By Tan Shiau Tse
Yin-Yang is perhaps one of the most known symbols of balance in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
As a Traditional Chinese Physician, my encounters with the Chinese population from various parts of the world have shown me that most of them have come across Yin and Yang; and especially the older generation, possess a foundational knowledge of it. This reflects the deep cultural roots Yin-Yang has among the Chinese people.
However, being one of the few bilingual TCM physicians in Singapore, I often find myself explaining to non-Chinese and young Chinese patients what is Yin and Yang, and how this relates to their body and health condition.
So what exactly is Yin and Yang?
Yin-Yang not only explains our health, it encompasses everything in the universe. Being one of the fundamental concepts in Chinese philosophy dating back to more than 5000 years ago, Yin-Yang is a phenomenon observed from nature. It is a duality concept where two halves complete each other to form a whole. This wholeness is depicted by the circular symbol where the half in white represents Yang, and the other half in black represents Yin. Together, they complement yet contradict, but at the same time complete each other. The dots in the symbol represent the fact that there is always a little Yin within Yang and vice versa. They are interdependent upon each other so that the definition of one requires the definition for the other to be complete.
“Together, they complement yet contradict, but at the same time complete each other.”
In more detail, Yang is characterized as masculine, daylight, fire, sun, dry, hard, aggressiveness, movement, predator, south, odd numbers, ascending, fast, etc.
In contrast, Yin is feminine, nighttime, water, moon, wet, soft, passive, stillness, prey, north, even numbers, descending, slow, etc.
“It is a duality concept where two halves complete each other to form a whole.”
So what then is this concept of duality, and how does it affect us?
You might have heard of the law – “nature always seeks to balance itself”. This is the inherent governing mechanism with which Yin and Yang alter themselves constantly. They are always trying to find a new equilibrium among movements and changes. We can see this in the eco system where the rise and fall in a species is always kept under check and balanced by another species in the predator (Yang) and prey (Yin) relationship. We can see this in our own body that when we feel cold (Yin), there is a tendency to seek warmth (Yang), or when we feel dry and thirsty (Yang), we would want to drink water (Yin) to moisten our system.
Our body is a part and creation of nature. Stemming from the characteristic that nature always seeks to balance itself, inherently it also has the ability to correct, adjust, and heal itself. Hence, whoever knows how to help nature achieve this balance for his own body; stand to gain relatively good health and well-being in the long run.
Yin-Yang, being a Chinese philosophical concept, is the most fundamental basis for Traditional Chinese Medicine. Imbalances in the body would show up as various signs and symptoms of discomfort. Using a simple example, a body that is excessively warm will show up with a red tongue and fast pulse. Such a person would tend to feel hot easily, or may have a tendency to get constipation, bad breath, acne, oily face and scalp, excessive thirst, or quick to anger. By using methods such as herbs, diet and/or acupuncture to cool the specific systems in the body, these symptoms can be brought in check which in turn allows the person to feel better.
One ancient TCM text expressed the power and importance of Yin and Yang this way, “If you can understand Yin and Yang, you can hold the universe in your hands.”
Yin-Yang also explains abstract concepts such as the complexities of human relationships. For example, when we feel that we are giving too much, we feel tired and depleted, and in turn hope to receive some love in return. Giving is Yang, and receiving is Yin, which therein lies the wisdom of ‘give and take’ – the foundation of all harmonious and lasting relationships. The important thing is finding a balance that works for both parties. This is the characteristic of the Yin-Yang relationship – that contradicts yet complements, and at the same time complete.
Yes, making relationships work requires effort while maintaining balance, and making efforts require love. This love is the circle of the Yin-Yang symbol; it binds the Yin and Yang together. It is complete and ever encompassing. While everything in the universe is Yin and Yang, feminine and masculine, love is not gender specific. Ultimately, all of us would like to love and be loved. This is what makes us human.