Commonly taught meditative instructions that may cause difficulties. How a Yin approach could help relieve these conflicts.

Traditional ways that meditation is taught would be classed as a yang approach to meditation.


Yang methods direct the meditator to have a particular focus in their meditation and to return to that effort, whenever the mind wanders.

4 commonly taught meditation instructions include;

Focusing on the breath – e.g. at the point of entry and exit in the nostril.

Focusing on the body – e.g. to focus on sensations. 

Labelling – e.g. what comes up in our mind – the various ‘modes’, emotions etc. and rather than get involved in the story of each, just to label it and then label what comes up next e.g. planning, sadness, anger etc.

 Cultivating Metta – (Loving kindness) meditation – where compassion and acceptance is encouraged. Meditators direct their attention with metta, to themselves or various groups of specified people.


While the yang approach to meditation encompasses long established techniques, for many people these are not without difficulties and limitations.

No matter what the focus of the meditation is – sooner or later, problems arise in paying attention to that subject.

The instructions for meditation will direct the approach and experience of meditating. With a yang approach there is something to be achieved. The mind is seen as unruly and through controlled focus, the aim is to tame it.

The nature of the yang approach means that if this doesn’t happen – the meditator worries about what has gone wrong, has confusion and doubt in themselves. This can happen very quickly in the initiation phase or after a long period of successfully practicing, only to experience failures emerging.

This regularly ends with meditators having a very harsh judgment of themselves, wrestling thoughts and wondering what they spend the rest of their time in meditation actually achieving, clutching to the times when they succeed. 

This can result in conflict, frustration, stress and their inner critic appearing every time they lose concentration. Thoughts of failure as a meditator are reinforced, which could lead to having much strife and anxiety in the process or giving up on their practice.

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When meditators succeed, they are vindicated and learn a narrowly focused view of their mind.

Even if they flourish in this endeavour and become proficient at a focused technique, they are training their mind in only one particular modality of experience. 

A thin slice of insight will be learned but to the exclusion of everything else. This may result in the meditator seeing lots of mind states but they are attached to the outcome, craving it and are only content when they achieve this. After their desired state is achieved, some deem their meditation effective, finish it and close the door of opportunity for anything else to occur. 

If someone becomes very skilled at a particular yang meditation technique, their experiences of meditation will be specialised indeed.

A meditation practice often involves longer periods of training, such as in a retreat setting. These vary in length and many practitioners achieve their various goals in these niche settings. 

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The problem lies with their re – entry back to their normal life, where conditions are un predictable and bring up many struggles and difficult states of mind.

In a yang practice, the system is to focus on the method, which may not be possible, as the conditions present are so different to their actual meditation experience. 

This could potentially lead to a ‘fatalistic spiritual emergency’, e.g. if they ‘lose it’ in front of friends, family or colleagues – especially if the person has tied their meditation practice and retreat experience into their identity.

The yin approach to meditation may help with many of these conflicts.

Most yang meditators try to get to ‘calm’ states, without truly recognising everything else that’s going on in their mind. 

aged ancient asian buddhism

In the yin approach to meditation, all experiences are allowed, meaning a broader view of the nature of our being. A comprehensive look around our inner landscape favouring an experiential rather dogmatic way.

The yin approach to meditation allows the meditator to view the full panorama, not just limited to one aspect of it. 

Someone from a yang meditation background may automatically go back to their yang technique for periods of time within practice, due to habit and familiarity – this is also allowed.

The reflective awareness approach allows another tool of perception. 

Journalling allows the detail, noticing patterns and common themes. It offers another way to observe and learn.

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Through recollecting and recording of what arises during meditation, meditators are further exposed to new processes and stances in their mind. 

With the wisdom and distance of hindsight, they develop additional bases of knowledge to scrutinise, learning how their mind operates and how they perceive the full scope of events and emotions. 

With new perspective gained, this helps them deal with the dynamic reality of life which is similar to their yin meditation practice.

They become familiar with many mind states as they allow them to happen e.g. wandering mind states, planning, remembering, emotional or absorption states etc. 

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Unshackled by a direction, unburdened by this responsibility, they learn to navigate the full spectrum of their emotions, feelings, sensations and narratives that come up.

They actually get to know themselves better, rather than just one way of being.

Through the yin approach, meditators are open to practice receptivity, acceptance, patience and tolerance, to discern things as they occur.

While the door of their mind is also open to things they’d rather not see, they are no longer restricted to one tactic and by being more flexible in their approach, issues often resolve themselves. 

photo of a man sitting under the tree

They get opportunities to notice thoughts, feelings, learn to deal with conflict, avoidance or fear for example, or to fully deal with a particular issue and get some closure on it. 

Rather than the tug of war that happens with direction, the power struggle subsides, yielding and opening the opportunity for new dialogues. 

Within all of these experiences, states of calm will naturally arise. 

The yin method gives the freedom to see a more realistic, holistic way of dealing with events that occur inside and outside of the meditation experience.

Ultimately I don’t mind which way people practice as long as they practice. I just want people to know that there’s more than one way to meditate and if something serves you do it – if not, then don’t be afraid to try something else.

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