Monday, May 3, 2010

Foreign Service Limbo II: Cultivating Yin

There are different understandings of yin, especially in western culture, but most Americans associate it with the yin-yang symbol from Chinese philosophy.

In my yoga practice, I associate yin with a deeper, slower practice, as opposed to the more active practice of vinyasa, sometimes known as flow or power yoga. This afternoon in a yin yoga class, I realized that the balance of yin and yang in yoga may serve as a useful guide when navigating the Foreign Service limbo.

As I wrote last week, when something is difficult we are tempted to rush through it, and sometimes hurt ourselves in the process. In yin yoga, you hold the poses longer than you would in a flow class, and although it seems like baddha konasana (butterfly) would not be particularly difficult for an experienced yogi, holding the asana for a full five minutes can be challenging.

As I persisted in my five minute baddha konasana, it reminded me of my experience as a foreign service spouse. At first, getting into a great stretch feels wonderful and liberating, but if you hold it long enough it may start to feel uncomfortable and perhaps even restrictive. However, if you patiently work through the period of discomfort, you find calm and balance waiting for you on the other side.

When you are preparing to move and/or adjusting to a new place, you may feel displaced and uncomfortable once the novelty wears off, and it's tempting to want to ease the discomfort by trying to change your situation. However, in the Foreign Service you may not have the ability to do so and thus, it may be better to hold steady. Once again I refer to the wonderful chart from Diplolife.

If you act when it starts to get uncomfortable, you risk that you will never experience the enjoyment of appreciating what your current circumstances have to offer. The exception being when the circumstances are clearly a bad fit, or rather, if you can't bend back, stay away from back bends.

Yoga and the foreign service both teach the importance of staying present--of being fully aware of what's going on in the moment, and not getting caught up by the past or tangled in expectations for the future. We are scheduled to leave for post in July, and although I am finding this period of waiting somewhat awkward, I intend to continue appreciating what it has to offer. Hopefully next year, when we are once again bidding on posts, I will have learned things that will help me balance the yin and yang of life in the foreign service.


  1. Thanks for this insightful post! Not only is it a great way of thinking about the requirement for constant adaptation and patience in the FS, it also makes me want to try yoga. :)

  2. You're welcome, and I highly recommend yoga!

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