The core concept of Chinese medicine is yin and yang. If you understand these twinned concepts – which, at the end of the day, describe balance – then not only will you understand how acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine work, but you will have a valuable tool to help you live with balance. And living with balance is the secret to living a happy and healthy life.
So, what are yin and yang? Firstly, they are organizing concepts, or ways to analyze information, in Chinese medicine. In essence, they are opposites – light and dark, summer and winter, day and night, hot and cold, activity and rest, action and inaction. Anything can be looked at in this way, and by doing so, we gain valuable insight into the dynamic balance of whatever it is we’re looking at – our state of health, our lifestyle, our work life, anything. But before we look at this in more detail, let’s go over the essential characteristics of yin and yang.
- Yin and yang are opposites. They describe the essential properties of opposites inherent in every phenomena or object in the universe. All yin and yang are doing is describing functional pairs of opposites, and how we classify these opposites is up to us. There is always an up (yang) and a down (yin), a left and a right, back and front.
- Yin and yang are divisible but inseparable. They are rooted in each other. Yin can’t exist without yang and yang can’t exist without yin. They are always interconnected and depend on the other. There is also an ongoing exchange between the two; that is, they are never static but are always in a dynamic, interwoven relationship with each other. We don’t have light without dark, winter without summer or man without woman.
- Yin and yang counterbalance each other. They are always in motion, interacting with each other and trying to retain dynamic balance. For example, activity contains the seed of rest; the more active you are, the faster you will need to slow down and relax to restore your capacity for motion. The yang of fire will eventually burn itself out, leaving cold yin ashes in its place. The seed that is dormant in winter bursts forth in spring and reaches fruition in summer.
- Yin and yang mutually transform each other. They are always supporting and transforming into each other. They are undergoing constant change, even when they seem to be very stable. Have you ever noticed the leaves starting to change in late summer? Not many, but there are always a few leaves that turn right when we are still in the height of summer. This is the first sign of the yin of winter starting to build up momentum in the most yang time of year.
So how can these concepts help us live better lives? It can be very helpful to always keep in mind the dynamic interplay between yin and yang, as it can help us understand the state of dynamic balance in our own lives. Are we expending too much active, yang energy? Are we properly resting and recuperating our yin? Did we spend a lot of time talking and interacting today? Do I now need to withdraw into my own space and spend time quietly by myself? Am I tired or do I need to move? What do I need to do right now to keep myself in as balanced and equanimous place as I can? Which of my habits that help or hinder me? What do I need, right now?
Yin and yang can seem almost too simple at times, but their power as concepts lies in this simplicity. When we really start to tune in to ourselves and understand that an important key to happiness is to keep things in balance, we start to honour what these deeper messages are telling us. These messages are often in opposition to what society tells us.
Society, basically, wants us to be units of production – the more we produce, the more value we have, very grossly speaking – and will always urge us to spend more, make more, do more and be more. All of these activities are yang in nature, making it pretty easy to see why rates of burnout, exhaustion, depression and anxiety are through the roof. We’ve lost sight of the value of the yin, but it is this aspect of life that all the wisdom traditions advise us to cultivate. We need to rest, to be quiet, to sit still. We need the time and space to just be. By keeping in mind both the yin and the yang, we can learn to be better, more relaxed, energetic, open and healthy human beings. As always, we need to live in balance, and yin and yang is a valuable tool to help us do so.
At Savidge Health Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine, I always do my best to help my patients understand the basic concepts of Chinese medicine as it applies to acupuncture, herbal medicine or diet and lifestyle therapy. If you would like to see what Chinese medicine can do for you, please send me a message with any questions you have, or book an appointment at either my Collingwood, Meaford or Toronto clinics.