Suggested Citation: Garko, M. G. (2014, March). Traditional Chinese medicine – Part I: The yin and yang of health. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.
Traditional Chinese Medicine – Part I: The Ying and Yang of Health
Michael Garko, Ph.D.
Throughout its development for more than five thousand years, Chinese medicine has been predicated on the simple principle of health as balance and ill-health as imbalance. More specifically, practitioners of Chinese medicine have conceived of health as two opposing forces (called Yin and Yang) existing within the body in a balanced state and ill-health as a state of imbalance with one of the elements of the Yin-Yang dialectic dominating over the other. One of the consequences of the body being in a state of internal imbalance is a blocking of and deficiency in the flow of qi (pronounced chi) or energy (referred to as vital energy, life force or life energy) circulating in channels throughout the body.
The principle of health as a balance and ill-health as an imbalance of opposing forces is somewhat of an abstract and alien concept in the practice of Western medicine. However, as it was alluded to above it has been the guiding principle in Chinese medicine and its most recent incarnation called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
The March, 2014, issue of Health and Wellness Monthly focuses on the Yin and Yang of health. The Yin-Yang concept is complex in nature. How it is implicated in health would require far more space than a monthly newsletter. Nevertheless, since it is central to TCM’s theory of what creates and constitutes health and illness, a brief discussion on the Yin-Yang principle is offered to provide a bit more understanding of how this important concept is implicated in creating, maintaining and restoring health and how certain herbs can help balance the forces of Yin and Yang within a person. Next month’s issue of Health and Wellness Monthly will focus on a combination of herbs serving as a whole body tonic to balance the forces of Yin and Yang, and thereby, help to restore and maintain overall health.
Ying and Yang
The principle of Yin and Yang is derived from Taoist philosophy. In a real sense, the Yin-Yang principle possesses a worldview quality in that it is intended to capture the idea that all phenomena, including life processes, contain and are balanced by interacting forces/energies (i.e., Yin and Yang) in polar opposition to one another. In his discussion of the Yin-Yang principle and its defining feature of polar opposites, Reid (1994) comments that “without polarity material worlds and physical bodies could not exist, and without polar fields energy could not function, essence could not take form, and the rhythmic cycles of nature could not transpire” (p. 24).
Continuing, Reid (1994) provides a succinct description of the philosophic, worldview dimension of the Yin-Yang principle as defined by the notion of polarity:
The principle of polarity applies equally to human energy and electric energy, the circulation of blood in veins and the flow of water in drivers, the rotation of planets around the sun and of electrons around the nucleus of an atom. It is a law with no loopholes, a rule without exceptions, and therefore those who understand and apply it in their lives enjoy the distinct advantage of being on the ‘right side of the law’, living in harmony with the entire universe, and acting in accord rather than in conflict with nature’s cyclic patterns (Reid, 1994, pp. 24-25).
Yin and Yang are expressed by such conditions as cold vs. hot, full vs. empty, internal vs. external, dampness vs. dryness, descending vs. ascending and rest vs. active, to mention a few of the countless dialectics constituting the world and universe for that matter.
It is important to emphasize that Yin and Yang represent energy but not distinct, conflicting forms of energy. Rather, they are complementary polarities or reciprocal states of cyclic change of the same basic energy in a rhythmic transformation found for example in the positive and negative poles of an electric current, a magnetic field or in the respiratory process of inhaling (Yin) and exhaling (Yang) (see Reid, 1994).
The constant and dynamic interplay between the forces/energies of Yin and Yang result in the phenomenal world being in a constant state of flux and change. Of course this would include the human body. Ideally, although they are forces in opposition to one another, Yin and Yang in all of their various oppositional forms strive to be in a cycle of harmonious, interdependent equilibrium, which can be upset by either deficiency or excess resulting in ill-health and disease.
Yin and Yang As Applied to the Human Body & Health
TCM practitioners use the concepts of Yin and Yang to describe naturally occurring opposing, yet, complimentary and interdependent physical conditions of the body. Yin is associated with organ tissue, while yang is associated with organ function. With a yin-deficiency, organs are deficient in nourishment, while a yang-deficiency reflects a functional or performance deficiency in an organ or organ system. In sum, Yin and Yang represent two complimentary polarities forming a holistic system of energy within the body (see Tierra, 1998).
In TCM, Yin and Yang need to be in balance to maintain health, and many ills can be attributed to a deficiency or excess of either factor. Ill health is conceived of as a direct consequence of an internal imbalance of Yin and Yang. Practitioners of TCM believe that a protracted imbalance of Yin and Yang leaves the body in a chronic unhealthy condition, making it more susceptible to sickness, disease and pathological processes. Specifically, the disequilibrium of Yin and Yang reflects an energy imbalance leading to such conditions as fevers, indigestion, constipation, headaches, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and cancer, among numerous other unhealthy conditions and diseases (see Reid, 1994). Conversely, health is epitomized and achieved by maintaining a balanced state of yin and yang or overall homeostasis of the organs and organ systems of the body. This dynamic balanced state of Yin and Yang exists within each organ and organ system, with some organs being more Yang in nature and others being more Yin in nature.
Health is balance and ill-health is imbalance. This has been the guiding principle in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Health and ill-health emerge from Yin and Yang, which are two opposing but complimentary forces of energy. They are connected interdependently in a dynamic interplay of constant motion and change. When Yin and Yang exist in a cycle of harmonious motion, balance, and consequently, health is created. On the other hand, when they are in a state of disequilibrium caused by either excess or deficiency a person will experience ill-health. Serious diseases and disorders result from a chronic condition of imbalance of the Yin and Yang forces.
As it turns out, TCM provides herbal therapies to provide a balance between Yin and Yang so as to create, maintain and restore overall health and well-being. This will be the topic for next issue of Health and Wellness Monthly.
Reid, D (1994). The complete book of Chinese health and healing: Guarding the three treasures. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc.