A few weeks ago I pulled something in my upper back, due to an overzealous day out on the sound with my new stand up paddle board. It was a run-of-the-mill kind of injury. Nothing serious. The kind of injury that just meant that I needed to take it easy for a few days.
Yet, when it happened, I pretty much had a total emotional break down.
You see, this little injury, small and insignificant as it was, was not a part of my plan, which was to go hiking, do yoga, work, teach and then work some more over the coming week.
This injury in my upper back meant that I couldn’t do most of what I had planned. It meant that I would have to find subs for my classes and reschedule clients.
It meant that I would have to rest.
So, as I just mentioned, I totally freaked out. I cried. I pleaded and bargained with god. I cried some more. I worried and fretted about lost opportunities and income.
Thankfully, as I was freaking out, I was also able to notice that I was freaking out. I attribute this capacity for self-awareness in that moment to two things: one, 18+ years of mindfulness practice and two, luck.
As I noticed myself freaking out, I realized that my freak-out was showing me something about myself (as all of our reactions do). As I was looking into this great cosmic mirror, I caught a glimpse of an exhausted woman with an enormous to-do list, a nervous system on over drive, and an inability to stop, to slow down, to relax or to let go.
Can you relate?
My little freak-out was a symptom of a much bigger issue that I am facing. However, it’s not just me. This is an issue that affects all of us and that is so pervasive that most of us don’t even notice it.
This issue is something that one of my teachers calls “The Cancer of Yang.” I think that’s a good way to talk about it.
I’m sure you’ve heard of yang, and its dear friend and counter part, yin. Yin and yang are two kinds of energy. More accurately, yin and yang are a way of talking about, or organizing energy that comes form the Taoist tradition.
As an aside, there are lots of ways to organize energy. We have to organize it so we can talk about it. However, some people seem to be caught up in trying to figure out which organizational system is “right.”
From my perspective, all of them are right. If I organize my markers by color and you organize yours by size, is one of us right and one of us wrong? Of course not. The point is that we have to organize energy somehow, so that we can work with it and talk about it, but there is no one way to do it.
Any hoo. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to use this Taoist organizational system that is fairly simplistic. It holds that all energy can be classified in one of two categories: Yin and yang.
Because English is my first (and, shamefully, my only) language, I find it helpful to have English words to describe things so I can understand them better. I hope that’s the case for you as well, because I’m going to throw two more terms at you; Yang energy can also be called masculine energy, and, as you may have deduced, yin can also be called feminine.
The Taoist tradition holds that everything in the Universe has both a yin, or feminine, and a yang, or masculine, quality to it.
These energies are opposites.
As a feature of human life, we experience opposites all of the time. We experience darkness, without which we could not understand light. We experience pleasure without which we could not understand pain. Opposing forces exist so that we can experience and understand ourselves, each other, and all of life.
To that end, we must be aware that the opposites always support each other; We must experience some amount of pain, or the richness of pleasure is completely lost to us. We must experience some amount of darkness, or we would not even notice, let alone appreciate the light. So it is with masculine and feminine energies.
Masculine energy is what gets us out of bed in the morning. It is the engine. It is the energy that pushes us forward, and allows us to get stuff done. It is the energy that moves us. It is penetrating. It is also very linear, and likes to categorize and organize things. If it wasn’t for masculine energy, it would be impossible to get anything done or make sense of anything.
Feminine energy is the opposite. (I know I really threw you a curveball there). This energy is what puts us to sleep at night. It is what helps our bodies to heal and our minds to relax. It allows us to just be. It has no goal, no destination. Feminine energy receives the experience of the present moment without having to do or achieve anything.
As I mentioned, the opposites support each other. I’m sure you can see how the feminine supports the masculine and the masculine supports the feminine.
So back to “The Cancer of Yang”: Our society suffers from a chronic excess of masculine energy. It has been cultivated and glorified to the extreme in our modern western culture.
Almost everyone who lives in our society experiences the affects of this energetic imbalance. It manifests in many, many ways. It can show up as constant busyness, as an inability to rest and as an addiction to constant stimulation, Hold on, I need to check my phone…okay, I’m back. What was I saying? Oh yeah, constant stimulation. It also shows up as addiction to stimulants, rampant insomnia, “adrenal fatigue”, nervous system burnout, chronic physical and mental tension.
This excessive energy also manifests as rape culture, and rampant pornography addiction. We see it manifest as war culture and as “shoot first and ask questions later” culture. It shows up in excessive corporate malignancy, and in a culture in which our worth as individuals is based on what we do, how much money we make and how we appear instead of who we actually are. We feel isolated and like we have to compete with one another because it’s “every man for himself.”
This is masculine energy gone rampant. This is yang energy run wild, with no yin to calm it down.
Of course, when you have an exacerbation of one kind of energy, you always have the repression of another. In this case, it’s repression of the feminine.
This manifests as a repression of sensuality (Sensuality is not sexuality, but the way; they are related but there is a very big difference. Not that one would know from searching “sensuality” on Google Images. But I digress.) and repression of non-linear ways of thinking and intuitive wisdom.
This repression of the feminine has also created a society that teaches its members to repress, discount and/or ignore their feelings (feelings are inherently feminine). This is a huge loss because our feelings are so, so important. Our feelings are what deliver the feminine, receptive, intuitive and non-linear aspect of our experience. They hold deep, deep wisdom.
It breaks my heart to see people told (sometimes consciously and sometimes subversively) that there is something wrong with them for feeling what they feel. They are told, basically, that what they feel is wrong and they should not feel it, or should not feel it so strongly, or that the feeling should not be trusted. Over time, they internalize this message and cut themselves off from their wisdom, and any time you are cut off from your wisdom you are cut off from your power. To feel is to know and to know is to be powerful.
When we repress our feminine energies we are cut off from the power of the feminine. When the feminine loses it’s power, it is only a matter of time before the masculine energy burns itself out and loses it’s power too. When one component is out of balance the whole system becomes very weak, unhealthy and eventually loses its power (remember, the opposites support each other). Therefore, it’s not just the feminine energy that has become disempowered; The masculine energy has lost its power too.
We, as a society, have let this out-of-control yang energy run us into the ground. It is making us sick, and we have to wake up and do something.
What to do? At least part of the answer lies in the reclamation of the feminine.
This is perhaps trickier than it sounds.
Many of us fall into the trap of trying to fix our personal excess-of-yang by doing more masculine, yang activities and calling them “natural” or “holistic” when the fact is that they are just more of the same energy in disguise.
For example, I know of many people living the new age / yoga / natural living / spirituality lifestyle who are always busy, over-worked, medicated and stressed out, and they try to make themselves feel better by going to a regular yoga class. Yoga classes are great, certainly. However, a simple yoga class, even multiple times a week, will not fix a problem that is fundamentally rooted in lifestyle and a (probably mostly subconscious) repression of the feminine.
As an aside, (as a long-time yoga teacher I’ve just gotta say this) it is also important to consider what kind of yoga a person might be doing; much of the yoga that is popular in mainstream culture is (surprise!) very masculine. Please don’t misunderstand; masculine yoga is great for some of the people some of the time. However, many excessively anxious and burnt-out people are only making themselves sicker by attending their thrice weekly heated core power vinyasa practice.
To offer another example; special diets are pretty trendy in the new age /natural living / yoga community these days. If you are having digestive problems, then do an elimination diet, try the GAPS diet, go gluten-free, or do the Paleo diet. There is an epidemic of digestive dysfunction in this country. However, very few people are asking those with digestive problems what their stress levels are like or how happy and fulfilled they are. Very few people are asking them if they are free to express themselves emotionally, if they are in touch with their bodies or if they have enough time to really rest. Very few people are asking them if they are fulfilled in their intimate relationships.
Don’t get me wrong, special diets can be very helpful and in some cases can be lifesaving. I am certainly not against them. However, if you are over-worked, out of touch with your feelings, your emotions, your intuition, if you are chronically stressed, worried or tense, if your nervous system is burnt out, etc., then no amount of gluten-free bread or organic kale is going to change things for you in a real, long term way.
What I’m getting at here is that it doesn’t matter if what you’re doing is “natural” or “holistic” if it’s just a band-aid.
Of course, we have absolutely do have the option to create real change for ourselves and reclaim our own feminine energy.
To actually do it, not to slap a band aid on it but to actually do it, I think is a vastly personal endeavor. No one can tell us what our feminine energy should feel like to us, or how it would look if it was truly integrated into our lives. Feminine energy is introverted (masculine is extroverted), and that means finding and reclaiming it is a personal, internal journey.
It also a journey that requires deep courage. This excess masculine energy is truly like the water that we are swimming in, and so to create this kind of change means doing things in a new way. Maybe it even means committing to a radically different way of life.
Please don’t despair. It is personal and it takes courage, yes. However, as I mentioned, it is totally doable. The masculine / feminine system wants to come into homeostasis. The opposites are meant to be in balance; equilibrium is what happens when we create the conditions that support it. To that end, here are some simple ideas to start experimenting with:
- Practice being instead of or in addition to doing: The “being-ness” of feminine energy is what allows us to be truly intimate with ourselves, with other people and with the natural world. By finding our ability to “just be”, be it with ourselves with others or with the natural world, we find an connection with ourselves and all of life that satisfies us deeply.
- Practice stillness. Masculine energy moves, while feminine energy holds still. You can try holding still in your yoga poses (no fidgeting!), or sitting still on your couch, or your living room floor, or at the park. This is kind of an extension of the “just being” practice that I just mentioned above.
- Practice listening. I’m talking about deep listening. This is very feminine skill that many people are not very good at, and many of us feel isolated and disconnected because no one is listening. Deep listening is about simply receiving the information, emotion, energy or whatever it is that is being offered. There is nothing to do, or to judge. Simply listen and receive. You can practice this with yourself, with your loved ones or when you are out in nature. It will, again, help create that real intimacy that is so sorely needed.
- Try putting down the phone / computer and taking regular breaks from the constant stimulation.
- Reclaim your sensuality. As I mentioned earlier, this is not the same thing as sexuality. This sensuality quiz from Psychology Today is kind of fun thing to try. Who knows how accurate the results are, but when I did it the questions really helped me to see what sensuality actually is and how it might manifest in real life.
- Try allowing things to unfold (feminine) when it seems like you are stuck on something instead of trying to force the conclusion (masculine).
- Rest. Really rest.
- Try some nervines. Nervines are a class of herbs that can restore a burnt out nervous system. They mustn’t be administered willy nilly, however (I can’t believe that I just used “mustn’t” and “willy nilly” in a sentence). Find an herbalist that treats the whole person (like my beloved friend Amela), rather than someone who just prescribes herbs like as a band-aid. If you really want to nerd-out, here is a good video on the subject from my teacher Sajah.
- Reduce your use of stimulants. Stimulants (even “natural” ones) are very masculine. We take them habitually so we can lead a hyper-masculinized lifestyle, which is exhausting us, so then we need more stimulants. Coffee, anyone?
- Feel your feelings. Don’t apologize for them, or try to make them smaller. Don’t dismiss them. Your feelings are a big deal. They matter, and they are your allies. Feel them and feel their wisdom and their power. Let them guide you towards a life that feels good.
- Reclaim your intuition. Easier said than done, but this deep wisdom is your birthright. Of course my suggestion is that you check out my upcoming course on intuitive development. However, if that’s not your jam then I’m sure you can fine one that is.
- Feel your body. Your feelings, as it happens, occur in your body. You also receive the information from your sensual self through your body, and many people also get intuitive information through the body. You don’t have to do anything or go anywhere to feel your body. You can just feel it. Whenever. Wherever. All the time. Like now. Just feel your body. If it’s too overwhelming to feel it all at once, just focus on one thing, like your pinky finger, or work with a somatic or yoga therapist (like me!).
- Say “no” to activities and people that don’t support you or feel good to you or make your schedule too full.
- Watch out for unhealthy expressions of feminine energy; Have you ever been on over-drive, working, working, working and running around like crazy and then, bam, you crash? Now all you want to do is eat oily, sweet food and sit on the couch and stare at the boob tube? This is an example of masculine energy becoming so excessive that it actually pushes the feminine into excess. No energy is healthy in excess. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and excess masculine giving way to excess feminine just makes us sicker. Watch out for cycles of masculine excess followed by feminine excess followed by masculine excess… you get the picture…
In case you’re wondering, my upper back is feeling a lot better. Once I actually let go and gave myself permission to slow down, be “unproductive” and “waste time”, I started feeling really good, and not just in my back. I started feeling better mentally and even spiritually. It was such a great learning experience.
The real challenge, however, is presenting itself now as I am feeling better and therefore have to go back to my normal, daily, un-injured life. This is where the rubber meets the road, folks, and this is where I am committing myself to reclaiming my feminine energy in a real, sustainable, long term way. It’s going to be a journey, a process, an adventure and probably a challenge. Maybe it will mean that I have to do things that feel weird, or make me worried about what other people will think, or that are scary. However, I’m feeling certain that the resulting well-being, equilibrium and health will be well worth the effort. (I also think that if I don’t do it that I might just feel worse and worse over time.)
Care to join me? I challenge you, as I am challenging myself, to reclaim your power by reclaiming your femininity. By doing so, you give others permission to do the same. This is how we begin to heal; first as a few individuals who are brave enough to live in a different way, and finally as a society.
“Between the opposites lies the path.”