You're the Yin to my Yang
Updated: Jun 1
“If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day.
Nothing stimulates our appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation caused by sadness or desperation.
In order to complete our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the
blessing in every curse.”
― Anthon St. Maarten
Yin and Yang:
- are opposing forces
- one cannot exist without the other
- make up EVERYTHING that exists in the universe
- often occur in cyclical patterns (seasons, circadian rhythm, life cycle)
- have specific characteristics that describe them (cold vs hot, night vs day)
- are the foundation for health in Chinese Medicine
- when imbalanced, "dis-ease" occurs
In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) school, us Westerner's find ourselves spending much of the first year wrapping our heads around Eastern concepts and the way they view the world.
China is one of the oldest civilizations and the written record of 'Chinese medicine' dates back to over 4,000 years. Ancient healers spent a lot of time (iphone-free) observing how humans interact with and respond to their environments. They were more in-tune with their bodies and understood how their surroundings affected their internal state. This includes every aspect of life... food, sleep, stress, seasons, weather, time of day.
Over time, they developed this holistic form of medicine that harmonizes the internal environment in accordance with the external surroundings.
And at the very root of it....
The Yin and Yang.
Starting acu school, I knew nothing more of the Yin Yang symbol than being on the peace sign and puka shell jewelry I got at the roller rink as a 90's kid.
(cue: Spice Girls on a walkman, lounging on a plastic blow-up couch next to my waterbed with my lava lamp flowin' in the background - oh what a time to be alive!)
In TCM however, it is the foundation for understanding health, as well as diagnosing and treating illnesses.
The TCM curriculum consists of a lot of repetition. The same information is presented in numerous ways. When it came to understanding Yin and Yang, we spent hours memorizing and pouring over charts (like the one you'll see down below) before the concepts began to connect and make sense. Just like peeling back the layers of the onion, it took time for these 'foreign' concepts to become second nature.
While most people know the term yin-yang or recognize the symbol,
few understand what yin-yang truly is.
The light and the dark.
The fire and the water.
The Yin-Yang symbol describes something very fundamental yet incredibly complex. The concept it represents is so vast that it literally encompasses
~ * > everything in the Universe < * ~
BIG BANG OF THE EAST
In Chinese cosmology, their version of how the universe was created begins with "one-ness" or "nothing-ness". They called this one-ness "Tai Ji (or Chi)" which is also the name for the Yin Yang symbol.
Gradually, Yin and Yang evolved out of the Taiji, from "one" into "two".
Two opposing yet interconnected forces. You cannot have one without the other.
Light cannot exist without dark
Up cannot exist without down
Hard cannot exist without soft
Hot cannot exist without cold
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Yin - yang, which roughly translates into “dark - bright", describes the notion that everything in nature consists of two paradoxical phases or energies. It encompasses how, when combined as one, these two opposite energies create harmony and balance within the universe.
Theses energies exist in all living matter and are the basis of life since nothing can exist by itself. The symbol is an excellent representation of life and how each action, characteristic, and aspect has an opposite that is it's equal.
"In recognizing beauty, we have the idea of ugliness;
in knowing something as good, we consider other things as not good…. difficulty and ease complement one another;
length and shortness fashion each other;
height and lowness contrast….”
PHASES OF THE TAI JI
The Yin Yang symbol directly reflects this interconnected and inseparable relationship.
The dots within each of the two opposing energies (represented by black and white) symbolize that there is always some Yin (black) within Yang (white) and vice versa. No matter where you cut the circle in half, each side will always contain some Yin and some Yang.
That's because nothing is absolutely Yin or absolutely Yang.
The designation of something as Yin or Yang is always relative to some other thing.
For example, daytime is Yang
(brighter, warmer, drier when compared to night/Yin)
Yet within every day from 6am-6pm (the top half of photo):
There's a Yang part (early morning - white, left side) // and
a Yin part (late day - sliver of black, upper right)
Yin and yang exist in cyclical patterns, where one eventually turns into the other.
Spring turns into Summer Summer into Fall
Fall into Winter Winter into Spring
Comparing the two pics from above, we can see that Spring has 'yin within yang'.
BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Although it's getting warmer/drier (yang), there's can still be a little winter chill and moisture in the air (yin).
Just like the yin-yang symbol, there's a dot of yin within the yang.
Summer is like the top-left corner of the symbol where its the warmest, brightest and most expressive of Yang when compared to the other seasons.
YIN-YANG TWINS: CHARACTERISTICS
As I'm sure you're learning, yin and yang are a compilation of characteristics that can be found in any opposite, in any thing.
Yang is about releasing of energy.
upward - active - bright - expanding - extrovert - masculine - lively
Yin is about contracting of energy:
downward - passive - dark - accumulating - introvert - feminine - quiet
Everything in the world has both a Yin and Yang side; they are in constant motion and mutual transformation.
The dual relationship of Yin and Yang demonstrates that everything in the universe exists as connected and complementary, yet opposite elements.
YIN YANG AND YO' BODY
When applying yin/yang to the body, we use an analogy of a mountain - - with yin being the shady side where the sun down't shine (lower + front of body) and yang being the bright and sunny side (back/upper body).
You can also imagine a farmer bent over in the fields with the sun shining on his extended back and shade covering his contracted front.
Understanding the concept of Yin and Yang in the body allows us to see how
everything is biomechanically connected.
Thinking in a Western medicine frame-of-mind, we can imagine this connectivity coming from the fascial, muscular, cardiovascular and nervous systems. Diseases are not seen as separate from the body but instead are viewed as imbalances of yin and yang.
In TCM, we sometimes use a treatment method called 'mirroring' where the back can treat the front and the upper can treat the lower (knee treats elbow) -- and vice versa.
With your new and improved understanding of yin/yang you may begin to understand how this is possible.
Imbalances in the muscles/tissues on the back of the body can begin to effect the muscles/tissues along the front of the body. Inflammation or pain in your abdomen can refer to the back of the shoulder blade or down the legs. It is not a problem of JUST the abdomen or JUST the back. It's often a combination of excesses or deficiencies existing along different channels or meridians of the body. "Yin" structures (like the abdomen) tend to suffer from weakness or deficiency but benefit from being relaxed.
The more "Yang" structures (traps and back) tend to suffer from tension but benefit from being strong.
HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE AMERICA
We can see the yin-yang imbalance in full-effect by examining the physical repercussions of the modern Western lifestyle.
Most of our day consists of sitting and forward-reaching movements (driving, reading, texting, typing). This tightens and contracts muscles along the yin channels (pecs and hip flexors) while the yang channels become overstretched, weak and strained (traps, back, neck).
Because of this, most people benefit from increased strength in the back (yang)and relaxation in the front (yin) to maintain basic structural balance and avoid the dreaded
Upper back pain appears as 'yang' tension (xs, tight, overuse) although a hidden 'yin' weakness can almost always be found.
You may think the first place to treat upper back pain would be the local muscles where the pain is felt (traps, supraspinatus or infraspinatus) but often times it's actually referred pain that's actually coming from overstretched and weak rhomboids (the muscle that connects your spine to shoulder blades) and/or instability in the neck (loss of curvature from text-neck).
By needling, cupping or massaging the 'yin' areas around the pecs or below the collarbone, we can relax and open the contracted front of the body to release that stubborn and guarded back pain.
NOTE: there are many ways to treat back pain, this is merely an example of how to use the front to treat the back, yin to treat yang
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Low back pain is often from weakness in the corresponding yin aspect: weak abdominal muscles or overly tight hip flexors that are opposite of/mirror the low back.
When patients have low back pain and I ask if/how they stretch, 98% of the time, they'll bend over and stretch their hamstrings aka the back of their legs...
although there are individuals who DO have tight hamstrings, I often find patients get more relief after stretching and lengthening the fronts of their hips via lunges, happy baby, or figure-four.
<disclaimer>: every bod is different and needs to be examined by a professional. This is to be used as general insight and not as medical advice
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For one-sided shoulder pain that is very stiff, difficult to move, or inflamed (an "excess" type), there is often weakness in the low back, abdomen, or legs that contributes to overuse of the shoulder. This is often accompanied by tension on the opposite side of the upper back, especially near the spine.
Shoulder pain that is more “nervy” and weak is a deficient type. The affected shoulder will often be dropped or lower than the other non-affected side around the shoulder joint or scapula.
I like to treat the shoulder distally when possible, using points near the ankle, not only because it looks like a magic trick but treating distally can also avoid irritating already inflamed tissues.
Again, every patient in TCM is assessed and treated individually. There are 100+ ways to treat shoulder pain and the treatment protocol will vary based on things like: diagnosis, practitioner preference and access to/positioning of the body.
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Please email me with any questions or comments
Stay tuned for the next Yin Yang episode where we discuss the relationship with Qi and internal medicine