In ancient China, the theory of Yin-Yang was used for observing and analyzing the material world. It was a philosophy that these ancient scholars developed, providing them the means to describe and generalize two opposite principles which they observed within their world, and applied this theory to both natural and medical sciences.

Simply put, all aspects of the natural world could be seen as having a dual aspect, such as day and night, light and dark, movement and stillness, heat and cold, upward and downward. The terms yin and yang represent the expression of these dual and opposite qualities.

The Theory of Yin and Yang

  1. Opposition – everything in nature has 2 opposite aspects. Balance is maintained through this mutual opposition, but excess of one will lead to deficiency of the other. Without balance, this will lead to disease as normal physiological balance of the body is not maintained adequately.
  2. Interdependence – despite being in opposition, yin and yang are mutually dependent as neither can exist without the other. Without yin there is no yang, without yang there is no yin. Yin represents the inside of the body and nutrient substances such as blood and body fluids. Yang represents the outside of the body and functional activities, such as movement.
  3. Mutual consumption – yin and yang are in a state of continuous mutual consumption and support. Movement of the body (yang) requires nutrients (yin) to occur, yet the production of nutrients (yin) requires the consumption of energy (yang). Normally, yin and yang is in a state of relative balance. It is when the balance is not maintained, resulting in excess or deficiency or either yin or yang and the occurrence of disease.
  4. Inter-transformation – Yin and Yang are not static, and under certain circumstances may transform into its opposite. In nature, this is seen as daytime (yang) turns into night (yin), and constant ongoing transformation from one to the other. In the case of severe virulent disease with a persistent high fever, severe cold may appear such as a sudden drop in body temperature and cold limbs. This is extreme yang turning into yin.
  5. Infinite Divisibility – Yin and Yang are in a state of constant change, and that there are relative degrees of each. For instance, temperature can be divided into cold (yin) and hot (yang), but can be further divided down into extreme cold (yin) and moderately cold (yang).

Yin Yang Figure

In this figure, white represents Yang and black represents Yin. Opposition and interdependence of yin and yang are illustrated by the curved line showing the inter-consuming-supporting relationship. The white yang area contains a black spot (yin) and the black yin area contains a white spot (yang), indicating the potential for inter-transformation, yin within yang and yang within yin. It shows that all phenomena are not isolated, but interconnected, developing and changing.

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Reference: Xinnong, Cheng, editor (2009). Chinese acupuncture and moxibustion. Beijing, China: Foreign Languages Press.