Yin and yang are concepts of energy that come from Daoism. Daoism is a Chinese philosophy and religion based on Dao, which is translated as the Way and the Middle Path. It is the belief of living in balance with the universe through effortless action.
Daoism originated in China over 2000 years ago. By 300 BC, its doctrines are codified in the Tao Te Ching, a primary text of Daoism.
In China, there was no doctrine, revelation or mode of conduct that was credited with a monopoly of truth (John Keay, China: A History). Daoism coexisted with other schools of philosophy and world views. In ancient China, Confucians dabbled in Daoist practices. Daoists subscribed to Confucian values. Daoist communities were indebted to Buddhism for how they organized their clergy and institutionalized monasteries. Everyone combined elements of all “three religions” (Daoist, Confucianism, Buddhism).
The concepts of yin and yang are foundational to many Asian modalities, from Chinese Medicine to ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) to martial arts. The list goes on and on. Based in ancient Taoist cosmology, yin and yang describe the paradoxical unity of duality. For humans, we live with these two aspects of life, yin and yang. However, one cannot exist without the other.
Yin and yang are often represented graphically with the tai qi symbol, which depicts a circle that holds within it two tear drop shapes, one black (yin) and the other white (yang). Within those two shapes, there is a dot of the opposite: a dot of yin (black) in the larger yang (white) and a dot of yang (white teardrop) in the larger yin (black teardrop).
In a sense, yin and yang are the ultimate example of a non-binary system. While they are in some ways opposites, they can only exist together. Within yin, there is always yang, and vice versa. These two types of energy are interconnected and interdependent, and there is really no separation between the two. Even within the yin yang (tai qi) symbol, there is always a little dot of black in the white section, and a dot of white in the black section. Neither side is fully yin or fully yang.
Life is built on the dynamic interchange of polar opposites – two different energies coming together to form the whole of existence. Light and dark, night and day, up and down, define each other by the other’s absence, and blend together to create endless shades in between. Ancient Chinese philosophers noticed these opposing forces and created the iconic yin-yang symbol to visualize their interdependence. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, these energies aren’t seen merely as philosophy – they are literal energies that govern health and balance in our lives.
According to the difference between yin and yang, yang energy is the active, masculine side of this polarity. It is associated with; the light, the sun, air, fire, activity and expansion. In the body, yang feels hot and tingly. Excess yang may express itself through dry skin, accelerated pulse, irritability and restlessness. Yang energy is accumulated though eating meat such as chicken, beef, & lamb, as well as onions, garlic, ginger, onions, peppers, pumpkin, and cherries.
Yin energy is the receptive, feminine pole of the energy. It is connected to dark, cool things, like the moon, earth, water, matter, and contraction. Excess yin may manifest as having low energy, a lack of desire to drink, shallow pulse, and water retention. Yin energy can be cultivated through diet by incorporating dark leafy greens, cucumbers, watermelons, radishes, sea weeds and green and herbal teas like chamomile and mint. Including both yin and yang foods in the diet is best for keeping energetic balance.
Yin energy is slow, cool, wet, and dark. It is related to curves, inactivity, and softness. The energy of the moon is more yin. Other descriptive qualities include invisible and relaxed.
An example of how yin and yang work together is a relaxing beachside setting. The sand is soft and receptive and the atmosphere is quiet and relaxing, which is yin. However, you can also imagine the heat and the brightness of the sun beating down—this energy is very yang. You can start to see that yin cannot exist without the yang.
Yang energy can be described as fast-moving, loud, active, and brightly lit. Yang is represented by angles and straight lines. The sun is considered very yang. Other descriptive qualities include visible and energetic.
A good example of a space that’s very yang is a trading floor on Wall Street. It has high ceilings, fast movement, and loud sounds. However, imagine this same space on a Wednesday at noon versus on a Sunday at noon. It would most likely be more active, and more yang, on a Wednesday. You can also picture a trading room in New York City and a trading room in a quieter, less busy location. While a trading room may be primarily yang, it is not only yang.
Chapter 25 of the Tao Te Ching says “there is something that contains everything. Before heaven and earth it is. Oh, it is still, unbodied, all on its own, unchanging, all-pervading, ever-moving. So it can act as the mother of all things. Not knowing its real name, we only call it the Way.”
In the Daoist world view, the Way is the original state of the universe. It is the source and origin of life of all things but it is not a deity of spirit. It is nameless, invisible, boundless, cannot be exhausted, although all things depend on it for existence, a benevolent force.
The one bears two.
The two bear three.
The two and the three is the duality that is born from the one.
They are the yin and yang – the polar energies that exist in everything.
When they come together, it creates ten thousand things, which symbolically means an infinite amount of things. It is how everything is possible. Everything and all things can be divided into aspects of yin and yang.
Yin and yang are the polar energies that exist in everything.
Yin energy is characterized by coldness, rest, responsiveness, shadow, interiority, downwards, inwards, decrease.
Yang energy is characterized by stimulation, heat, movement, activity, vigor, illumination, upward, outward, exterior, increase.
Winter is a yin time because the world is hibernating, slowing down, staying indoors, contracting. This can be a hard time because our capitalist society is a yang-dominant culture so we are pushing at a time, living out of season with nature.
Yin and yang are complementary opposites and the Daoist worldview is that we need both energies. It is not bad or good but a balance of these energies we are looking for.
Yin and yang are labels to describe how things function in relation to each other and to the universe. They explain the process of natural change.
Yin and yang are in a relationship that are based on five principles:
- All things have two facets, a yin and yang aspect. In yin, there is yang and in yang, there is yin. Time is divided into day and night, temperature is hot and cold. The upper half of the body is yang compared to the lower half.
- Any yin or yang aspect can be divided into yin and yang. Cold can be divided into icy cold (yin) or moderately cold (yang)
- Yin and yang mutually create each other.They depend on each other for definition so they cannot be separated from each other.
- Yin and yang control each other. If yin is excessive, yang will be too weak, so if it is too cold, then there is not enough heat. They can control and balance each other out.
- Yin and yang transform into each other. This change can be harmonious or disharmonious.
Yin and yang is energy on a spectrum where things are relative to each other, always based on the situation. The focus is on balance rather than constant production and positivity.
Alchemical Daoism: Chi and Traditional Chinese Medicine
There are 5 systems of Daoism. Magic (one of the oldest forms), Divination (the I Ching and this is where divination fits in), Ceremonial (involves significant and daily rituals like marriage or death), Action and Karma (influenced by Buddhism and Confucius thought on how we accumulate merit through proper action), and Internal Alchemy (focused on immortality).
Alchemical Daoism is concerned with cultivating health, longevity, and immortality. Internal Alchemy is the system of Daoism that introduced the idea of chi or internal energy and was responsible for giving Daoism its reputation as an art of health and longevity. Chinese Medicine is also influenced by Alchemical Daoism.
If Dao is like the ocean, chi is like a current.
Chi is the vital life force of the universe. It is the pulse of the universe. It is our energy of becoming and being. Chi includes yin and yang. Animate and inanimate things have chi.
Yin and Yang Qi can also be cultivated through various activities. These are some of the self-care activities you can do to help balance your energy. According to the yin yang comparison, yin energy is the receptive, feminine pole of the energy.
To increase Yin:
– Take a nap, and go to sleep early
– Enjoy a hot bath or shower
– Go to the spa to get a massage or facial
– Get acupuncture
To increase Yang:
– Exercise or go for a run
– Work with a coach
– Create something with your hands
– Participate in a group activity