Origins and Approach
| Yin and Yang
| Five Elements
| Vital Substances
| Zang-Fu Organs
"If becoming is yang, being is yin.
Yin and Yang
Sacrifice not the inner being to achieve the outer becoming.
Find the place of duality and dwell there a moment.
Can you see - nothing in life is absolute, or what it seems." - Klaudia Bae
Of the many principles of traditional Asian medical theory, a few fundamental ones will be discussed. These are:
Yin and Yang Theory
Five Elements Theory
Vital Substances Theory
Zang-Fu Organ Theory
External Causes of Disease
Internal Causes of Disease
Taiji: Yin and Yang
The foundational cornerstone of traditional Asian philosophy - both medical and social - is the theory of Yin and Yang.
Yin and Yang as a philosophy is best enumerated in a book called 'Book of Changes
' (Yi Jing or I Ching
) written around 700 BC.
The same philosophical school that developed the theory of Yin-Yang is credited to have developed the Five Element theory.
This school was called the 'Yin-Yang School' or the 'Naturalist School'. The birth of the Yin-Yang and Five Element theories,
and their application to medicine, signify a movement away from the shamanistic view of supernatural causes of disease to the
empirically scientific approach based on observable, inductive and deductive methods of patterns differentiation.
Four Stages and Eight Trigrams
In the Yi Jing, Yin and Yang are represented by a pair of broken and
unbroken lines. The combination of broken and unbroken lines in pairs
form four stages representing Yin and Yang along their continuum of
transformation. At each pole are Yin and Yang, and in-between are
intermediary stages known as Yang within Yin, and Yin within Yang:
Four Stages of Yin-Yang
Later in the development of the theory, an additional line was added to the above four stages making eight Trigrams.
A Trigram is called 'Gua', and eight is 'Ba'. Hence, the Eight Trigrams are known as Ba Gua.
Each Gua (Trigram) represented what the ancient philosophers saw as eight basic universal images or phenomenon:
Eight Trigrams (Ba Gua)
The number 8
is significant in that it, multiplied by itself (8x8), results in 64 trigrams
The 64 are said to symbolize all the possible phenomenon of the universe. The Ba Gua is usually arranged in a circle with the
Taiji symbol of Yin-Yang at the center. The arrangement in a circle is symbolic of the cyclic changes of nature and their
fundamental relationship to the two poles of Yin and Yang.
All Things Yin and Yang
Yin and Yang represent opposite but complementary qualities. Each thing
or phenomenon could be itself and its complement. For example, Yin
contains the seed of Yang so that Yin can transform into Yang, and vice
versa. The relationship and interdependence of Yin-Yang are represented
in the Taiji symbol, above.
The concept is simple yet complex and profound. All things and
phenomenon can be categorized as either Yin or Yang. All things can be,
in their simplest states, reduced to Yin or Yang. These same things can
be Yin in one context but Yang in another. Their states are defined in
relation to other things that are within their sphere of being.
This philosophy of the ever-changing nature of all things, in relation
to one another, is distinctly different from Western logic based on the
Aristotelian principles of contraries rather than mutability and
change. For example, Aristotle says that a thing that is square cannot
be both square and not-square.
Yin-Yang, on the other hand, is based on the cyclical alternation of
natural phenomenon. This includes the ebb and flow of day to night and
night to day, the cyclical changing of the seasons, the vaporization of
water by heat during the day, the condensation of vapor into water
at night, the changes in states of matter from solid to liquid and then
to gas when heated, and the reverse when cooled, and so on.
The qualities of Yin and Yang apply to all levels of the cosmos through
a system of correspondences. Some of the general and medical
correspondences are listed as follows:
Anatomical & Medical Correspondences
|Front & Right
||Back & Left
|Internal Yin Organs
||Outer Yang Organs
|Blood & Body Fluids
For example, Qi being an energetic and immaterial form is Yang,
compared to Blood which is more material and substantial. Blood being
material and substantial is Yin. As the energetic (Yang) component, Qi
helps move blood. As the material (Yin) component, Blood nourishes and
provides the material basis for Qi.
In applying the Yin-Yang theory to traditional Asian medicine, every
part of the human body can be characterized as predominantly Yin or
predominantly Yang depending on their structure, function and
anatomical location such as exterior-interior, above-below, front-back
and left-right. Again these characterizations are relative not
absolute, and their Yin-Yang characterizations are always in
relationship to each other.
For example, the abdomen is Yang in relation to the legs because the
abdomen is located above the legs. But it is Yin in relation to the
head because the abdomen is below the head. Muscles are Yin in relation
to skin because muscles are more internal than skin. But muscles are
Yang compared to visceral organs because muscles are more external than
Similarly, organs have Yin-Yang correspondences making up one aspect of
their organ system classification. This applies to the 12 primary
organs which make up 6 Yin-Yang pairs, but does not apply to the
additional 6 extraordinary Yang organs which are not paired.
Yang organs are defined by their functions while Yin organs are defined by their structures
Yang organs transform, digest and excrete impure products of digestion.
Yin organs store pure essences resulting from the transformational
functions of the Yang organs.
For example, the Kidneys are paired with the Bladder as an organ
system. The Kidneys are the Yin organs in this pairing because they
store Essence and do not have a direct path to the exterior body. The
Bladder transforms fluids, excretes the impure products as urine and
does have a direct path to the exterior of the body. Yin-Yang
characterizations of organs are also relational, not absolute. For
example, the Kidneys have a Yin aspect and Yang aspect. Kidney Yin
nourishes all the Yin fluids of the body while Kidney Yang supplies all
the Qi and Yang energies of the body.
Pathogens responsible for producing an imbalance in Yin-Yang also have
Yin-Yang characterizations. For example, Cold and Damp are Yin
pathogens in relation to Heat and Dryness which are Yang pathogens.
Cold consumes Yang resulting in cold-related Yin symptoms such as
chilliness, loose stool and pale complexion. Heat consumes Yin
resulting in heat-related Yang symptoms such as irritability,
constipation and a ruddy reddish complexion.
Four Principles of Yin-Yang
In all cases, Yin or Yang characterization is relative to some other
thing being compared. Their interaction and behavior are governed by
the following four principles of Yin-Yang interrelationships:
1. Opposition of Yin and Yang
Yin and Yang are opposite stages of a cycle but the opposition is
relative, not absolute. For example, vegetables are generally Yin and
meat generally Yang. But within each category there are degrees of Yin
or Yang. For example, chicken is Yang compared with fish but chicken is
Yin compared with lamb. Similarly, in traditional Asian medical (TAM)
pathology the character of clinical symptoms also can be reduced to
their basic character of Yin or Yang.
Chief among this opposing relationship is that existing between the elements of Fire
(Yang) and Water
(Yin). The balance between Fire and Water is essential to all physiological processes.
Physiological Fire, also called the Fire of the Gate of Life
derives from the Yang aspect of the Kidneys. Ming Men provides
the warmth and energy to all the organs and the physiological processes
to carry on their respective functions. Whereas, Physiological Water
derives from the Yin aspect of the Kidneys and its function is to
moisten and cool the body to balance the warming and drying actions of
the physiological Fire.
If Fire is excessive it easily flows upward to the Yang aspect of the
body and the symptoms of excess Fire manifests on the head as
headaches, red face, red eyes, thirst, and on the exterior skin as a
sensation of heat and sweat. If Water is excessive it may flow downward
to the Yin aspect of the body manifesting as edema below the waist,
excessive urination, and inward to produce a sensation of cold.
2. Interdependence of Yin and Yang
Yin cannot exist without Yang, and Yang cannot exist without Yin.
Although opposites, they are mutually dependent on each other. For
example, day cannot exist without night, and matter cannot exist
without energy. In TAM physiology Yin organs depend on Yang organs to
produce Qi and Blood from the transformation and transportation of
food. Similarly the Yang organs depend on the Yin ones for their
nourishment. This nourishment is via the Blood and Essences stored by
the Yin organs.
3. Mutual Consumption of Ying and Yang
Yin and Yang are in a constant state of relative adjustment in an
effort to maintain a dynamic balance. This balance is never 50:50 but
rather, it is a fluctuating balance confined to a small range of
acceptable variations. If Yin is out of balance and becomes excessive
it consumes Yang and vice versa. This is witnessed in the ebb and flow
of night and day. As day ends to night, Yang decreases and Yin
increases. As night ends to day, Yin decreases and Yang increases.
There are five possible states of balance-imbalance between Yin and Yang:
Preponderance (excess) of Yin
This is a state of relative balance of Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are
not at a 50:50 ratio for more than a short period of time. Rather, it
is a fluctuating balance within a small range of variation.
This reflects a healthy, balanced Mind and Body. Continued adherence to
a healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition is required to maintain this
Preponderance (excess) of Yang
State: This is an excess Yin condition. Here, an excess Yin pathogen consumes normal Yang.
Treatment: Treatment requires expelling the excess Yin pathogen.
Weakness (deficiency) of Yin
State: This is an excess Yang condition. Here, an excess Yang pathogen consumes normal Yin.
Treatment: Treatment requires expelling the excess Yang pathogen.
Weakness (deficiency) of Yang
State: This is a deficiency of Yin condition. When Yin is weak, Yang is in apparent excess in relation to the deficient Yin.
Treatment: Treatment requires nourishing (strengthening) Yin of the body.
4. Inter-transformation of Yin and Yang
State: This is a deficiency of Yang condition. When Yang is weak, Yin is in apparent excess in relation to the deficient Yang.
Treatment: Treatment requires tonifying (strengthening) Yang of the body.
Yin can transform into Yang and vice versa at a certain stage of
development and time. For example, day changes into night, water can
vaporize to gas and vapor can condense into water.
In TAM pathology a Cold pathogen is Yin while a Heat pathogen is Yang.
However, Cold that accumulates and causes stagnation (blockage) in the
body generates Heat. And after some time, the heat will consume the
cold and the pathogen, which began as a Cold (Yin) pathogen, will later
completely transform into a Heat (Yang) pathogen.
Yin-Yang theory as summarized here is extremely simplified and
generalized. In the practice of traditional Asian medicine there are
many intricacies and complexities the practitioner must take into
consideration. Because of the many complexities involved,
non-practitioners should not try to apply self-healing methodologies
using traditional Asian medicine modalities. When properly used by a
trained practitioner it is a powerful and safe medicine. When
improperly used there can be considerable damage.
Origins and Approach
| Yin and Yang
| Five Elements
| Vital Substances
| Zang-Fu Organs