Yin & Yang

a stylized image of the taiji yin descending yang ascending

陰 Yin & 陽 Yang is one of the most foundational concepts in Chinese philosophy, with applications in every domain of life – not just medicine. The image most of us think of when we hear “Yin Yang” consists of two interlocking pieces, one dark – representing yin, and one light – representing yang.

Everything you need to know about this concept is contained in that simple image. I’ll review the basics and then discuss how Yin Yang is used in medicine.

Yin & Yang conceptually

  1. Yang, the light side, ascends to the utmost top of the cycle, and then it turns into Yin, the dark side, which descends to the bottom. Yang ascends, Yin descends, and the extreme of one turns to the other.
  2. Yang contains a bit of Yin and Yin contains a bit of Yang. This demonstrates that Yin & Yang are fundamentally interdependent – each relies on the other for its function. Yin and Yang when used conceptually are RELATIVE. Nothing is wholly Yin, or wholly Yang, we are always making a relative determination (THIS is “more yang” than THAT).
  3. Yang is generally related to activity, movement, warmth, effort, force, growth, creation, up, rising, living, birthing, sun, brightness, energy and similar concepts. Yin is generally related to stillness, quiet, coolness, dampness, rest, calm, decline, death, down, underneath, moon, shedding, letting go, materiality, density and similar concepts.

Yin & Yang in medicine

Yin and yang are very broad concepts, so on their own they are not too useful in diagnosis and treatment.

That said, many of the more complex concepts we use in Chinese medicine have elements of yin and yang within them. For instance, the six conformations divide the body into 6 yin organ systems and 6 yang organ systems. We can also refer to areas or symptoms of the body as being generally more yang or more yin when we are first thinking through a case and trying to get a general sense of the nature of what the patient is experiencing. Likewise, we can consider an herb or an acupuncture point as generally encouraging more yang activity or more yin activity in our patient.

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