Yin and Yang: the Meaning, Philosophy and Yoga Connection Explained

Darkness and light, inhales and exhales, expansion and contraction – these are all vital components of life. These opposites form the foundation of yoga, and are most often referred to as Yin and Yang. Attributed to Taoism, the Yin Yang symbol and its meaning dates back to ancient China.

Let’s take a closer look at the Yin Yang symbol, its meaning, the philosophy behind it, and how we can apply its lessons to our yoga practice.

What are Yin and Yang?

The basic philosophy of Yin and Yang is that everything in the universe exists in opposition. Everything is both cyclical and constant, revolving in an infinite cycle of energy, or Chi (Qi).
Governed by the moon, Yin energy is restorative and receptive. Yin energy moves downward, like exhaling breath, and is depicted by a black upside-down teardrop shape in the Yin Yang symbol. The color black symbolizes the inner, intuitive sense of understanding the intricacies of life.
As Yin energy also moves inward, it transforms into Yang energy, ruled by the sun, which then rises and moves outward. Yang is depicted by the white teardrop shape, and has an upward energy like the inhale breath.
The movement of these energies is described as the perpetual cycle of Chi.
Although they are described as polar opposites, they are completely dependent on one another, with one dissolving into the other in a pattern of constant transformation. In yoga, the combination of active (Yang) and receptive (Yin) practices is essential in order to create overall balance.

The Yin Yang Symbol Meaning

The Yin Yang symbol is a circle with two teardrop-shape swirls. The black swirl, the Yin, is associated with femininity, receptivity, and the moon. The white swirl, the Yang, represents the sun, growth, and passion.
There is a black dot in the white spiral and a white dot in the black spiral – these small circles remind us that everything contains the seed of its opposite, and that nothing is absolute. As an example, Darth Vader has the seed of goodness, and Luke has the potential to follow his father to the dark side.
In all Yang, there is Yin, and in all Yin, exists Yang. The symbol represents the belief that everything in the universe consists of these two symbiotic forces.


The Union of Yin and Yang

The root of the Sanskrit word yoga is “yuj” which means “to unite.” When the two opposite energies of Yin and Yang combine as one, the union creates balance and harmony.
The need to alternatively exert and quiet yourself is described in traditional yoga as two wings: the wing of abhyasa (practice) and the wing of vairagya (surrender).
I often refer to the practice of Yin Yoga as the Art of Surrender. Yang practices, such as Hatha Yoga could be called the Art of Action.
Like the practice of yoga, the cycle of these energies teach us that we, and the universe we live in, are full of opposing qualities that coincide and compliment each other.
Perhaps Yin and Yang are our greatest teachers in the art of balance.

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Lisa Fierer

Lisa is a writer, speaker, Yoga, (SUP) StandUp Paddleboard Yoga, and Sanskrit Teacher. Catch her doing a Half Moon Pose on her Harley, training SUP Yoga teachers, giving drive-by hugs, and completing her memoir, Thirst. For more info, visit her website and follow her on social @lisafierer.


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