Understanding Yin and Yang Theory – Part 1: The Basics

Yin and Yang
Daoist Yin and Yang symbol

The theory of Yin and Yang is one of the most important paradigms underpinning Traditional Chinese Medicine. Yin and Yang are complementary opposites which define each other. They exist only in relation to each other and each contains an aspect of the other. The famous Daoist symbol depicting Yin and Yang accompanies this article and elegantly describes the theory. The symbol shows Yin and Yang intertwined with each other in a continuous circle. Each has a dot of the other demonstrating that each contains an aspect of the other and has the potential to transform into the other.

Everything in the Universe can be categorised as being either Yin or Yang. Perhaps the simplest example of this is night and day. Night is Yin and day is Yang. To understand what day means – when the sun is up and there is light, we need to have night – the time when the sun is down and the sky is dark. The contrast between the two enables us to understand the significance of each. Moreover, Day will transform into night and night back into day. Another good example of this are the seasons. We have just passed the Summer Solstice – that wonderful time of year that makes living in Northern Europe worth while with the long days. The summer solstice is the time of maximum Yang – the time when the days are as long as they can be – but yet, within this Yang time, there is Yin because we still have night.

Some more examples of Yin and Yang are below:

Yin                      Yang

Dark                     Light
Water                   Fire
Cold                     Hot
Slow                     Fast
Activity                Rest
Female                 Male
Death                   Life
Chronic                Acute
Stillness               Movement

 
A further factor of the theory is that Yin and Yang are relative. For example, dawn is Yang in relation to night, but Yin when in relation to day. Water is Yang in relation to ice, but Yin in relation to steam.

The balancing of Yin and Yang can be seen throughout nature and in Daoist philosophy is necessary for a healthy environment, life and universe. Take the weather and growing vegetables for example, if you have too much sunshine and not enough rain, vegetable plants will wither and die. Similarly if you have too much rain and not enough sun, vegetables can rot or will be feeble and bitter. A balance of sun and rain is essential for healthy plant growth.

To be continued in my next Blog: Yin and Yang Theory – Part 2: Yin and Yang Theory in Health and Chinese Medicine

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