as matter on the verge of becoming energy and energy at the point of materialising.'