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Current location: Home >> TCM >> Yin and Yang and Five Elements

Yin and Yang and Five Elements

Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang Aspects

Subdivisions of Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang Interaction

Understanding Yin and Yang

Yin-Yang and diagnosis

Yin-Yang and treatment

The five elements

The five elements

The Basic Principles

When we think of medical practices in the West, we make the valid assumption that the skills of the doctor are founded on scientific research regarding how the body works and what mechanisms can go wrong in the course of illness. Thus, the practice of medicine,as the patience experiences it,is based on a firm foundation of scientific principle.

It is important to understand that subtlety and complexities of Chinese medicine are based on equally firm philosophies and principles that, while differing dramatically from those in the West, are nonetheless regorous and calid. To understand what Chinese medicine is all about, it is important first to explore this different frame of reference. Without an understanding of its precepts,the system the Chinese use to explain health and sickness in terms of the body ' s harmonies and disharmonies will seem like mumbo-jumbo designed to confuse rather than to enlighten.
Yin and Yang

The concept of Yin and Yang is fundamental to an understanding of Chinese medicine. The ideas behind Yin and Yang developed from observing the physical world. It was observed that nature appears to group into pairs of mutually dependent opposites, each giving meaning to the other. Thus, for example, the concept of night has no meaning without of day ,the concept of up has no meaning without a concept of down, and so on. The implications of this apparently straightforward observation lead us in a direction quite at odds with the Aristotelian logic that underpins Western scientific thought. To take a simple example: in Western thought a circle is a circle and it is not a square. Measurement and properties define it as a circle. However, from the Chinese perspective of Yin and Yang, a circle contains within it the potential of a square, and vice crease, and thus dichotomies are avoided.

In Chinese thought, the emphasis is on process rather than on structure-a topic that will be revisited time and again in the course of our discussion-and it is important to understand the concept that Yin and Yang are essentially descriptors of the dynamic interactions that underpin all aspects of the universe. Thus, Yin and Yang should not be seen as a key to the system of thinking about the world.

The Chinese character for Yin and Yang give a sense of this. The character for yin translates literally as the dark side of the mountain and represents such qualities as cold, stillness, passiveness, darkness, within, and potential. The character for yang translates literally as the bright side of the mountain and represents such qualities as warmth, activity, light, outside, and expression.

Yin and Yang Aspects

It would be ture to say that, according to the Chinese view, everything has physical existence exactly because everything mainfests both Yin and Yang qualities. The relative emphasis of Yin and Yang will vary, but both aspects are always present. In viewing the organs of the body, for example, the Chinese system emphasizes the two qualities. The liver is considered to be principally a Yin organ since it is quite solid, but it also has the function of promoting the flow of Qi or energy, so to that extent it has a Yang quality. The Stomach, on the other hand, is hollow and moves food through it,so it thus considered to be primarily Yang. However, the Stomach also has a storing aspect that will represent the Yin function. Nevertheless, all these aspects of Yin and Yang are fundamentally interdependent in their relationship.

Subdivisions of Yin and Yang

In theory all Yin and Yang can be infinitely subdivided into aspects that are themselves Yin and Yang. Steam, for example,would be considered a Yang quality of water,whereas ice would be considered a Yin quality.However,both steam and ice can be seen in terms of water molecules that themselves have Yin particles-protons and neutrons-in relation to Yang particles-electrons. No doubt if we delved further into quantum physics we would see further aspects of Yin and Yang appearing. In Chinese medicine,the front of the body is considered Yin in relation to the back,which is Yang,but the upper part of the front-the chest-would be seen as Yang in relation to the lower part of the front-the abdomen.

The interpendence of Yin and Yang points to the dynamic interaction between the two. Change is at the root of all things, and it manifests itself as Yang transforming into Yin and vice versa.if the Yin and Yang aspects are prevented from achieving balance through this mutual transformation process,the consequences may be catastrophic since,ultimately,balance will forcibly be achieved.

For example,the efficient functioning of a tire depends on a state of balance between the pressure in the tire and the strength of the tire wall. If the air pressure in the tire is too low,the tire will not perform its function, whereas if it is too high, then balance will be achieved through a catastrophic interchange of Yin and Yang as the tire bursts. To take an example from human health, if someone is suffering from a fever, then this is seen as a relative excess of Yang in Chinese medicine. The principle of treatment will be to allow the transformation of the excess Yang into Yin in order to restablish a state of equilibrium and also of biological homeostasis. By this means the fever would break and the temperature would begin to return to normal-Yang transforming into Yin. It is interesting to note that the early manifestation of a fever is likely to be seen as a relative excess of Yin,with chills and Cold signs.As the condition develops,then the Yin transforms into Yang and the fever develops.

Chinese medicine views the body in terms of Yin and Yang aspects. A dynamic balance between these Yin and Yang aspects of the body is characterized by a healthy state,and,by implication,an unhealthy state is indicative of some imbalance between the Yin and Yang of the body.

Essentially,all disharmonies can be reduced to a pattern of imbalance of Yin and Yang (see oppsite). These patterns will be discussed later in greater detail, but at present they serve to illustrate the importance of Yin and Yang inunderstanding body processes.

The object of this exercise-which you should not take too seriously-is to see if you have grasped the concept of Yin and Yang,which is so central to Chinese philosophy in general and to Chinese medicine in particular.

Below,these is a list of twenty-five objects,situations,ideas,and so on.For each one in turn,first decide whether it represents something that is predominantly Yin or predominantly Yang.Second,for each one,suggest how it might be changed so that it represents the other quality.If you think the original is basically Yin,think how it would have to change to become basically Yang,and vice versa.An example illustrates process.

For example,a cup of hot tea id predominantly Yang in nature. Leave it to cool to room temperature for half an hour and it would become predominantly.

Remember,in every situation Yin and Yang coexist; it is just that there is a relative balance toward one ot the other. Also, Yin and Yang contain each other and are continually interacting, and in the process one will transform into the other. Ultimately,there are no absolute right ot wrong answers in this exercise.

Compare your answers to mine in the Answers box,but don ' t feel you necessarily have to agree with my analysis all the time.

Since diseases or syndromes can be classified into yin and yang according to their nature, and the root cause of the occurrence and development of disease is imbalance between yin and yang, the key to clinical diagnosis is correct differentiation of the yin and yang nature of the disease as well as determination of the imbalanced condition of yin and yang. In this way, complicated clinical conditions can be simplified, and a correct diagnosis can be made.

Yin-Yang and treatment

Treatment in Chinese medicine is always aimed at restoring the normal balance of yin-yang. The following therapeutic principles derived from the theory of yin-yang are of the utmost significance.

"Replenish what is in deficiency," "reduce what is in excess," "treat cold with warming measures" and "treat heat with cooling measures" are the general rules of treatment in order to restore the normal balance of yin-yang.

An acute disease due to invasion of exogenous pathogenic factors is usually excess in nature, if the patient is normally healthy. In this case, the treatment is to eliminate or reduce the pathogenic factors. For pathogenic factors of a yin nature (such as cold), yang measures (e.g., warming therapy) should be used, and for pathogenic factors of a yang nature (such as heat), yin measures (e.g., cooling therapy) are appropriate.

In deficiency syndromes, replenishing or reinforcing measures are indicated. Deficiency of yin is usually accompanied by relative preponderance of yang, and deficiency of yang by relative preponderance of yin, and the treatment should be to replenish yin and reinforce yang, respectively. When the deficiency is put right, the relative preponderance will naturally disappear. In complicated cases, however, the treatment may also be complex. Sometimes it is necessary to "treat the yang aspect for diseases of a yin nature," and "treat the yin aspect for diseases of a yang nature," for example, by reducing yang to relieve dizziness and headaches in hypertensive patients suffering from yin deficiency with relative exuberance of yang, and replenish yin-fluid in cases of high fever (yang-heat) which consumes the body fluids. In acupuncture, it is not unusual to needle the points of the yang meridians for disorders of the yin meridians, and vice versa.

The five elements

The philosophical original of Chinese medicine have grown,as we have seen,out of the tenets of Daoism. The ideas of Daoism are closely based on observation of the natural world and the manner in which it operates. In Chinese medicine,this leads to a metamorphic view of the human body that manifests the Yin and Yang interchanges that are seen in the natural world.

The Chinese observed that everywhere in nature there is dynamic interchange. The seed(Yin) grows into the plant(Yang),which itself dies back into the earth(Yin). This takes place within the changes of the seasons-Winter( Yin) transforms through the Spring into Summer (Yang) which in turn transforms through the Fall into Winter again. The Chinese medical system draws extensively on these metaphors. This is most fully articulated in the system of the Five Elements or Five phases : water,fire,wood,metal,and earth.

The characteristics described here are merely examplars of how the elements can be seen,but the important feature is that they will all contain both Yin and Yang aspects,thus reflecting the underlying principle of mutually interactive duality, so central to Chinese thought.

Each Element is seen as having a series of correspondences relating both to the natural world and to the human body . Fire,for example, corresponds to Heat and to The Heart. A pattern of interrelationships between the Five Elements is used as a model for the way in which the processes of the body support each other. These are defined mainly through the Sheng and Ke cycles.


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