Yin and Yang (and Their Imbalances)

Most of Chinese Medical theory can be distilled down to the dualistic concept of yin and yang. For example, the notion that any condition falls into the category of excess or deficient, or that it can present itself as hot or cold (Yang excess or Yang deficient), or dry or damp (Yin deficient or Yin excess) are all manifestations of this principle. Yin and yang are energetic, organizing forces in Nature but they are also treated as bodily substances in the body.

Yin and yang are polar opposites but they are in constant interaction. There are four main aspects that we apply to our understanding of yin and yang: opposition (they have opposite characteristics), interdependence (you can’t have one without the other), mutual consumption (too much of one will begin to consume the other), and intertransformation (too much of one can turn into the other).

This article will outline the substances of yin and yang in the body, signs and symptoms of their imbalances, and some lifestyle changes that can shift those imbalances back into a state of harmony.

Yin and its imbalances

Yin in the body is best thought of as substance. The energy of yin shares a relationship with water, cold, darkness, and stillness. It is inside rather than outside. It is fluid rather than firm. The bones are yin. The brain is yin. The blood and lymph are yin. Synovial fluid in the joints is yin. Simply put, yin is what your are made of.

Dampness (Yin Excess)

We refer to excess yin in the body as dampness. In it’s extreme form it becomes phlegm (esp. when in the presence of excess heat). Dampness occurs when we eat dampening or cold foods like bread or pasta, poor-quality dairy or ice cream, sweets, and raw vegetables. These foods are hard to digest and expend the yang energy that your body uses to transform food. When one’s body can’t transform food into the substances you are made of, it stores this untransformed substance as dampness or phlegm. Another prominent cause of dampness is living in a damp or humid environment. Signs of dampness are heavy limbs, weakness, cloudy thinking, runny nose or sputum, frequent urination, edema or bloating, and a lack of thirst. Things you can do to remedy dampness are remove the dampening foods from your diet and consume meals that are warm and thoroughly cooked, consume foods that are warming to the interior like ginger or chai tea, exercise and sweat, and get in the Sun.

Signs: Pale tongue that is swollen (side-to-side) and wet, pulse that is slippery and feels like a slithering snake or like rolling marbles

Yin Deficiency (False Heat)

When you have too little of what you are made of rather than too much, this is referred to as yin deficiency. When there is not enough substance to keep your tissues nourished and lubricated, then a sort of metabolic friction takes place. We refer to this symptom of heat as yin deficient heat or false heat rather than excess heat. It is referred to as “false” because it does not stem from excess (heat is excess by nature) but is instead a product of deficiency. This can be caused by overthinking, overwork, sleep deprivation, malnutrition, excessive sexual activity, drug use (esp. amphetamines), and antibiotics. Yin deficiency can cause night sweats, trouble falling asleep, dry mouth, skin, or eyes, constipation, and agitation. Yin deficiency can be corrected by eating well-cooked and nourishing meals (esp. high-quality raw dairy or kefir and animal products), adequate hydration, rest, and getting your bare feet on the ground.

Signs: Dry and cracked tongue, thin pulse that is tight like a guitar string

Yang and its imbalances

Yang in the body is best thought of as metabolic heat and is related to the warming, lifting, transforming, and preotecting functions of qi. Yang naturally goes up in the body. It is a substance that raises itself in clear form to the head to power clarity of consciousness. It’s activity is associated with movement and with heat.

Internal Heat (Yang Excess)

Too much yang energy in the body is referred to as excess heat and is usually a product of other pathology. Excess heat can happen in the blood, in the stomach or digestive system, on the skin, or in other organs. On the skin or inside the body it combines with dampness and can form what are thought of as infectious or necrotic conditions.When yang rises unnecessarily it can cause headaches, agitation, and a red complexion. Blood heat can cause acne, skin lesions, fever and agitation. In the digestive system it can cause heartburn, acid reflux, diarrhea or constipation, or inflammatory bowel conditions. In various organs it affects the function of that organ by either burning it up, possibly causing inflammation – like burning, strong-smelling, dark urine in the case of the bladder. Ways to clear heat are eating cooling food or drink, inducing a good bowel movement or urination, sweating, receiving acupuncture, or getting one’s bare feet on the ground.

Signs: Red tongue or tongue with red patches with a thick yellow coat or dry, and a forceful, pounding pulse

Yang Deficiency (Internal Cold)

When there’s not enough yang to warm the organs or to transform food into nourishment, there is a condition on yang deficiency or internal cold. Internal cold can also overlap with yin deficient heat. This is caused by stress, overwork, excessive sweating, exposure to severe cold, or eating a diet high in cold foods (like raw vegetables or ice cream). Symptoms are cold hands and feet, feeling of being cold inside and preferring warm weather or warm drinks, fatigue, and diarrhea or constipation (depending on other pathology). Ways to supplement yang are rest, eating well-cooked nourishing and warming foods, qigong, and getting one’s bare feet on the ground and bare body in the Sun.

Signs: Pale blue, swollen tongue, and a weak or slow pulse

I hope that these ways of thinking about Chinese medical pathology aid you in your journey towards a happy and healthy body, mind, and spirit.

Qi and Blood (and Their Imbalances)

Chinese Medicine is both a physiological and an energetic medicine. We deal primarily with what we call bodily substances. These are Qi, Blood, Yin, And Yang. Bodily substances can take more of an energetic form – as in Qi or Yang – or they can take a denser form – as in the case of Blood and Yin.

This article will cover Qi and Blood, the signs and symptoms of imbalance, and some simple lifestyle choices one can make to correct their imbalance. When reading this article, keep in mind that all Chinese Medicine understands pathology first and foremost in terms of excess or deficiency.

NOTE: This is not an exhaustive list and does not address the finer points of pathology and diagnosis in Chinese Medicine. It is recommended that you consult a practitioner to aid you in meeting your health goals.

Qi and its imbalances

For an entire article on Qi, check out What is Qi? Qi is the animating life force that sustains and mobilizes the functions of the body. The functions of Qi are to transport (Qi is what moves the Blood), transform (turning food into nourishment), hold (keeping your organs and Blood in place), protect (keeping pathogens out), lift (keeping your body upright) and warm (keeping your body nice and cozy).

Qi Stagnation

When the Qi of the body is not moving properly, it can become stagnant. This is an excess characteristic. Common things that cause Qi stagnation are a sedentary lifestyle, suppressing one’s emotions, too much dampness in the body (excess Yin), or not having enough Blood for the Qi to move (that’s its job). Symptoms of Qi stagnation are agitation and frustration, bloating, sighing, and dull aching or throbbing pain. Ways to relieve Qi stagnation naturally are exercise, expressing oneself, and getting in the Sun.

Signs: Swollen tongue (up and down), tense or cottony pulse

Qi Deficiency

When there is not enough Qi in the body, we refer to this as Qi deficiency. Common things that cause Qi deficiency are overwork, poor diet (leading to blood deficiency), poor digestion, and sleep deprivation. Symptoms are weak and heavy limbs, general fatigue, getting sick easily, poor digestion (which is also a cause) with loose stools, dull pain that is better with pressure, arrhythmia, bruising easily, trouble staying asleep, spontaneous sweating, shortness of breath, and prolapse. Ways to tonify Qi are eating nourishing and easily-digested foods, rest, and getting your bare feet on the ground. Qi tonics like green tea are also helpful!

Signs: Pale or swollen tongue (side to side) with thick coat and scalloped sides, a pulse that changes amplitude, where the vessel walls feel diffuse or feel like a thinly rolled cigarette

Blood and its imbalances

Blood is that which carries nutrients to tissues and what, in Chinese Medicine, is responsible for housing the mind and storing memories. This is why after a profoundly Blood-moving treatment, patients can experience a resurgence of old memories. Consequently, most treatments geared towards treating trauma in Chinese medicine involve Blood invigoration. Qi and Blood are intertwined. In Chinese Medicine it is said that Blood is the mother of Qi, and Qi commands it’s mother. In other words, you can’t have Qi without Blood, but Qi is what tells Blood where to go.

Blood Stagnation

Blood stagnation happens when the blood isn’t moving properly. This ultimately leads to thick, clotty blood. In Chinese Medicine, Blood stagnation is the most pernicious of all pathologies, but often only occurs with age or with circulatory problems. Blood stagnation can lead to fixed, stabbing pain that is better with movement and worse with rest (as it is an excess condition). Varicose veins and high blood pressure can be signs of Blood stagnation. Blood stagnation can also be cause by toxicity or toxic exposure. Ways to relieve Blood stagnation are exercise, working through old trauma, and getting in the Sun.

Signs: Purple tongue with thick, engorged veins underneath, a choppy pulse that feels grainy or rough like sandpaper

Blood Deficiency

Blood deficiency is a common pathology, but can be quite pernicious as well. Blood deficiency happens when there is not enough blood to nourish the tissues or for the mind to function well. Causes of Blood deficiency are poor diet (lacking in blood nourishing foods, esp. animal products), poor digestion (being unable to transform food into blood), sudden traumatic loss of blood, heavy periods, and overthinking. Symptoms of Blood deficiency are weakness, pale skin, numbness, dizziness, scanty periods, being easily startled or frightful, and the feeling of being small. Ways to nourish Blood are to eat a Blood nourishing diet (rich in iron and animal products), abstain from giving blood, rest (conserving one’s Qi in order to make more blood), and to both get your bare feet on the ground and your body in the Sun.

Signs: Pale or small tongue (esp. with pale sides), a pulse that feels narrow or thin

I hope these concepts help you to understand some of the fundamentals underlying the practice of Chinese Medicine. This knowledge can empower you to create a lifestyle that brings your body better into harmony with nature and promotes your wellbeing.