Whether we choose to call it qi or prana, meridians or nadis, acupuncture points or chakras, our intentions are the same. Creating harmony and balance in mind, body, and soul is the quintessential goal of both yoga and acupuncture. There is an old adage in Traditional Chinese Medicine that says where there is free flow, there is no pain; if there is no free flow, there is pain and if yin and yang are in balance, there is free flow. But free flow of what? And through what? Yogis term the substance flowing as prana, acupuncturists refer to it as qi. Both terms refer to our life force and if we want to boil it down further, we can essentially consider it breath. Qi, or prana, is the essential extraction from the air we breathe, transformed by our body into oxygen and circulated around the body to support all physiological processes. It is through what acupuncturists call meridians and yogis call nadis that this life force flows through.
Acupuncture works on the body as a whole, opening up communication between the brain and the internal organ systems where blockages have occurred and created imbalances. The needles act as a tool for your body, a signal from the particular blocked area of your body to your brain to send in reinforcement and increase circulation to open communication. When a needle is inserted into the skin, it touches deep nerve centres that connect to a part of the brain not wholly under conscious control such as digestion, respiration and the sleep cycle. The body reacts to the stimulation of these nerve centres associated with such deep regulatory processes launching a strong response to remove the blockage and reestablish balance.
Many scholars of the yoga sutra define yoga as Samadhi, the high state of perfected concentration and complete absorption of attention. It is union, to yoke, join and integrate. Yoga is to bring together the aspects of ourselves that were never divided in the first place and by doing so, attain direct experience of the core being of who we truly are at the deepest level. Making the inner connection between mind, body and spirit at the deepest level is the ultimate goal of both acupuncture and yoga. Much like acupuncture uses the points to address imbalances, yoga uses asanas and other practices to stimulate free flow and promote holistic balance. Both practices bring an awareness of the interconnectedness not only within the aspects of the self but also among the universe. This integration is the acknowledgement of the theory of yin and yang and an understanding that all phenomena in the universe may be ascribed to yin and yang and that all phenomena possess both yin and yang aspects.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine one of the fundamental theories underlying all others is Yin and Yang. The theory describes the way everything in the universe naturally pairs with opposites and that these opposites are mutual complements. Everything can be infinitely divided into yin and yang and these opposite pairs depend on one another, counterbalance one another and are mutually convertible from one to the other. Everything can be categorized as either yin or yang and within that division, can be infinitely divided as these aspects are relative. In medicine the use of yin and yang is used in anatomy, physiology, pathology and treatment. Bringing the body into one balanced state of yin and yang, taking into consideration mind, body and spirit is the aim of acupuncture. This is also true in yoga, it is merely the vehicles by which we do so that differ.
One of the most important poses in yoga is Tadasana or Mountain Pose. If we look at this pose we can start to see and break it down ad infinitum into yin and yang aspects. The head reaching high to the heavens and the utmost yang in this case, is a mutual complement to the feet grounded down to the earth and utmost yin. Heaven and earth, head and feet, back and front, shoulders to fingertips, hips to toes, and on. If we look at the most yang acupuncture point in and the highest point in the body, Baihui DU-20, we see that its name is literally translated as One Hundred Meetings, referring to the convergence of all yang meridians in the body. When we are in Tadasana we are reaching Baihui to the heavens. If there is an excess of yang in the body it can create a relative deficiency of yin in the body and that person can feel ungrounded, hot headed, restless, agitated as the yin counterbalance has become too deficient to ground. This can manifest itself in the yoga asana Tadasana if the student lacks yin, grounding and has an excess of yang rising it will be difficult to balance, hold still and strong. If we practice an inversion like Adho Mukha Vrksasana or handstand, we can focus on grounding Baihui, bringing it to a more yin place, reducing the yang and strengthening the yin. Acupuncture can create the same balance by needling Yongquan KI1 at the bottom of the foot, highly effective for descending the energy in the body, grounding the yang. We can also start to see how a person with excess yin would have difficulties holding a strong firm Tadasana. An excess yin would create a relative deficiency in yang and Bahui would lack strength to reach for the heavens getting full extension. This would also create issues if trying to hold Adho Mukha Vrksasana, as excess yin would try to keep close to the ground, low lying and heavy. In this case, Tadasana may be a great pose to practice by strengthening the yang, drawing up, lifting out of the heaviness of the yin with Baihui. In the case of a yin excess individual, yang would be relatively deficient and so we could needle Baihui to strengthen the yang and bring the counterparts back into balance.
If we look at these elements we can also see how all of them can mutually convert. We could take Tadasana into an inversion or Adho Mukha Vrksasana and all aspects of Tadasana would convert to their complementary pair with feet becoming yang and hands yin, hips yang relative to yin shoulders, shoulders yang relative to head and so on.
By inquiry into one of the most fundamental, universal asanas of yoga, we see just how connected everything in the universe is through the theory of yin and yang. We also see that the theory of yin and yang and balance between these aspects is the true goal of both yoga and acupuncture and that balance can be promoted with the practice of both yoga and acupuncture. The asana limb of yoga is the yang to the yin of acupuncture treatment. Keep in mind though that these are mutually transformable concepts and that acupuncture can become the yang to yoga’s yin. A mountain is only as high as the valley is low, so next time you’re in Tadasana, check in with your body, are you grounding your feet and Yongquan and extending your head and Bahui? Balance out those opposites and if one is feeling deficient, maybe try strengthening it with an inversion or getting in for some acupuncture to help compliment your practice on your mat.
*I am so honoured to share that this blog post has been featured in Yogagenda's 2017 Edition. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Yogagenda 2017 please contact me!