March 13, 2024

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Harmonizing Your Yin & Yang Energies

Aikido teacher and founder of Leadership Embodiment, Wendy Palmer, and tai chi and qigong teacher Michael J. Gelb discuss how mindfulness, qigong, and other practices can help us balance feminine and masculine energies. 

Omega: What does it mean to harmonize feminine and masculine (yin/yang) energies?

Wendy: Yin is the receptive principle and yang is the active principle. Our bodies can receive experiences such as touch, feelings of positive and negative emotions, sensations of expansion and contraction, etc. Receiving is the yin of life. Our bodies also act upon the world. We touch others, we give positive and negative messages, and we assert ourselves as a unique personality when we are in connection with others. This is the yang of life. Harmonizing means having a good balance between these type of activities—it means pulsing back and forth, finding a good flow between receiving input from the environment and putting out into the environment.

Michael: In the body, the balance of yin and yang is expressed in the rhythm of our breathing, the beating of our hearts, and the pulsation of all of our cells. In relationships, it manifests in the harmony between being assertive and receptive, talking and listening, taking action and engaging in reflection. Spiritually, it shows up in the way we dance between courage and acceptance, individuation and oneness, discernment and compassion.

When this balance is disturbed or distorted the result may be physical disease, relationship discord, or a sense of alienation. Acupuncturists, psychotherapists, and spiritual teachers help their patients, clients, or students rediscover this natural balance and flow in many different ways. 

But what if there are simple, easy practices, developed, refined, and passed down through the centuries for doing all this yourself? There are, and that’s what we teach with tai chi, qigong, Aikido, mindfulness, and more. 

Omega: What are some of the health benefits of that work?

Michael: There is a growing body of evidence that the practices of tai chi and qigong can be helpful for a range of conditions, including anxiety, cardiovascular disease, depression, hypertension, osteoarthritis, and Parkinson’s disease. Many studies show that this is an effective approach to improve balance and prevent falls for older people. The Harvard Women’s Health Newsletter said that tai chi is not just meditation in motion but "medication in motion." Most people who practice report that they just feel better all over and have more energy.

Wendy: Most of us tend naturally to be more on one side or the other—we organize around either more yin or yang energy. For instance, we may be more of a talker than a listener or more likely to stay busy and not stop to wonder or ask questions. Conversely, we may be unable to take action. Self-doubt and the fear of failure may lead to a sense of separation and block our ability to act. These tendencies release cortisol, which can compromise the immune system and lead to stress and poor health. When we are able to be open, warm, and inclusive (yin), oxytocin is released and we feel more relaxed and connected. When we extend and step into action (yang), testosterone is released and we feel confident and energized. When we work at having a better balance with these ways of being, we will find we have more energy, resilience, humor, and flow in our lives.

Omega: How do you cultivate yin/yang energy in your life and harmonize those feminine and masculine energies throughout your day?

Michael: Start with a regular practice, ideally 20 minutes a day. Daily qigong practice is easy to sustain because it feels good and is energizing. When you practice every day, you are tuning your nervous system to oscillate harmoniously between excitation and inhibition, between yin and yang, feminine and masculine energies, on a fundamental level. As you experience this harmony, it makes it easier to be sensitive to those experiences, people, environments, and circumstances that support harmony, and to be more aware of those that distort it. Thus, one strengthens the inner guidance system that makes it easier to make wise choices about everything from what to eat to what to say, or often more importantly, what not to eat or not to say.

Wendy: Yin and yang are mystery and mastery. To cultivate mystery is to become a conduit for aspects of the universe to flow through me. I use archetypes to invite wisdom, compassion, and confidence. To cultivate mastery, I use discipline to consciously shape my personal space into a receptive circle to be able to listen and receive information; and an active triangle to take action, speak up, and take a stand for what I believe is true. During the day I practice being open, curious, and in wonder about things. That is, I practice mystery, yin. I also practice being focused on the details of my day, practice, writing, responding to requests. That is mastery, yang.

Omega: What aspects of a mindfulness practice might be considered feminine or masculine?

Michael: Inhaling might be considered more masculine and exhaling more feminine, but mindfulness is awakening to the presence that is always present, whether breathing in or out or in the exquisite moment when the inhale becomes the exhale and when the exhale becomes the inhale. Awareness itself is neither masculine or feminine, it transcends the distinction. When we harmonize yin and yang through qigong practice, we invite the experience of the presence of awareness, thus connecting and aligning with the source of being.

Wendy: Mindfulness is both yin and yang in the way it uses concentration and awareness. Concentration is yang. It focuses the attention on a particular object of attention—breath, mantra, visualization etc. This is an active energy. Awareness is yin. It is receptive and notices what arises—the yin part of the practice is to accept thoughts and feelings without indulging in them. Both are needed to deepen an experience of mindfulness.

Omega: When it comes to gender fluidity or those who steer away from gender labels at all, is there still a benefit to understanding yin/yang dynamics? Are there ancient practices that celebrate both/and rather than either/or?

Michael: Yes! The ancient practices that we teach are all celebrations of both/and.

In the Tao-te Ching, Lao-tzu writes,

All things have their back to the female
And stand facing the male.
When male and female combine
All things achieve harmony.

Lao Tzu isn’t referring to gender, rather he’s pointing to a universal principle of harmony. All of the practices we teach are designed to help humans experience this inner balance. Whatever one's self-definition may be in terms of gender identity, we all need to make plans and take action, and we all need to be receptive and empathic to increase the chances that our plans and actions are wise.

Wendy: Absolutely! Yin is the receptive and yang is the active principle. Yin and yang are better viewed as parts of a oneness that is expressed in the universe. Every person uses both receptive and active ways of being. Every person is essentially a perfect whole, a balance of yin and yang in their essence.

From the Tao Te Ching:

To know the strong masculine principle, yet abide by the gentle female principle is like being the valley of the world where all rivers will flow into.
…Being a standard of the world and not deviate from true nature, one is able to return to the void of Tao.
…Being the valley of the world makes possible the true virtue to be complete and sufficient.