Want to learn a style of yoga that's focused on bringing balance—physically, energetically, and mentally? Join Josh Summers, founder of the Summers School of Yin Yoga, for our new online course Yin Yoga 101—a six-week journey through the foundations and principles of Yin Yoga, along with asana practice and meditation. Sign up today!
At one point or another, we’ve all probably heard or said something like, He has great energy! or She’s really grounded. In Traditional Chinese Medicine these phrases refer to a person whose Qi (vital life force) is both sufficient and flowing. In other words, they have an ample supply of healthy, intelligent energy, and that energy is circulating well. This makes the person relaxed, straightforward, centered, and vibrant. On the flip-side, there’s the condition of feeling off. Like fruit past its prime, a person with an energetic disturbance may be overly fatigued, irritable, have poor digestion, or feel pain.
As yogis, we all probably have a deep conviction in the power of our yoga practice to help smooth our energetic kinks. As an acupuncturist, I want to show you how a bit of TCM knowledge can help further refine your energetic state, especially as it relates to Yin Yoga. First, let me clarify a few TCM concepts: Qi, Meridians, Acupuncture Points, and Yin and Yang Theory.
What, exactly, is Qi?
Ancient TCM masters determined that a person’s health is directly tied to the quality and flow of Qi throughout the body. Pronounced “chee,” Qi is often defined as a life force extracted from the raw materials of ingested food and fluids and from the air we breathe. We can think of Qi as good metabolic intelligence. When it’s flowing, all the physiological processes of the body work in harmony. When it’s deficient or stuck, it leads to disease and disharmony.
Where do Meridians fit into this?
Every good communication system needs a means of sending signals. Electricity needs wires and cables. Your email needs the internet. And in TCM your Qi needs the Meridian system in order to flow and circulate well.
How do acupuncture points relate to Qi and Meridians?
Acupuncture points, located on the Meridians, are very effective at influencing the quality and flow of Qi. Many of the most important acupuncture points are located at joints where the body, energy, and Meridians are all in transition—which is key when it comes to Yin Yoga. Think of the joints as junctures of change, communication centers where signals are ideally transmitted smoothly. But those signals could get crossed or overloaded, like a traffic jam during rush hour. When this happens, there may be pain, swelling, or inflammation in the joint—a local block in communication that affects other parts of your body. Your organs depend on the smooth flow of Qi in order to function optimally. If stagnation at your joints persists, your organs won’t get nourished and your whole system can get thrown out of whack.
Yin and Yang Theory (and Why They Need Each Other)
Yin and Yang Theory describes oppositional but complementary relationships within and between everything. Yin qualities tend to be dark, slow, still, and hidden. Yang qualities tend to be bright, fast, moving, and visible. The TCM approach to health is promoting a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang energies.
A great way to keep our Yin and Yang energies balanced and our Qi flowing and healthy is yoga. But varying yoga styles influence the Qi in different ways. Yin and restorative practices are great if you’re suffering from Qi deficiency: low energy, poor appetite or digestion, a weak voice, or chronic illness. Stagnant Qi—which manifests as pain, tension, stress, or irritability—settles in your joints. Yin Yoga gently stresses the joints to loosen that stagnation and restore the relaxed flow of Qi. After that, an active, or Yang, yoga practice will pump fresh Qi through these areas, and you’ll feel renewed. Yin and Yang Yoga go together beautifully—like, well, Yin and Yang!
In Yin Yoga 101 we’ll explore sequences that enhance your body’s ability to generate and build strong, healthy Qi and enhance its circulation. For now, try these three poses.