Yin and Yang in East Asian Medicine

Yin Moon

The theory of Yin and Yang is one of the central philosophies in East Asian medicine, and a guide for diagnosis and treatment in acupuncture, herbal treatment, and Asian styles of massage.  It is a way of looking at nature and the human body as pairs of opposite, but complementary features.

“Yin-Yang theory is based on the philosophical construct of two polar complements, call Yin and Yang.  These complementary opposites are neither forces nor material entities.  Nor are they mythical concepts that transcend rationality.  Rather, they are convenient labels used to describe how things function in relation to each other and the universe.”

Ted Kaptchuk, The Web that Has No Weaver

Yang Moon

The idea that all phenomena can be considered in terms of Yin and Yang was first referenced in the I Ching,or Book of Changes, from approximately 700 BC.  It is a way of viewing objects and actions in relation to one another, or to a larger whole.  This system of looking at things in terms of relationships rather than as isolated phenomena developed from observing the environment, particularly the cyclic nature of day and night, and the progression of seasons.


The Chinese character for Yin


The character for Yin indicates ‘hill’ and ‘cloud’, meaning ‘the shady side of the hill’.  Yin characteristics tend to be dark, cold, dense, and still.


Character indicates ‘sun’, ‘over the horizon’, and ‘rays of light’, or ‘the sunny side of the hill’.  Yang characteristics tend to be bright, warm, light, and active.


The Chinese character for Yang

“Yin and Yang are two stages of a cyclical movement, one constantly changing into the other, such as the day giving way to night and vice versa.” 

Giovanni Maciocia 

Yin Yang
Dark Light
Moon Sun
Shade Brightness
Activity Rest

Health is a state of homeostasis, or balance, between yin and yang, heat and cold, action and rest.

Yin Symptoms Yang Symptoms
Chronic Acute
Gradual Onset Rapid Onset
Slow Changes Rapid Changes
Cold Heat
Fatigue Restlessness
Pale Red
Quiet Loud
Not Thirsty Thirsty
Weak Pulse Strong Pulse

In East Asian medicine, Yin and Yang are diagnostic tools that are helpful in looking at a person’s constitution and array of symptoms.  Yang qualities tend to occur with other Yang qualities, and respond well to Yin treatments, while Yin qualities tend to occur with other Yin qualities, and respond to Yang treatments.  For example, a person with a tendency to feel cold (Yin), will also tend to suffer from fatigue (also Yin), and respond well to Yang treatments, such as a warming herb like ginger.  Yin and Yang are useful as paradigms to understand symptoms and disease, and act as guides to which treatment will be most effective for each patient.

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About Four Flowers Wellness

Acupuncture & Holistic Medicine

We are a holistic East Asian Medicine practice serving Chicago’s West Loop and West Town neighborhoods. We are experts in acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and supporting women and men through the child-bearing year, from women’s health concerns to fertility and prenatal care, complex pain or hormonal conditions, and mental-emotional issues such as insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

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