Archive for the ‘yin and yang’ Category

yin and yang change into each other.

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Yin and yang not only balance each other, they also follow each other: it is said that yin and yang ‘convert’ into one another.  In acupuncture this is most clearly the case in sickness, where yin and yang are extreme.  For instance: a fever will lead to shivering and being cold will lead to a fever.

The goal, from the point of view of acupuncture, is a balance that contains an easy flow that does not go to these extremes.

Exercises for reflecting on the conversion from yin to yang in your life.

  • Physical

When have you experienced hot becoming cold and cold becoming hot?
When have you experienced movement becoming rest and rest becoming activity?

  • Emotional

When have you found your receptivity giving way to assertion?
When has your assertion lead to you becoming receptivity?

  • Mental

When has your understanding of a situation changed to your taking action?
When has your action been succeeded by you moving to an understanding of the situation?

  • Spiritual

When has your receptive of spirit lead to an initiative by you?
When has an initiative you have taken led to you being receptive to spirit?

  • Summary

Do you have a preference for yin and yang throughout the different areas of your life?  If so, what are the consequences of this preference?
Do you have preferences for either yin and yang in different areas of your life?

This exercise should help you get a good sense of the balance of yin and yang in your life.  If you do the other exercises for yin and yang on this blog you will be well on your way to a thorough understanding of yin and yang.

yin and yang flow into each other

Friday, July 20th, 2007

yin and yang are not only descriptions of particular things and types of activity.

yin and yang flow into each other.

While we can pay attention to one of the other they are not separable in real life (just as we may pay attention to what a building is made of and its shape but not separate them in real life).

yin and yang require each other. Without rest activity will cease, without activity rest is not beneficial.

Let’s look at yin and yang at the different levels of our lives: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

  • Physical

What activities that you engage in require rest? What would happen to you if you never rested?
When does rest require activity? What would happen to you if you rested and didn’t act?

  • Emotional

How does your assertion relate to your receptivity? What would happen to your life if you were only assertive? What would happen to you if you were only receptive and made not attempt to affect your situation and relationships?

  • Mental

How does finding what is the situation relate to your action in the situation? What would happen if you ignored the situation when you acted? What would happen if you ignored action and only understood the situation?

Do you have a preference for understanding or acting? What do you think the consequences of this preference are for you?

  • Spiritual

How does your receiving spirit relate to your activities?
What if you only were supported by spirit? Could this be without leading to activity?
What if you only pursued new activities – developing new disciplines and organisations? What would the consequences of this be for you?

  • Summary

Finally, do you prefer either yin and yang all the time, or do you have a preference in one area of your life and a different preference in other areas?

Looking at our lives through the lens of yin and yang can help us zero in on what is going well and where it may be helpful to change.

yin and yang: vision and transformation

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

yin and yang also exist in the spiritual dimension of our life.

What do I mean by spiritual? I mean the part of our life connected to spirit, our core – the part of us that feels ‘this is what I am here to do’ or ‘this is who I am’ or ‘when I am doing this it just flows from the core of me’. This is the part of us that can answer the question: What is the meaning of my life?

There is a yin and yang aspect to spirituality. Often, in our culture which emphasises yang, spirituality becomes seen as only yin. This can be seen to be wrong when we look at the revolutions in the way our world is seen – the revolutions in meaning. All these revolutions, whether religious or philosophical, had a new vision or understanding of what the world and people are like (yin) that was part of their revolutions in methods and organisations (yang). Without the new ways of doing things the revolutions wouldn’t have been revolutionary, they wouldn’t have affected their society in a revolutionary way. Without the new way of seeing they wouldn’t have been revolutionary, they would have just been more of the same.

As with these large movements we can also see the yin and yang in our own spiritual lives.

  • Visionary experiences are receptive (yin). They are convincing and transforming because we see something new, we feel we are in touch with something that is truly there. These experiences wouldn’t have nearly the impact on us that they do if we thought they were made by us.
  • When we are touched at our core by these spiritual experiences we are changed and act differently (yang). We may have ‘a mission’, wanting to see change in our current life-destroying way of living (at however humble a level this may be).

Reflecting on yin and yang in your spirit.

Where do you feel that you are supported by spirit? Are receptive and discover your purpose?
What experiences have you had that have transformed you? Can you distinguish the yin and yang aspects of these experiences?
Do you feel that there is an easy flow in your spirituality between the yin and the yang?

If you wish to strengthen the yin aspect of your spirituality there is now a wealth of opportunities to learn meditation and other contemplative activities such as drawing. If you wish to strengthen the yang aspect of your spirituality there are a wealth of opportunities to learn about being entrepreneurial and new ways of organising that respect people (eg. the ‘learning organisation’ phenomenon).

With this balance of, and flow between, yin and yang we can manifest a better world.

yin and yang: knowing what is and doing

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Yin and yang are the complementary opposites that, in the philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, apply to all areas of our life.

That they apply to the physical is often recognised. However, they also apply to our intellect, the mental world, as well.

Our culture, with its emphasis on taking action and making a difference, has a bias to the yang part of the yin and yang philosophy. Unfortunately this can lead to thoughtlessness and foolish actions. Creative action is essential, without it our cultures and human life on our planet will not survive. But this doesn’t mean just doing anything. We need to have some idea of what our situation is.

These are the two aspects of our mental life, knowing what is (yin) and acting (yang).
[Carl Jung called the yin ‘perception’ and the yang ‘judgement’. The details are in his Psychological Types. The brilliant application of this to a description of personality is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.]

Reflect on the preferences you have in your intellectual life.

  • Do you have a preference for one of these sides of your thinking?
  • Are you happy just finding out what is going on? Or do you care more about making a difference with what you know?
  • Are you impatient about finding out or doing?
  • Which do you think plays a larger role in your life?
  • Where is it that you are content to just find out?
  • Where is it that you want to innovate and make a difference?

If you emphasise action and want to experience the yin aspect then Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain may be very helpful. If you prefer the just finding out what is and want to experience the yang aspect you may find it helpful to read business books about entrepreneurs – John C Lyons and Edward de Bono’s Marketing Without Money is excellent.

Do you have a guiding philosophy that explains what the world is like? (I mean ideas that explain your world and life to you, not necessarily a formal philosophy with a name that was perhaps learnt from others).
In what ways, or to who, have you made a difference (and we probably all have in one way or another)?

This is the world of our intellect viewed through the lens of yin and yang.

yin and yang: receiving and giving

Friday, July 13th, 2007

The Chinese philosophy of yin and yang goes through all aspects of our lives, including the emtional.

Yin is receptive and inward, yang is outward and giving.  The application to our emotional life is fairly direct I think.

In our society which emphasises yang we are encouraged to be self-sufficient, which is essential.  But too much of this and we become hard and unyielding, arrogant and unable to listen or learn.  The temptation is to advocate for the other extreme (yin) – open to everything, retiring into ourselves, accepting whatever is done to us; leading to lethargy, lack of concern and an unwillingness to change life threatening situations.

Reflecting on yin and yang in our emotional lives.

  • Which are the relationships that nurture and sustain you?  Who do you receive from?  Which situations make this easier?
  • In which relationships do you give and sustain others?  Who do you give to?  Which situation make this easier?

For health to be maintained we need a balance and flow of yin and yang.

Does your receiving and giving have a flow and balance?
Do you think that you prefer one to the other?
If there is an imbalance what can you do to restore the equilibrium?

To change our patterns will take some initiative.  You may find that it is surprisingly difficult.  However it is possible to take small steps.  And with a little work we can usually find small steps that feel good to take (as long as we don’t get impatient).

If we balance the yin and yang of our emotional life we will certainly feel much better for it.

yin and yang: physical

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

One of the major concepts at the foundation of acupuncture is yin and yang.  This concept pervades acupuncture (and the rest of Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as Chinese culture generally).  It is very broad and can be a bit slippery.

The best way to get a handle on what yin and yang means is to experience it.

Lets start with the physical movement.  Other posts will deal with the emotional, mental and spiritual.

A Physical Exercise to Experience Yin and Yang.

Yin is associated with the front of our bodies and going inwards.  Yang is associated with the back of our bodies and going outwards.

Begin standing with your feet under your hips and your knees a little bent (not locked) and your head resting lightly on your shoulders.  Now begin to curl up, eventually (if you are flexible enough) curling into a ball.  If you aren’t terribly flexible just do as much as you can – the important thing is to get the feeling of withdrawing (you can do this by moving very little).

Then begin to uncurl, moving outwards and upwards, eventually with your legs spread and your hands reaching toward the sky or ceiling.

Then gently return to standing with your feet under your hips and your knees a little bent (not locked) and your head resting lightly on your shoulders.  (If you don’t like standing you can do it lying down – though the difference may not be as noticeable).
Do this a few times until you feel the different qualities of going inwards and moving outwards.  This is one part of the experience of yin and yang.

yin and yang: receptive and creative

Monday, July 9th, 2007

One of the meanings of yin and yang is the receptive (yin) and the creative (yang). This is elaborated in great detail in the I Ching.

Here is a simple exercise to experience the receptive and the creative.

With a paper and pencil begin doodling. Don’t try to draw anything, just be interested in how the pencil behaves. The colour of the marks it makes, whether it is soft or scratchy. How the colour of the marks can vary, what happens when the pencil goes over marks that are already there. Just spend time playing with this pencil on this piece of paper.

Now begin to draw a line that you like. (You can be more ambitious and draw a figure if you are experienced but a line is enough). Keep going while ever you like the line. When you stop liking the line stop drawing. This may have flowed easily for you, but don’t be surprised if you find it difficult.

Try doing this a few times alternating receptivity (yin) to the materials of paper and pencil and the making of something with them – a line that you like. This is the yin and yang parts of the creative process. There are other aspects to – receiving inspiration (yin) and making it on the paper (yang) is another part of the process.
Once you are familiar with this process you can examine other aspects of your life from this perspective.

  • Where do you feel comfortable being receptive?
  • Where are you comfortable being active?
  • Are there some people you like just being with?
  • Others you prefer to do things with?

Would you say there are parts of your life where you need more yin or more yang?

If you do find an area where you feel you need more of one of these qualities, then see if there is a complementary area where you need more of the other quality.

Seeing the dynamic of yin and yang in our lives can turn our lives into one long creative act – our life can become a work of art.

Acupuncture’s Philosophy

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

The philosophy underlying acupuncture is not terribly difficult. 

There are relatively few concepts to be understood.  Their power and usefulness comes from how they refer to key parts of our experience and how these terms are related to each other.

There are two main concepts that underlie acupuncture:
yin and yang, and
the five elements (sometimes called the five phases).
Here I’ll give a brief introduction to each.

1. yin and yang

yin and yang are the complementary opposites that make up the whole.  Any whole can be seen to be made up of yin and yang aspects.  Thus one day is made up of day and night, humanity consists of male and female, a book consists of paper and ink.  The subtlety of this way of thinking is that yin always contains a little yang and yang a hint of yin.  (This is pictured in the diagram of ‘the fish in the circle’, the ‘eyes of the fish’ being the opposite colour to the body of the fish.)  Thus there is some light (yang) at night (yin) and some shadow (yin) during the day (yang); each man (yang) has softness (yin) and each woman (yin) has resoluteness (yang), the ink (yin) contains some of the paper (yang) and the paper (yang) contains the ink (yin).

A good place to begin to understand yin and yang is the chinese characters.

The characters for yin and yang are of the shady and sunny sides of a hill. 

Yang is the sunny side and yin is the shady side.  So yin can mean: cooler, darker, rest.  Yang by contrast is warmer, lighter, active.

These characters are also a reminder that the same side of the hill can be sunny or shady depending on the time of day.  A person is more yin when resting or sleeping and more yang when awake and active. 

In our human experience the terms are usually relative
– something is more or less yin rather than absolutely yin or yang.
(Absolute yang is heaven and absolute yin is earth, while alive we are a mix of these two – the breath and the earth in the biblical image.)

This quickly becomes complex because each quality or part of a person or object can be classified into yin and yang also.  Thus a bodily organ like our heart has its structure (the muscles and so on which are yin) relative to its function (pumping the blood and so on) which is yang.

I hope this gives some idea of how these simple terms can be used in a subtle and diverse way.

2. the five elements

The five elements are:

  • water
  • wood
  • fire
  • earth
  • metal

These elements are used to classify just about anything, the seasons, animals, parts of our body and much else.

These elements can also symbolise the phases in a process of transformation.  Water symbolises the ability to adapt, and stillness.  Wood symbolises growth.  Fire symbolises full development.  Earth ripeness and metal contraction.  The cycle then begins at water once more.

When the elements are used as a classification system.
Different parts of our body are classified according to the elements.  Examples are: our kidneys belong to the water element, our liver to the wood element, our heart to the fire element, our stomach to the earth element and our lungs to the metal element.

These two systems – one a phase in a process and the other a classification of things – are used side by side.  They are somewhat different.  There is no idea that our kidneys will transform into our liver for instance.  However the flow of energy between these parts of our body does follow this cycle.  The kidney energy (something like libido) supports us taking initiative (wood energy) which leads us to activity (fire energy) which may lead to reflection and learning (earth energy) and then finishing with this experience (metal energy).  This is the cycle of nourishment and growth.

There is another cycle into which the elements are arranged, this is the cycle of control.  In this cycle the elements are arranged in the order:

  • water
  • fire
  • metal
  • wood
  • earth

Thus water controls fire, fire melts metal, metal cuts wood, wood holds earth and earth channels water.  Thus our stillness (water energy) stops our activity becoming manic (fire energy), our activity (fire energy) stops our firmness becoming overly rigid (metal energy), staying firm (metal energy) will stop us taking too many initiatives (wood energy), our initiating (wood energy) will stop us getting stuck in reflection (earth energy) and our reflection will guide libido (water energy).

This is only a very brief introduction to this part of acupuncture’s philosophy.  There is a great wealth of material on the elements and how they apply to all aspects of life (food, exercise and interior decoration to name only three).  But I hope this has been enough to give you an idea of how these simple ideas can be used with great subtlety and power.

yin and yang: rest and activity

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

Reflecting on Rest and Activity in our Lives.

One aspect of yin and yang is our activity.
Throughout the day we move from rest (yin) to activity (yang).
Firstly there is the move from sleeping to waking.  Then throughout the day we alternate (hopefully) times of rest with times of activity.

  • Take a moment now to think about your day so far.  Reflect on how rest and activity have alternated throughout your day.  Notice how this can occur even in very short amounts of time (such as taking a step).
  • Now take some time to reflect on what assists you to relax and what helps you be active.  Does rest help with activity?  Are you readier to rest after being active?  Are rest and activity related for you?
  • Imagine what a day would be like where you had enough rest and enough activity.

Would it mean short of long bursts or rest and activity?  Would it mean including different things for you?  You could imagine too what it would be like over a
longer time span – a week, a month, a year, or even your whole lifetime.

  • Do you think you need to be more yin or yang?  If you think you need one, will the other make a contribution?  (Will activity help if you need more rest?  Is being well rested needed to support your activity?)

The interplay of rest (yin) and activity (yang) in our lives can be very subtle.  It is a valuable way to examine ourselves and our health.