The Roots of Chinese Medicine : Yin and Yang

This post is written by out acupuncturist and resident yogi, Shayan Landrum. The following is an article explaining the basic concepts that Chinese Medicine is founded on. The Center for Integrative Medicine offers Chinese Medicine consultation to the whole community, including employees, as a compliment to your traditional healthcare and as a method of preventative care.


Wellness is a state of balanced health in body and mind. In Chinese medicine this balance is found in the two complementary, yet opposing principles of yin and yang, and their relationship to one another. While many people have heard about yin and yang, and are familiar with the black-and-white symbol that represents it, most people are surprised to learn that the entire system of Traditional Chinese Medicine is founded upon this principle. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine are thousands of years old, and the practical application of the medical theory can be complex. However, in the end, it is all rooted in a basic understanding of the balance of yin and yang.

Of the four main aspects of the yin and yang relationship, the first is that yin and yang are opposites. They can be on opposite ends of a cycle, like the seasons of the year, or opposites on a continuum of energy or matter. This is relative, however, and can only be seen in their relationship to one another. For example: water is yin relative to steam but it is yang relative to ice.
Secondly, yin and yang are interdependent, and they do not exist without each other. Because they are in relationship to one another, nothing is completely yin or entirely yang. Yin contains the seed of yang and vise versa. There is no energy without matter, and no day without night. In the same way, yin and yang are constantly transforming into one other.

The third principle is that yin and yang are mutually consuming. This means that relative levels of yin and yang are continuously changing. Normally this is a harmonious change, but when yin or yang is out of balance, one affects the other, and too much of one can eventually weaken the other. 
There are four possible states of imbalance:
1. Excess of Yin
2. Excess of Yang
3. Deficiency of Yin
4. Deficiency of Yang

Finally, yin and yang are inter-transformative, which is to say that one can change into the other. However, this is not spontaneous, and it only happens when the time is right. Spring only comes when winter is finished.

Interestingly, modern medicine has come to understand the wisdom behind this balance. “…consistent with the modern view of homeostasis, yin and yang are interchanged to meet the view that ‘yang declines and yin rises’ or ‘yang is raised to produce a decline of yin(Gilbert).’ When the two energies fall out of harmony, disease develops. The physician takes into account this concept while treating patients.

Homeostasis is the Western understanding of balance. In order to be active, we require sleep. After eating, we need a rest period from eating in order to digest. To balance stress, which activates the sympathetic nervous system, we need to engage in calming activities, to encourage the parasympathetic nervous system. These examples are the macro-image of homeostasis, which can be seen on increasingly smaller levels, down to minute changes within a cell, all of which are crucial to maintaining health.
Based upon the four principles of the relationship between yin and yang, there are myriad problems of disharmony that can develop. A Chinese Medicine practitioner is skilled at diagnosing patterns of yin and yang—or homeostasis. Based upon accurate diagnosis, the goal is always to help the patient return to a natural state of balance.
Gibert TF. Reflections on traditional Chinese medicine and its pharmacopoeia. Ann Pharm Fr. 1998;56:282–5. [PubMed]

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