Yin and yang. This concept from the East is well known to most of the world by this point. But just because you’ve heard of yin and yang or seen the symbol doesn’t mean you truly grasp the importance of it.
Personally, I feel like in the last few years I’ve only started to grasp what it means myself. In Taoist philosophy from the Tao emerges duality which is best expressed through yin and yang.
As such, yin and yang explains relationship and polarity. We often tend to think of these in overly simplified terms such as yin being feminine and yang being masculine. That is true, but that is just one reflection of a multi-faceted thing.
What is Yin?
Yin is one half of the duality. The following attributes are yin in quality:
- Odd numbers
- Solid Organs
What is Yang?
Yang is the other half of the duality. The following attributes are yang in quality:
- Even Numbers
- Hollow Organs
Even the words themselves have a yin and yang feeling to them. Yin is three letters while yang is four. Yin has a softer vowel sound than yang. Yang has the harder consonant sound at the end.
Yin and Yang is Fractal
Most people are familiar with fractals even if they’re not really familiar with them. They’ve likely seen the Mandelbrot Set picture below which is one example of a fractal.
This is created by a computer running a very simple equation over and over again and putting colors to the numbers. Fractal information is how nature works. A tree truck splits off into a tree limb which splits off into smaller branches which split off into individual twigs. Self-similarity across the scale.
In the same way, yin and yang are fractal. And remember that these describe not things so much as the relationship. Typically, a man is more yang than a woman, but that doesn’t mean they’re 100% yang nor all the time.
There is yin within yang and yang within yin as is shown in the symbol. This keeps on repeating ad infinitum as this video demonstrates.
And notice that this happens with movement. The yin inside of yang becomes the yang inside of yin and on and on across time. Day turns into night. Summer turns into autumn turns into winter turns into spring. The yinness of a baby transforms into the yangness of man back to the yinness of old age. The cycles repeat.
How to Balance Yin and Yang
To be healthy is to strike the right balancing between yin and yang. Remember that yang describes excess while yin describes deficiency. Thus, to go overboard in either direction creates disaster. This echoes wisdom from across the world of striving for that middle path, that golden mean. (Which is not to say that you’re going for a perfect 50/50 split as if that could even be determined, but some sort of balancing.)
Everything you do can be described in terms of yin and yang. The movements you make. The breaths you take. The thoughts you think. The feeling you feel and so on.
Yin and Yang Diet
And, of course, diet, meaning each food may be more yin or yang.
- soy products, such as tofu and soybean sprouts
- certain meats, such as crab and duck
- fruit, such as watermelon and star fruit
- vegetables, such as watercress, cucumbers, carrots, and cabbage
- cold drinks and water
- foods that are high in fat, protein, calories, and sodium
- certain meats, such as chicken, pork, and beef
- warm spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger
- eggs, glutinous rice, sesame oil, bamboo, and mushrooms
- alcoholic beverages
And remember that there are degrees of yin-ness and yang-ness. If the food is cold, it is more yin. If it is hot, it is more yang. (This is one reason TCM has never advocated a raw food diet…too cold.)
I remember hearing one lady speaking about how a carrot was cut could make it more yin and yang!
So yeah, it can be complicated. Going into detail on yin and yang diet is beyond the scope of this article. If you would like to see this covered more in the future, please give a shout out in the comments below.
For now, I want to turn to herbs…
Yin and Yang Herbs
Before I just list our yin herbs and yang herbs, I want to address a few key points. Only a few of the above-listed attributes really play into the yin-ness or yang-ness of an herb.
Cooling vs. Heating is one important distinction. More herbs are cooling or cold than are warming or hot. But there are a good many that heat the body. I understand it is confusing because cooling is yin and heating is yang, but that’s not everything involved in what makes something yin or yang.
Moistening vs. Drying is another important distinction. Vastly more herbs are drying than moistening. And even though drying is yang, this very often goes along with cold herbs, a yin attribute. Confused yet?
I’m planning future articles that describe hot/cold and moistening/drying dynamics in more detail as this is helpful to find the herbs that work best for your constitutionally. These are a couple of areas where while an herb may “work” great for you in the short term, it is possible to unbalance your constitution in the long term.
Male vs. Female is not such an important distinction with herbs. Those commonly recommended male herbs tend to be yang for other reasons. Same with common female herbs. But that does not mean that these herbs are only to be used by those sexes.
Another factor has to do with Organs of Affinity. Yin describes solid organ systems (spleen, heart, liver, etc.). Yang describes the hollow organ systems (intestines, stomach, gallbladder, etc.)
One study looked at Antioxidation-Oxidation theory as the basis of yin and yang. They have some evidence showing that this might at least be part of the role.
Putting those together, as well as a few other possible factors is why these herbs get grouped into such.
- He Shou Wu
- Pearl Powder
- Nettle Root
- Blue Vervain
- Goji Berry
- Gotu Kola
Neutral or Balanced Yin and Yang
- Schisandra Berry
- Seabuckthorn Berry
- Longan Berry Fruit
- Mucuna Pruriens
- Reishi Mushroom
- Chaga Mushroom
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom
- Beet Powder
- Dong Quai
Supports Both Yin and Yang
Some of these have long been identified and everyone agrees on them. Other ones are my opinion based on working with the herbs and other herbalists may disagree. Yin and Yang is a Chinese concept, so all of the Chinese herbs are mapped out. Not so much with Ayurveda, Western or other herbs. Also, this is to put things in categories while a spectrum is more appropriate.
This only lists the herbs we carry at Lost Empire Herbs. I won’t even try to list out every herb there is.
Herbal Preparations Changes Yin and Yang
Understand that how an herb is extracted or prepared can alter its yin-ness or yang-ness. A good example is Pine Pollen. It’s a yang herb, but the Pine Pollen Tincture is significantly more yang than the powder. This is seen in its stronger androgenic effects. I also feel like it causes more heat, and that may be because the alcohol itself is hot.
Powders, because they are dry, tend to be more drying. But if you mix them in water or other liquid than this is less so. Of course, hot or cold water will also change the energetics.
The key takeaway is that except in some rare and extreme circumstances you would not want to only take yin or yang herbs. Many guys like the effects of our stronger hormonal herbs like Pine Pollen and Tongkat Ali.
But over time, if you take those without simultaneously providing the yin support, in time some other issues could arise. The yin herbs tend not to have as noticeable or dramatic effects but that doesn’t mean they’re not doing amazing things in the background.
I think a strong base of yin herbs taken regularly with a few yang herbs sprinkled on top is a good long-term plan for many.
(Plus, there’s the whole concept in Chinese medicine of “Yin deficiency” in which your body doesn’t even have the energy to adequately make use of many herbs to get your health back on track. This must be addressed before other issues can be.)
I hope this article has helped to give you a deeper understanding of yin and yang. Just knowing this duality in the world can be an extremely helpful frame of looking at the world. It doesn’t explain everything…but it explains a lot.