The concept of yin and yang is based on the Taoist understanding of the forces and cycles of nature. Tao means ‘way’ and to Taoists it means ‘the way of the universe’. It is a philosophy that we are waking up to in the West: that we are all connected. Yin and yang are an expression of that philosophy: that you cannot have one without the other.
In the taiji symbol (the representation of yin and yang above), black represents yin and white yang. Yin and yang can be seen as complementary opposites. Some examples of what is yin compared with its more yang counterpart are:
Although yin and yang can be seen as opposites, nothing is purely yin or yang because there is always a balance between the two. For example, ice is more yin than water because ice is solid (you could even build with it) whereas water is fluid (it has movement, action), but water is yin compared with steam.
As you can see in the taiji symbol, yin (the white shape) contains yang (the black circle) and yang (the black shape) contains yin (the white circle). This aspect of yin and yang is best illustrated in a quote from qigong practitioner Chris Jarmey "In the case of the human sexes, it is interesting to note that although women are outwardly more yin, they contain within a more masculine unconscious which Carl Jung called the Animus. In turn, men possess a more feminine unconscious called the Anima. This is an example of the profound interdependence inherent in Yin/Yang."
As the taiji symbol demonstrates, yin and yang transform into each other: where yin ends, yang begins and vice versa. The natural cycles of day and night and the seasons are the best examples of this, so where night ends, day begins and where winter ends, spring begins: one grows out of the other.
This extract from the Chinese classic, the Tao Te Ching, describes the interactions of yin and yang beautifully:
"Being and non-being create each other;
Difficult and easy support each other;
Long and short define each other;
High and low depend on each other;
Before and after follow each other."
According to traditional Chinese medicine, an imbalance between yin and yang results in disease. Re-establishing harmony restores health. For example, the coldness of yin can temper the heat of yang, so a cooling treatment is used for a hot condition and vice versa.
Qigong is a beautiful expression of yin and yang: where there is up, there is down; where there is backwards, there is forwards; where there is left, there is right. We even trace the taiji diagram in one practice! I love how qigong brings balance and I have noticed the dexterity of my weaker left side improve with practice to the point where I can catch and throw a ball with my left hand without thinking about it - and I wasn’t even trying to achieve that! If you would like to experience qigong for yourself, you are welcome to join one of my classes.