• Mara Elwood

Embodying the Yin and Yang

The sign of a good teacher is someone that embodies what they teach. This type of teacher lives what they pass on to others, which is really the only way to get genuine teaching and learning happening. If teaching is just coming from a place of intellectual knowing, and theoretical understanding, there is no heartfelt knowing taking place.

In my own teaching, I do strive to embody what I teach. I have been practicing Mindfulness and meditation for almost two decades, the first decade of which was the “should” decade, being a “good student” and striving to “perform correctly”. Then over the past decade I have relaxed into these practices and truly come to know them from my being with them.


I recognized that compassion, and specifically self-compassion, was something that I learned in that second decade, and this was the turning point for me. It was almost like a keystone finding its place in an arch of practice that I had been building. I can’t say that this is the final keystone though, and there is definitely a whole lot more detailed carving of the building blocks to go on as I continue to relax into mindfulness and meditation.

I have now become a certified teacher and am loving how much more I am learning as I teach others, and embody the practices for them. Each time I teach I find I grow more in my own practice, and find new wonderful little nuances I hadn’t discovered before. It is an adventure of a lifetime, and I intend to continue travelling along.


One concept that was still a bit hard for me to grasp was the Yin and Yang of compassion. I tend to be more of a Yin person (the soft, comforting, soothing and validating type of compassion comes easily to me), I have more trouble with the Yang (protecting, providing and motivating), feelings of not wanting to offend or hurt would come in to this for me, and I said “Yes” to much more than I could handle. Which often led to the offending, hurting, or letting down of myself and others that was much worse than anything that saying “No” and setting boundaries would have caused.


This year Kristin Neff has really been active in talking about these two sides of compassion. Her various talks and my own teaching and seeing how the participants work with the practices I facilitate has shown me this Yin and Yang much more clearly. I have started to really examine my own compassion practice, and when I notice I am struggling I ask, “What does this need? Do I need to practice Yin or Yang here, or maybe a bit of both.” I am learning the Yang, strengthening my self compassion, and my understanding that sometimes the best thing to do is to say “NO”, “Enough”, or walk away.


In a recent workshop in play therapy, we explored the acronym RAIN (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture) with some materials. It was a really wonderful experience for me as I sat and recognized what was present for me and allowed that to take shape with the materials provided. When I had finished building, I investigated and could see that my compassion practice was really starting to emerge as a two sided, and balanced practice. Just by letting myself explore what was present I built a nurturing comforting figure and a tiger, bringing together the Yin and the Yang of compassion. There was no planning of what to build or thinking about the implications, the investigation came after I was done, and it truly amazed me to see what had happened. I do hope that my own practice and embodiment will bring the teaching from my heart each time and perhaps let others experience some amazement at what they can do for themselves.


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