What’s in a Pair? Yin & Yang in Chinese Medicine

What’s in a Pair? Yin & Yang in Chinese Medicine

Written by Dr. M. Ling, 6 January 2013

Have you ever stopped to think about the perfect symmetry of your human body?  Have you ever wondered if the symmetry of your external shape and form – your paired arms, legs, lips, eyes and ears – is also found in your internal body landscape?

If our external body parts are paired, how might our internal body parts also be paired, and how can we possibly use this knowledge to heal from disease and maintain optimal health?

Some of these answers can be found in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a proven 4000 year old medical system of illness prevention and health maintenance.  TCM holds amazing gems of knowledge on the concept of pairs in creation and how to tap into this knowledge to balance our health using acupuncture, herbal medicine, cupping (hijama), moxibustion, dietary therapy and medical massage.

First, TCM recognizes two things:
1) Everything in creation is created in pairs from an original state of oneness;
2) The One who created has no pair.

The most basic overarching pair in TCM that includes all other pairs is called yin and yang.  In fact, in Chinese, “yin” means “shadow” referring to death, and “yang” means “sunshine” referring to life.  All aspects of creation can be categorized according to this principle of yin and yang.

So looking further, yin relates to the earth, the moon, nighttime, harvest, storage, fall, winter, and water, to name a few.  And generally speaking, the phenomena that have properties of being cool, still, quiet, descending, astringing, and feminine (not the same as female) pertain to yin.

Yang on the other hand relates to the heavens, the sun, daytime, germination, growth, spring, summer, and fire.  Phenomena that have properties of being warm, active, loud, rising, dispersing, and masculine (not the same as male) pertain to yang.

In TCM, the human being is viewed as a microcosm of the entire creation, wherein is a beautiful flowing garden.  Using this view, we can find yin-yang pairs within the landscape of our human body because each person is gifted with complete yin and yang.  So the lower body, the interior and the chest all relate to yin because relatively speaking, they are more connected to earth, are unseen, or receive shade.  Whereas the upper body, the exterior and the back all relate to yang because they are comparatively more connected to the heavens, are visible, or receive sunshine.

In terms of internal organs, the liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidneys all relate to yin because they each store essence, but never discharge it, otherwise there is disease.  Their respectively paired yang organs however – the gallbladder, small intestine, stomach, large intestine and bladder all relate to yang because they transport and transmit food and waste, but never store them, otherwise again there is disease.

yinyangBut yin and yang are far from being static states of existence.  They are interdependent, in constant mutual transformation from one to the other, which is marked by the wavy line in this thousands year-old yin-yang symbol.  Also, any aspect of yin and yang can be further infinitely divided, hence the black dot of yin in yang and the white dot of yang in yin.

Take daytime for example – relative to nighttime, it is yang.  But when divided into morning and afternoon, then morning pertains to yang and afternoon to yin.  After the most peak yang time at noon, yang recedes while yin advances, and vice versa.

Internal organs likewise have yin and yang functions that transform one to another.  For instance, liver has yin functions to store blood and metabolize dead blood at night.  Come early morning time however, liver transforms to perform its yang function of actively distributing this blood to the body’s major organs.

These are just a few concepts illustrating the principle of pairs in TCM.  So how can you apply yin-yang in your day-to-day health?  One way is through food.  Food has cold-yin and warm-yang natures (cold and warm not referring to temperature), so you want to eat the best foods at the best times for your body’s constitution.

Health Tip of the Week

Are you someone who eats spicy food like curries and red/green chillis, or meats and fried foods regularly?  These are all hot foods in nature and can upset your body’s equilibrium, resulting in any range of symptoms including acne, heartburn, insomnia, gout and irritability.

TCM advises to eat more cool-natured foods such as fresh, non-tropical fruits, raw vegetables, or veggies simply cooked without hot spices.  And drink lots of warm water!


Are you someone who has fruit or green smoothies for breakfast, and lots of salads, cheese, milk, sweets, breads and fruits?  These are all cold foods in nature and can eventually lead to fatigue, depression, muscle spasms, abdominal pains, poor digestion, constipation and phlegm congestion.

TCM advises to eat more warm-natured foods such as brothy, non-creamy soups, cooked vegetables and meats with spices, and more grains over flour.  Also, morning is the most yang, highest metabolism time of the day, both in nature and in the body, so take advantage of this and eat hot breakfasts!

Dr. Mee Lain Ling