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The Importance of Contrast

"Yin and Yang" photo from Eric Bardo

In the Yoga asana practice that I teach we spend a good portion of each practice in an energetic fiery flow that builds “yang” energy. Simply put, you get very warm, start sweating profusely and raise the overall energy level of your body. The closing portion of class is designed to be more cooling, contemplative and introverted energetically speaking – more “yin” in nature.

The “yang” however only exists relative to the “yin.” If the entirety of the practice was more gentle, a few sun salutations would be construed as fire-building. In the practice I teach, sun salutations are heat building, but could also be construed as more gentle given the numerous poses we do that build even more heat (extended side-angle pose, dolphin pose, plank pose, arm balances etc.). I remember being in a class with a master teacher last year, where after several hours of intense asana practice the teacher had us hold dolphin pose for a while. After a minute of struggle, she mentioned that if we wanted a break from dolphin, to just straighten our arms into downward dog! For those of you that practice yoga asana, you know that holding downward dog can itself be tiring if held for a while. However, in the context of all the other asanas we were doing during this particular practice, it seemed quite effortless. Downward dog felt as relaxing as child’s pose!

In the same way, when I was in high school we use to train with all kinds of equipment to increase the intensity of our practices. We used to wear drag suits (old torn suits with pockets sewn in then) and tie inner-tubes around our ankles. We’d swim miles like this. When we’d take them off, we’d start swimming sets that would normally be grueling, but they would seem easy in contrast to swimming with all that darn equipment!

My friend asked me the other day what I would do if I could do anything I wanted, if I was 100% financially and otherwise secure. I didn’t have a great answer when she asked, and I still don’t. However, that question got me thinking. I have been thinking about what it would be like to live in a world where everything was great. Where nothing bothered me. Where I didn’t have a concern in the world. Where everyone was happy and I was always happy. Where nobody ticked me off. Where the bus always came on time and where days were always sunny. I started thinking about what this world would be like.

I didn’t like it.

I think it would lack color, energy and interest. I think it would get boring. I think that the surprises and excitement that I get from my life is partially the result it being full of highs and lows, good days and challenging days, tough luck and good luck. I think without the “bad” the “good” wouldn’t seem so “good”. I think the trick in this whole situation is then to just accept and deal with the challenges as natural events. Not get caught up or impacted by them in a major way (far easier said than done!), and understand that it is only through this contrast that life can have any color and interest at all.


  1. Jerie Clowes says:

    Ravi, your posts have been so helpful for me. The one prior to this one titles Ignorance is Bliss about being present in the moment helped me in a 10k I did on Sat. For the first time ever I was not looking for the next mile marker and they seemed to just fly by. I kept my mind where my feet were and didn’t think about whenI was going to see the next mile marker. I also breathed only through my nose and at no time did I feel “done in.” I always look forward to your insights.

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