My weekend Women's Yoga and Mindfulness Retreat at Schweibenalp is during the 9-day festival of Navaratri, which honors the "divine" feminine. What we can call our "yin energy." Navratri, meaning “nine nights" spans 9 nights and is dedicated to the various forms of Goddess Durga, representing the embodiment of strength, courage, and compassion. Over the years of teaching at Schweibenalp, I've learned so much about this festival and the benefits of practicing yoga during this season of change.
Full disclosure; I was brought up by a courageous, compassionate, and feminist Momma, somewhat agnostic and a true nurturer. I was also raised (on my father's side) in the Catholic church and would go to mass with my Dad every weekend during my childhood and when I could as an adult. My Dad drove us to mass every Saturday night; 4 kids in the back of a hippie VW bus with jug band music playing on the 8-track player; occasionally picking up the random hitchhiker (just another day in the life of a child in the 1970's in Northern California). My childhood had just the right blend of hippie and traditional Catholic values...many flavors of yin and yang. I value what I learned from my courageous and fiercely compassionate momma, as well as the values and gentle nature of my father. I also value what I learned from the Catholic church; the universal messages of peace, renewal, and compassion.
When I became interested in yoga, I had to reframe a bit of what I learned. I would internally cringe when I'd hear a yoga teacher talk about "feminine energy" the "heart space" or "yin and yang energies." When a yoga teacher would start with gentle pranayama (breathing) practice to balance our yin and yang energies, I would silently think to myself, "Great, but hurry up and get to the exercise."
I found going to the science of the practice extremely helpful. If you love yoga but also love science, here are some of the concepts of yin and yang energies (originated in Chinese philosophy) in the body from a perspective that aligns with scientific understanding.
Homeostasis: Yin and yang can be a metaphorical way of describing the balance and equilibrium that the body strives to maintain. In biology and physiology, the concept of homeostasis is well-recognized. Homeostasis is your body's ability to regulate and maintain stability, a lot like the equilibrium of yin and yang. When our bodily functions, such as temperature, pH, or hormone levels, are in balance, our health and well-being are maintained.
Physiology: The idea of yin and yang can be thought of as the complementary dualities that exist within our bodies. For example, your autonomic nervous system has two parts; sympathetic (yang) and parasympathetic (yin) nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system gears us up for "fight or flight" responses, while the parasympathetic system helps us relax, rest, and digest. Achieving a balance between these two systems is crucial for maintaining our health.
Circadian rhythms: The concept of yin and yang can also be related to our natural circadian rhythms. Yang phases, such as daytime, are associated with alertness and activity, while yin phases, such as nighttime, are linked with rest and sleep. These rhythms are deeply rooted in our biology and play an important part in our overall health and well-being.
Hormonal balance: Yin and yang can be connected to the balance of hormones in the body. For instance, hormones like cortisol (yang) are associated with stress and wakefulness, while melatonin (yin) promotes relaxation and sleep. An imbalance in these hormones can lead to sleep disorders and stress-related health issues.
The bottom line, excessive yang (stress, overexertion) without sufficient yin (rest, recovery) can lead to both physical and mental health issues. Practices that restore those "yin" qualities during our very "yang" lives can help us to feel more grounded and stable during a season of change.
My retreats at Schweibenalp are an opportunity to balance these energies, to bring our attention inward, and to practice self-care.