Yin & Yang in Flight

I was sitting in my favorite spot in all of Dayton watching the sun sink behind a row of trees when something caught my eye.  A flash of white among the greenery.  I focused and peered harder in that direction but was distracted by a flash of black against the blue sky out of the corner of my eye.

Another flash of white in the trees.  Another flash of black against the sky.  I kept watching, unfocusing my eyes and relaxing into a wider view.  That’s when I realized the movement was from the same bird — a Swallow. 

I watched it climb into the sky—dark against the white clouds and blue beyond, then dip back in front of the trees—its white belly zigging and zagging as it scooped up its buggy dinner.  Dark and light and dark again.

Finally, it settled on top of a birdhouse nearby.  As it regarded me, I noticed its back was a stunningly beautiful shade of iridescent blue.  Then it became a black dart against the sky again.  And white against the trees.  

Too often we think of dark and light as being different, opposite, extremes, when in fact they are actually intimately related.  This is the lesson of Yin and Yang.  One cannot exist without the other.  I’ve heard it explained as two sides of the same coin, but that makes it still seem like it’s all one or the other.  After watching the Swallow, I think I understand—Yin and Yang are always present (the bird is always white bellied with charcoal colored wings with an iridescent blue back), but I could only recognize the parts in opposition to the background—light against dark, dark against light. 

Qigong and Tai Chi are founded on Yin and Yang and every movement contains both.  Inward and outward; our lungs are contracting and expanding; our movements are active and passive; etc.  They are both and when you get to the “extreme” of one, you find you can’t help but move into the other.  Try it!  Inhale as much as you can.  At some point, you reach maximum lung expansion and you immediately are drawn into lung contraction (exhale).  And when you’ve exhaled as much as you can, you immediately move back into lung expansion (inhale). 

This week, facing extremely hot temperatures, we will explore Yin and Yang in our practice (provided it’s safe to be out in the heat) and hopefully find some cooling in the process.  In the meantime, here are a few ways to stay cool while practicing a little Qigong:

  • Wake up before sunrise. The coolest hour of the day is the hour before sunrise.  It’s also when the trees and plants switch from producing carbon dioxide back to oxygen.  Just like us, their balance is always moving between the two.  Most of my Qigong and Tai Chi instructors insist this is the best time to practice for health and vitality.
  • Open those armpits and elbow joints!  Any gentle flowing movements that open the armpits and elbows will help your body release heat.  Find a movement that feels good to you and repeat it while inhaling as you move toward your heart (or upwards) and exhaling when you move away from your heart (or down).  Settle into the movement until your breathing is nice and slow.  Then relax your arms and upper body fully, letting your muscles hang on your bones while you continue moving.
  • Try mouth breathing.  With so much press lately on how to breathe, it seems that mouth breathing is nothing but bad business.  But just like the Swallow, it may need some perspective.  Breathing in through your mouth may help cool down the air that enters your body.  Likewise, breathing out through your mouth may help release more heat from your body.  Try it and see if it works for you!  Here are two special kinds of mouth breathing from Ayurveda that are believed to have quick results.  Personally, I use them both and find they work marvelously (and I do NOT like to be hot!).
  • Use your imagination.  This may seem a bit weird, but it may work for you—it works for me!  (Everyone has their own Way though.)  When I sit in the sauna, I often choose to sit where I can see the swimming pool so when I begin to feel anxious about the heat, I can imagine myself in the cool water and calm down.  This imagining will prolong my sauna visit by 10 minutes every time.  One way to cool down this week would be to imagine that you’re pouring cool or cold water down your body as you Pull Down the Heavens (on the inhale, arms circle out to each side and float up to the sky; on the exhale, palms turn down toward Earth and gently press/float down with elbows out to the sides, armpits open). 
  • Practice Heat Wave Safety!  Remember:  I am not a doctor!  These practices are intended as ways to mindfully self-regulate in mild heat discomfort and are not intended to treat any type of heat illness.