Yin and yang theory is one of the keys to understanding nature, humanity, health and disease in Chinese medicine.

Yin pictograph

Pictograph for Yin

Yin represents all that is cool, grounded, moist, nourishing, and dark in the universe. To understand the nature of yin, look at how it is written in pictographic form in Chinese. Chinese glyphs like this tell a story and express a concept in a quick visual that gives you the tone and meaning of the glyph. This one represents Yin and is made up of several other characters or glyphs.

Within this glyph are the concepts of “hill,” “today,” and “cloudy.” The idea expressed to the Chinese mind is that if it’s cloudy when you are looking at the sky then it’s a Yin day because you cannot see the sun (which represents yang.) It also contains the idea that the shadowed side of a hill is the yin side while the sunny side is the yang side.

Yang Pictograph

Pictograph for Yang

The pictograph for Yang has a lot to do with sunlight. You see that the right part of the character looks the same as it did in Yin. This part of the character is the glyph for “hill.” On the left is a glyph representing the sun rising. This holds the idea of a clear sky at sunrise. The bottom part on the right represents the rays of sunshine. Sunny days are yang days.

So the concepts of Yin and Yang spring from observations of sunlight and shadow/clouds, the sun, and the seasons. This is fundamental in an agrarian society, which is the foundation of China itself.

The Tao Te Ching, written by the famous Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, states that everything that exists comes from the One. The One splits into Yin and Yang and from this split arises everything else (often called “the ten thousand things”). This is a common theme in origin stories. If you grew up in a Western culture you saw a version of this in the book of Genesis – in the beginning there is just God who then creates everything. In the Chinese origin story God becomes everything.

Lao Tzu expresses it like this:

These things from ancient times arise from one:
The sky is whole and clear.
The earth is whole and firm.
The spirit is whole and strong.
The valley is whole and full.
The ten thousand things are whole and alive.
Kings and lords are whole, and the country is upright.
All these are in virtue of wholeness.

Click on the topics below to read more about Yin and Yang and how they fit into Chinese medicine. If you can understand these things, you will understand much about Chinese medicine.

The Measurement of Yin and YangYin and Yang Correspondences
Yin and Yang are relative terms and can have shades of intensity. For instance, some days are more yang than others: winter sun is different and less yang than summer sun.
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Yin and Yang Correspondences
What temperatures, colors, and conditions correlate to Yin and Yang. If you know this you can easily spot symptoms of too much or too little of Yin or Yang in a human body.
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The Concepts and Content of Yin and Yang
There critical ideas about Yin and Yang will show up over and over again in your education, your practice, and in your national certification boards. Learn them well!
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Applying Yin and Yang Theory in TCM
Learn to apply Yin and Yang to the anatomical structures of the body, the channel and meridian distribution, and to physiology.
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Yin and Yang Theory in Pathology
In a balanced and healthy body there is a balance between the amount if yin and the amount of yang, much like the balance shown in the tai chi symbol. Disease, however, is a disharmony or imbalance between yin and yang. Too much of one or too little of one will cause a state of disharmony which will express itself physically in the body as a disease or syndrome. With this in mind, let’s talk about yin and yang excesses then let’s talk about yin and yang deficiencies.
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