The Balancing Act of Life: TCM’s Yin Yang Theory Part One

Many seem to be talking about it or affected by the modern day norm of “busy-ness and no time”.   Some examples of the modern day challenges facing us are the excessive over activity/hyperactivity of many children, running around with kids, lots of fatigue and difficulty sleeping.   The complex set of factors that underlies all this is, well, complex.  What I see in naturopathic practice and in life is a dominate culture of activity not being balanced by time spend resting and reflecting.  We’ve become used to the need, perhaps at times perceived need, of being busy a lot of the time.  I see folks in the clinic who have trouble sleeping, or when asked about relaxation time say they don’t relax well, that they have to be go go going all the time.  For sure some people are more active and energetic than others, but is there a cost to not being ‘good at relaxing’ and not having a balance of activity with inactivity, with practicality and creativity? 

In naturopathic school at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, we had a couple great teachers of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  One of the most fundamental tenets of this medicine is the Yin Yang theory.  It’s an underlying philosophy used to understand the nature of lifetime and a way to understand how and why imbalance manifests.  Imbalance, how ever subtle, in holistic medicine forms the beginnings of disease.  In Naturopathic Medicine, TCM and many forms of spiritual healing philosophies, disease is not necessarily a distinct entity where you either have it or you don’t;  disease is instead a spectrum, a progression, and a continuum.  For example, you may have difficulty relaxing for many years before you are unable to sleep properly through the night.   Yin Yang theory illustrates the importance of balance, and that balance is a very dynamic state. 

Yin and Yang represent the opposing or paradoxical nature of our reality on Earth.  Yin and Yang are opposites, but each also contain the seed, or an aspect, of the other.  The famous Yin-Yang symbol represents this.  The white contains some black, and the black some white, and the shape of the symbol has a moving quality about it; this all indicates that the Yin and Yang are constantly transforming into the other, round and round, just like day turns into night, and night turns into day.  At times of juncture like dusk and dawn, something you could consider magic happens; it’s not night or day, instead one is being born from the other.  

Yang qualities include: masculinity, sun, spark, fire, movement, back of the body, restlessness, light, upward motion, Heaven, pushing, rational thought, extroversion, hot and dry.   Yin qualities include: femininity, moon, darkness, space, rest, quiet, Earth, intuition, nurturing, introversion, cool and wet.  As we have dusk and dawn giving birth to either day or night, men give the seed of life while women contain and grow life;  women carry two X chromosomes, but one is given to her from her father, who carries an X and Y, the X from his mother and the Y from his father - so women and men each carry an aspect of the opposite sex.    If we look at how society functions it is heavily focussed on Yang activity and qualities.  TV and computers are very Yang in Nature, as is the basis of our school system focussed on rational thought, practicality and grading.  The things we esteem socially are also Yang in nature - being extroverted, good at talking and bringing excitement and being able to thrive on a lot of activity are rewarded.   Like any good theory, these concepts translate across different disciplines and aspects of life.  What are the outcomes, or considerations, when we spend so much time in a Yang frame of mind? I think some of them are what was mentioned at the outset of the column.  Next time I’ll discuss some way these imbalances in Yin and Yang can show up in medicine and common health problems.