The Yin & Yang of the brain

2 February 2012 0 Comment(s)

As young children, we continuously try to make sense of the world. Based on what we learn, we create a mental structure that becomes the foundation of how we act in the world. A child’s mental structure, which is initially supple, has an intrinsic tendency to harden with time. In the beginning however, as new experiences occur, there is an ability to adapt the young and vibrant structure in order to accommodate reality.


The importance of the mental structure, which is created by the left brain as a means to ‘understand’ and ‘discriminate’, cannot be undervalued. This mental structure represents the yang side of the brain, in the same way that the skeleton represents the yang side of the body. Any yang structure which contains an element of its opposite, yin, (representing suppleness and flexibility), will remain strong and supple. However, in the absence of yin, the mental foundation which was built to assist us in making sense of the world, itself becomes what splits us from the reality in which we live in. Life continuously presents new experiences; some with the potential to threaten the validity of our mental structure. If we are unable to allow them to enter the system and change their category accordingly, the same structure will crumble us as we deny experiences or fight them with blame. Instead of living life ‘continuously’ making sense of it and amending the structure, we try to ‘continuously’ attempt to fix others, ourselves, the entire world….. in order to fit them all in to our initial structure.

There is nothing wrong with having a structure, in fact, we need it to experience freedom; we need the form to know the formless. However, there are many times in life where it is necessary to allow the form to change. Otherwise, the incessant controlling and manipulating will rob us of the freedom from being at ease with what is.

In the same way that our skeleton – the foundation of the physical body – needs to adjust ‘constantly’ according to ‘gravity’ and how the body moves i.e. our physical experience; our mental structure (left brain) needs to constantly adjust to the ‘reality’ of our experience.
When faced with our daily experiences we seem to take the experience – the reality of what happens – and check it against the structure / belief / value system. We then either accept or deny the experiences depending on whether or not it matches it. So we say things like ‘I feel this way but I shouldn’t’ or ‘s/he is doing this but shouldn’t’ unaware of the fact that it is our mental structure that is dictating reality.

Instead of adjusting the structure with reality, we try to change reality to fit it in the structure.

This literally takes away our freedom to experience what is here now because we tend to choose what ‘should be’ here, now. We become selective of what it is we can and what it is we can’t experience, literally making our world a smaller world to live in.

The right brain, the yin side of the brain, is the side of our brain that has no discrimination, no judgements of good or bad. It sees the totality, the reality without trying to fit it anywhere. It sees ‘what is’ and has the capacity to hold it all in. If the yang side allows us to see the world (reality) through the lens of a ‘structure’, the yin side – the right side allows us to see it before it goes through the lens. Unless we see reality, as it is, as well as the structure that wants to define it and put it into boxes, we won’t be able to evolve and broaden our original image of the world. By allowing ourselves to be totally real, totally open to the experience that presents itself now; we’re allowing the yin to come into contact with the yang. We’re giving the right brain the chance to communicate the whole true picture with the left brain, allowing our ‘mental version of the world (the structure)’ to become more in line with the ‘reality of the world’.

The great Tao flows everywhere,
both to the left and to the right.
It loves and nourishes all things,
but does not lord it over them,
He who knows the male, yet clings to the female,
Becomes like a valley, receiving all things under heaven

As we practice yoga on the mat, we put this into practice. We allow the reality of our experience to come to the surface. We stop holding the inner tension which is created when we try to control our experience and instead we open up to what needs to come to life. Whether the experience is in the form of a thought, emotion or physical sensation; we consciously allow ourselves to acknowledge it, even if only for nanoseconds, before it is filtered through the mental structure which decides what’s permitted. Slowly we see the possibility and ease of ‘being’ ,without having to adhere strictly to our previous mental structure. We see that regardless of the negative or positive nature of the experience, there is a feeling of relief from trying to control reality and we see that reality isn’t something to be running away from or controlled but instead, it is to be integrated and intertwined within the structure of our mind.


Dec 2011

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