h Phoenix Qi: Yin Yang Theory

Monday, January 29, 2007

Yin Yang Theory

The terms Yin and Yang have become very popular in the last few decades, but they are sometimes misunderstood and therefore misapplied.

Yin/Yang did not originate with the I Ching as many people think; the earliest terms for the two types of lines in the I Ching were "firm" (yang lines) and "yielding" (yin lines). One of the earliest uses of the terms appears in the ancient text on Daoist lifestyle and Chinese medicine, the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, often referred to as the Suwen, where we learn of the energetic properties of yin/yang as applied to the natural world and the energies of the physical body. Yin/yang never meant woman/man or female/male, but does represent the male and female principles of acting and responding.

Yin/Yang is the first level of existence after the Dao, and encompasses all judgments and opposites. (I'm sure you don't need me to give you a long list of opposites, but I'll give you a few to get you going, and I'm sure you will recognize these beginnings of existence from many world cultures.) The first things to come into existence were the spiritual (yang) and the material (yin), the sky (yang) and the earth (yin) quickly followed by the sun (yang) and the moon (yin). I'll let you take it from there and come up with your own list of yin/yang comparisons.

An important principle of Yin/Yang is that it is always comparative; a thing can never be all yin or all yang. An item is only yin or yang as compared to something else; for example, water can be hot (yang) or cold (yin). The day can be sunny (yang) or cloudy (yin), it can be dry (yang) or raining (yin). This goes back to the idea that you can't make a judgment without making a comparison; you can't know good without knowing bad, you can't know happiness without knowing sadness. You can't know yang without knowing yin.

The origin of the word yin is related to "shady" or "cloudy" and pertains to the shady side of a hill. The word yang related to the opposite, "sunny" or "bright," and indicated the sunny side of the hill. That's fine as far as it goes, but it's only half the story. The sun doesn't stand still. Well, actually it is Earth that is moving, but from our perspective, the sun rises in the east, travels across the sky, and sets in the west, so that is the way I'll talk about yin/yang. Imagine that you are the photographer, and that you were facing north when you took the picture above at dawn. The sunny side of your hill (labeled yang) is the east side, and the shaded side of the hill (labeled yin) in the west side.

You know that if you stayed in that spot all day, the sun would follow its normal path across the sky and sometime after noon you would see the right/east side of your hill become shady (yang become yin) as the left/shady side turned bright and sunny (yin become yang). This is the most important principle of yin/yang: they are not static or stagnant, they each turn into the other, and the change is usually based on a natural cycle such as summer turning into winter, day turning into night, warm turning into cold, etc. In its turn, yin turns into yang: winter turns into summer, night turns into day, and so on.

Not only that, an item that is yin in one comparison may be yang in another comparison: for example, if you compare noon to sunset, noon is yang and sunset is yin, but if you compare sunset to midnight, sunset is yang and midnight is yin. This happens through all cycles of natural phenomena; yin cycles into yang which cycles back into yin just as winter (yin) cycles into summer (yang) and back into winter (yin). The moon is yin when compared to the yang sun, but a full moon is yang when compared to a new moon which is yin.

The other very important principle is that there is always a little yin in the yang, and a little yang in the yin. If you have ever had the flu, you know you can have fever (yang) and chills (yin) at the same time! Even on the driest day (yang) there is some moisture (yin) in the air. Also, because so many cycles overlap, there is bound to be a cycle at the top of its yang while another is at the top if its yin; for example, we have noon (yang) in winter (yin), and the light (yang) of the stars at night (yin). I think the best example of this is the popular taiji symbol. The white side is the day, and the dark side is the night. The dark dot in the day side (yang) is the new moon (yin), and the white dot in the night side (yin) is the full moon (yang). The new moon always rises in the morning so is up all day, and the full moon always rises in the evening so is in the sky at night when we can best see and most appreciate its light!

When you combine yin and yang with the five phases of energy (see Basic Five Element Theory), you have all the energetic interactions to enable the practice of the many branches of Chinese medicine, astrology, feng shui, and the basic Daoist philosophy that enables you to live in harmony with universal energies.


ewh said...

Very helpful description, I feel I understand this at a deeper level than ever before! ewh

Phoenix said...


Glad you liked it and that it helped.