The Significance of Yin and Yang (Part One)
If you study any aspect of oriental philosophy or culture you soon come across the terms ‘yin’ and ‘yang’. These terms are used to describe the opposite yet complementary nature of iChi energy which ancient people understood to be present behind the manifestation of anything in nature – the creation of structures, actions, seasons, emotions and movement.
In I Ching Astrology the qualities of yin and yang lie behind the understanding of the cycles of change that we go through. These nine-year cycles are moving from yin to yang; this means from dormancy in winter (yin) through the active rising stage of spring to the consolidation stages of yang. Similarly, the principal numbers also contain yin/yang attributes.
Yang’s nature is seen to emanate from the heavens and descend towards the earth. Conversely, yin’s natural tendency is to rise and return towards the heavens. As yin’s energy rises it becomes more diffused, and therefore slower and cooler, whereas yang’s descending energy becomes more concentrated, harder, hotter and faster. The outcome of this process is that structures that are bigger are seen as more yin, while those that are smaller and more compact are seen as more yang.
Here is a list of some typical opposites associated with yin and yang.
Yin: passivity; coolness; stillness; potential energy (power); cool; introvert; diligent; cautious; maternal; insecure; dependent
Yang: activity heat; movement; power (obvious); self-conscious; passionate; extrovert; impulsive; stubborn; bold; paternal; adventurous; independent
An important principle to bear in mind is that nothing is totally yin and nothing is totally yang. The centuries-old yin/yang symbol, which everyone these days is familiar with, expresses this concept perfectly. The dark section of the yin/yang symbol is representative of yin, but within it is a small circle of the opposite (yang) from the left-hand side. If we were to look at a tree we could say that its leaves, branches and trunk represent the yin element in its structure and that the yang expression is within its downward-growing roots.
A spring onion has far more upward nature (yin) within its structure and far less root (yang); compares this with a carrot, which has a greater concentration of energy and structure within its root (yang) and less emphasis on the leaf structure (yin). Similarly, if our nature is predominantly spiritual or intellectual we are more yin than an individual who is practical and grounded, who would be seen as more yang.
People who are physically and emotionally flexible would be relatively more yin than people who are more rigid and inflexible. Nighttime, when we rest and are more passive, is traditionally understood as a more yin time, whereas the daylight hours when we are active and busy are seen as more yang. Winter, when it is colder and we are less active, is more yin than the summertime, when it is hotter and we are more outdoor and active.
In Part Two, which will be posted week beginning 24 April, Jon will explore the nature of yin/yang as it applies to nature and health.