DISCLAIMER: this is for information purposes only and is not intended to be used to diagnose or treat any conditions. Please seek professional help before embarking on any significant changes.
Traditional East Asian Medicine is a holistic form of medicine – one that looks at the whole, and the interrelationships, we understand that nothing works in isolation – that your health is a result not only of your genetics – JING as we call it, but of the foods you eat, the air you breathe, the stresses your under (and how you handle them!!), the pathogens you are exposed to, and those that work harmoniously within and on you.
This understanding begins with Yin Yang. It is the first division of the WHOLE, of the one.
Most of us are aware of this symbol, called Tai Ji Tu. It is a way to describe everything in the universe, including us humans, our bodily functions, our behaviours, our health.
Yin Yang Explained
Yin Yang holds great meaning for us Traditional East Asian Medical Practitioners in that it can be used to describe the ever changing landscape of the body – of how it functions and gives us insight into how it can go ‘wrong’ and how ill health can start.
Tao Te Ching
When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.
Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.
Yin and Yang are two parts of a whole – they are opposing extremes of the spectrum, yet they are dependent on each other. Without the constant shifting and transformation from one to the other nothing changes – we only have night because we have day. it is a cyclical way of thinking about the universe.
Ultimately it describes the relationship between two things: The relative quality of the thing being labelled.. the two sides of a mountain, Yin cast in shadow, YANG brightened by the sun.
The Quailities of Yin and Yang
The qualities of Yin–The character for Yin literally translates as the shady side of the mountain. The qualities of Yin are cooling, rich, quiet, dense, solid, deep and dark. It is quiescence, stillness and rest. Yin nourishes and replenishes. In the body, the Yin organs rule over the blood and fluids.
The qualities of Yang–Literally, the sunny side of the mountain. Yang qualities represent heat, action, movement, growth, and bright. It is activity and in the body and the Yang organs rule over the creation of energy, transformation, fire and heat in the body.
DISCLAIMER: nothing is ever WHOLLY Yin or Yang – it is about the relationship to the thing you are comparing it to – morning is more Yang than night, but noon is more Yang than 6am.. and summer is more Yang than winter which is more Yin, but noon even on the shortest day of the year is still Yang in nature, despite being in the middle of the Yin season.
The rules of interplay
1.Opposition: Yin and Yang are opposite of each other, they reflect the duality that is our existence. However, it is a dynamic interplay, of of constant change.
2.Interdependence: one cannot exist without the other – one does not experience or appreciate joy without feeling sorrow. We cannot see the moon (Yin) without the sun’s rays (Yang).
3. mutual consumption: they are in a constant state of dynamic balance – continuous adjustment of the relative levels… : 4 levels of imbalance: yang excess and relative yin deficiency, yin excess relative yang deficiency, true deficiency of one means a false excess of the other.
4. inter transformation – the transform into each other – summer to winter..day into night, life to death (the separation of Yin and Yang is said to happen at death)
What Yin Yang Means for your Health
In my opinion, an understanding of Yin Yang Theory helps to allow us to catergorise and understand not only external things, but our behaviours, our choices, our patterns when understood in this context gives us the ability to make changes to improve our health.
This theory was first committed to ‘paper’ 3500 years ago in the I Ching (the book of Change), and I believe is the first description of what we now call (in the West) homeostasis.
Physiologist Claude Bernard in 1926 first coined the phrase homeostasis “the fixity of the milieu supposes a perfection of the organism such that the external variations are at least instant compensated for and equilibrated. … the stability of the internal environment is the condition for the free and independent life”.
Our bodies have an innate desire to maintain optimum health. A relatively simple example is to maintain body temperature – if it is too hot we sweat: (fluids are Yin), if its too cold we shiver (a yang action – movement). When we are tired (lack of yang) we sleep (yin). These statements are true IF our body is in good health, the bad news is that by merely by existing/living we are constantly putting all these (probably thousands of) systems under immense pressure to maintain this optimum.
Ill health is a sign that our bodies ability to self regulate and heal is failing due to too much pressure.
THE GOOD NEWS is that this means you can take back control, learn to listen to your body’s signs and symptoms using a simple is it Yin or Yang in nature and then make changes to regain that homeostatic response – to live the Wu Wei. This means to find a balance between activity and rest, to be moderate in the temperatures we expose ourselves to, to temper the emotions (allow ourselves to feel, and express but not to dwell), to ensure we are eating a wide variety of foods and flavours, that we limit stimulates and sedatives.
It is honestly one of the things I love most about TEAM – that NOTHING is forbidden, its about finding the balance that works for you and your life.
Are your symptoms Yin or Yang in nature
We can also use this basic principle to guide the changes we need to make to our lives. Where do your symptoms sit? are they more on the Yang side or the Yin side?
|Symptoms with Yang Qualities||Symptoms with Yin Qualities|
|Rapid onset||Gradual onset|
|Rapid changes||Lingering disease|
|Restlessness, insomnia||Sleepiness, listlessness|
|Throws off covers||Likes to be covered|
|Lie stretched out||Curl up|
|Hot limbs and body||Cold limbs and body|
|Red face||Pale face|
|Likes cold drinks||Hot drinks|
|Loud voice talks a lot||Weak voice, dislikes talking|
|Coase breathing||Shallow, weak breathing|
|Scanty dark urination||Profuse, pale urination|
|Tongue Colour: RED||Tongue Colour Pale.|
Using the above list as guidance you can work out if your symptoms are mostly Yin or Yang in nature, so for example a form of IBS where you get bouts that come and go (acute onset), you are thirsty for cold drinks, it feels better when you stretch out your abdomen and you have constipation (an inability to go to the toilet to pass stools) you have a YANG predominant symptoms, so to help readdress you would increase Yin behaviours to help counter act. In this case, I would advise to eat slower, to eat more cooling foods (see list below), to start to massage the abdomen to encourage movement (remember that they both contain and need the seed of the other).
Please note this is a very generalised overview and not meant as a tool to self diagnose or treat, ill health is often more complicated than can be explained in a blog post! Often my patients have a deficiency in both Yin and Yang (menopause being a classic example) – so please do seek professional advice before making any dramatic changes to your life.
Ways to Nourish Yang
Food to increase: cloves, fenugreek seeds, fennel, black peppercorn, ginger, cinnamon bark, walnuts, black beans, onion family, quinoa, chicken, lamb, trout and salmon, basil, chestnut, chive seed, garlic, kidney (sheep and beef), lamb, lobster, nutmeg, raspberry, rosemary, sage, shrimp, thyme, pistachio, mussels, prawns. Venison, fennel seed, horseradish, jasmine tea, algae
Increase movement: it doesn’t have to be a HIIT class, or an hour long Hot yoga class, but some gentle movement, even just a simple stretch. Get up and walk away from your desk every hour, stand up and do some
Use moxibuston or even a hot water bottle or wheat bag to create more warmth in your body,
get more sunshine – the sun is yang in nature and this is a great FREE way to boost your yang energies.
Connect with others – yang is expansive, excitable – so find ways to create more excitement and joy in your life.
Energising breathe technique: a simple tool you can use to increase your energy without needing stimulants!
Avoid stimulants – these give us a false energy – allow us to ‘burn up’ our yang and leave it depleted.
Ways to Nourish Yin
Foods to increase: Millet, barley, tofu., strong bean, black bean, black soy bean, mung bean, kidney bean, (most beans!), melon (all varieties), blackberry, mulberry, blueberry, water chestnut, wheat germ, potato, seaweeds, spirulina, chlorella, black sesame seeds, spinach, sardine, crab, clam, eggs, pork, cheese, marshmallow root, asparagus root, apple, cuttlefish, duck, honey, lemon, malt, mango, milk, oyster, pea, pear, pineapple, pomegranate, pork, rabbit, tomato, yam, watermelon, royal jelly, sweet potato
Ensure when you are eating you are NOT doing anything else, no work, no reading no TV, conversation is considered good, but the rest of our mindless activites while eating don’t help!
REST: dedicate time each day to ensure you rest, and properly rest – not be stimulated by the TV/a book
Self care: most of the common ‘self care’ moments that are suggested, warm baths etc help to support both yin and yang – they are typically fairly sedentary, add some epsom salts to improve your magnesium update.
the Box breathe: this is one of my absolute favourite techniques: a very simple way to help calm and group