Whole Living Daily

The Power of Embracing Opposition: Yoga on and off the Mat

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When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow,' and others say, 'Nay, sorrow is the greater.’ But I say unto you, they are inseparable.”

—Kahlil Gibran


Lately, I’ve been thinking about how embracing one side of a spectrum invaluably deepens our understanding and often our appreciation of the other.   The catalyst of this contemplation was something I experienced a few weekends ago. Over the course of two days, I was in the company of a loved one preparing to leave his body, followed by that of a newborn arriving into the world.

In addition to witnessing these two, vastly varying phases of life, I observed a full spectrum of my own emotion—sorrow and joy, fear and comfort, denial and acceptance. While my sorrow certainly deepened my gratitude for experiencing joy, my joy only deepened my appreciation of my overall ability to feel.

Likewise, I witnessed my beloved friend, Eric, who passed away a week and a half after my visit; find such balance between reason and passion. Eric was like an uncle to me. Throughout his nine-year battle with bladder cancer, he experienced a great deal of pain, but he did not allow himself to suffer mentally. He put up an enormous fight against the cancer with his body and worked ceaselessly to harness and better understand his mind. In addition to self-study and meditation, Eric and his wonderful wife used music as an outlet to channel their emotions (he was an amazing guitarist, who taught me so much).

His work led him to be so fearless and accepting of life’s cycle, and this powerful reason only made his ability to love boundless. This was so evident and inspiring during the final hours I was fortunate enough to spend with him. His integral strength verily countered any fear and discomfort I was feeling with acceptance and gratitude. Additionally, being with Eric made me so much more appreciative of the miracle of seeing my friends’ newborn baby the next day.

As a visual artist, I tend to think of a spectrum less as a linear form with contrasting points on each end, and more as a wheel expanded by oppositional components in which compliments are created through polarity. Our lives follow this principle—through comprehending and accepting extremes, we suspend ourselves in a central point, subsequently surrounding ourselves with greater security and balance.

This week I invite you to consider the power of opposition in your everyday life. How can it help round out your life? How can it deepen your gratitude, your empathy, and your overall well-being?

Even bring this notion into your postural yoga practice. Sometimes internalizing principles in our physical body can assist our ability to do so with the mind. Opposition expands every pose. To lengthen up, we must ground down. To forward bend further, we need to open our hearts more. This, however, is another blog.…

Sophie Herbert is an alignment focused yoga teacher (and perpetual student), a singer-songwriter, and a visual artist. She has lived, studied, and volunteered extensively in India; teaches yoga in Brooklyn and Manhattan; and recently released her first full-length album, "Take a Clear Look." Please visit her website at SophieHerbert.com.

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