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by Lisa VanOstrand


The concept of Yin and Yang is one of the most fundamental aspects of Chinese Medicine. Every physiological process and every symptom can be analyzed in the light of Yin and Yang theory. The following table illustrates some of the principles of Yin and Yang. Although the properties of yin and yang, may appear at first glance to be polar opposites, it is important to note that they should actually be considered as two stages in cyclical movements, where one is constantly changing into the other. For example, night changes into day and when one performs activity it is essential that rest is also incorporated. Also, fundamental to yin and yang theory, is the concept that yin contains an aspect of yang and yang contains an aspect of yin.

Yin Yang
Water Fire
Cold Hot
Quiescence Dynamic
Structure Function
Moist Dry
Soft Hard
Contraction Expansion
Responsive Aggressive
Conservation Destruction
Earth Heaven
Female Male
Interior Exterior
Dark Bright
Slow Rapid

According to Chinese medicine all disease is due to an internal imbalance of Yin and Yang. Disease is treated by correcting the Yin and Yang imbalance and is ultimately aimed at one of these four strategies: tonify yang, tonify yin, eliminate excess yang or eliminate excess yin. From this perspective, the patient's symptoms are not necessarily seen as the cause of the disease but rather as a manifestation of the imbalance. Each patient may have a different imbalance causing what outwardly looks like the disease. Once the doctor forms a cohesive picture of the pattern of disharmony, he or she can formulate a treatment plan to restore balance of the excess or deficiency that led to the disease. Thus, in Chinese Medicine, the doctor treats the imbalance rather than a specific medical condition such as headache or stomachache and as such the overall treatment may vary from one patient to the next, depending on the specific imbalances.

To the contrary, Western Medicine tends to approach disease by assuming that it is due to an external force, such as a virus or bacteria, or a slow degeneration of the functional ability of the body such as occurs through aging. Western Medicine is generally based on the philosophy that the body represents one functioning system and the mind another. It accepts that each system may affect the other, but essentially it sees disease as either physical or mental. Although there are stress related diseases such as ulcers, Western Medicine generally does not acknowledge that a person's emotional or thought processes have anything do with creating or sustaining disease.

One interesting development that may provide useful in showing the link between the mind and body are studies documenting the use of placebos. "A placebo is a medicine or other kind of treatment that seems therapeutic, but is actually inert, or empty. It is pharmacologically inactive. It works only if you believe it will. Even though placebos lack chemical or other value in and of themselves, they have a very real effect in 30% to 40% of patients. The fact that people respond to placebos is one of the clearest examples in medicine that the mind has a major effect on the body. Placebos can be so effective that they can actually produce unwanted side effects. Such negative reactions clearly show the power of the mind to influence the body's physical responses". 1

The Chinese assume that the body is whole, and each part of it is intimately connected. Each organ has a mental as well as a physical function. Five element is an important concept in Chinese Medicine. The diagram below expresses the relationship of the five elements. Like Yin and Yang, the five elemental energies maintain their internal harmony through a system of mutual checks and balances known as the creative and control cycles. The following diagram illustrates the principles of Five Element energies identifying both the creative and control cycle. 2

"Both these cycles, which counteract and balance one another, are in constant operation, maintaining the dynamic fields of polar forces required to move and transform energies. The creative cycle is one of nourishment like that which exists between a mother and child. Water generates Wood by nourishing its growth; Wood generates Fire by providing its fuel; Fire generates Earth by fertilizing it with ashes; Earth yields Metal by extraction and refinement; Metal becomes liquid like Water when it is melted.

Whenever a particular elemental energy grows too strong, it tends to exert an excessively stimulating influence over the following element in the creative cycle, like a domineering mother over a child, and at this point the element which controls the excessive energy kicks in to subjugate it and restore harmony. For example, if Wood flourishes to excess, providing so much fuel that Fire burns out of control, Metal steps in to cut down the supply of Wood and thereby re-establish normal balance. The creative and control cycles maintain constant harmony and balance among the five elements." 3

As can be seen by the following chart which is used for five element diagnosis, there is an underlying harmony, balance and interrelationship among the organ systems.4 This balance and mutual interrelationship is a key element in maintaining overall health and harmony in the organism. The doctor of Chinese medicine looks at these factors as well as the pulse, the tongue and bodily scanning for patterns of excess and deficiency to diagnosis and determine the source of disharmony or dis-ease in their patients.

Diagnosis According to Five Element Theory 4

Element Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Phase New Yang Full Yang Yin/Yang Balance New Yin Full Yin
Color Green Red Yellow White black
Direction East South Center (nadir/zenith) West North
Life Cycle Infancy Youth Adulthood old age Death
Hours 3 - 7 am 9 am - 1 pm 1-3am, 7-9am, 1-3pm, 7-9pm 3 - 7 pm 9 pm - 1 am
Energy Quality Generative expansive Stabilizing contracting conserving
Season Spring Summer late summer (between seasons) autumn winter
Climate Windy Hot Damp Dry Cold
Development Phase sprouting, leaves growing Blooming, fruit growing ripening, harvest withering, seeds falling dormancy, storage
Smell Rancid Scorched Fragrant Putrid rotten
Flavor Sour Bitter Sweet pungent Salty
Mental Quality emotion, sensitivity willpower, creativity Clarity intuition spontaneity
Negative Emotion Anger Hate Anxiety Grief Fear
Positive Emotion Patience Joy Empathy courage calmness
Other Emotions irritability, blame, rage, resentment, jealousy nervousness, shock, excitement worry, regret, remorse, obsessiveness, self-doubt sadness, shame, disappointment, guilt loneliness, insecurity
Virtue benevolence Propriety, order faith, trust rectitude, integrity, righteousness, dignity wisdom
Expression Shouting Laughter Song weeping groan
Yin (Zang) solid internal organ Liver (LV) Heart (HT) Triple Burner (TB) Spleen-Pancreas (SP) Lungs (LU) Kidneys (KD)
Yang (Fu) hollow internal organ Gallbladder (GB) Small Intestine (SI) Pericardium (PC) Stomach (ST) Large Intestine (LI) Bladder (BL)
Active Times GB= 11pm-1am LV= 1am-3am SI= 1pm-3pm HT= 11am-1pm TB= 9pm-11pm PC= 7pm-9pm ST= 7am-9am SP= 9am-11am LI= 5am-7am LU= 3am-5am BL=3pm-5pm KD=5pm-7pm
Body Tendons Pulse Muscle Skin bones
Aperture Eyes tongue, throat lips, mouth Nose Ears
Bodily Fluids Tears Sweat Saliva Mucus urine
Expands Into Nails facial complexion Lips body hair head/pubic hair

In conclusion, Western Medicine is more oriented towards a Newtonian viewpoint, which says something is true OR is not true. Whereas Chinese Medicine is more oriented towards a viewpoint that holds two opposite values which are in fact complementary to each other and as such something could BOTH be true and not true. This viewpoint of Chinese Medicine is illustrated in the Yin/Yang symbol where solid Yin has some element of Yang and solid Yang has some element of Yin. Additionally, Yin and Yang as concepts are constantly flowing and changing into each other in an ever moving attempt toward balance and harmony.







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