The Taiji. Black represents the qualities of Yin and white represents the qualities of Yang.
Introducing Yin & Yang
The principles of Yin and Yang, a foundational theory of Asian medicine, is both profound and very simplistic. The two represent the dynamic opposites seen all throughout nature. They are not viewed as absolutes, but rather identified by their characteristics relative to the other. In other words, you cannot identify if something is Yin without knowing something is Yang. Asian medicine practitioners then use the understandings of these qualities and their relationship to each other to identify and treat disharmony. When Yin and Yang are balanced there is harmony, it’s when they move out of balance that problems arise in the body or in the world.
What is Yang?
The qualities of Yang represent heat, warmth, action, movement, growth in the body. In the body and the Yang organs rule over the creation of energy, transformation, fire and heat in the body. It’s the heat of Yang that is required to transform all the food that you eat into Qi, Blood and Fluids that are used for all bodily function. Although the opposite of Yin (cooling, nourishing, fluids and calming properties), Yang requires Yin to be able to function properly. Think of Yin as the oil for Yang’s fire, if either one is running low, we have a problem.
Causes of Yang Deficiency
Heredity – Mom or Dad may have passed the trait down. Yet, even in this instance, there is room for improvement. We look at whether the person’s habits encourage or discourage healthy Yang in the body.
Burning the candle at both ends – Literally, you worked and/or played too hard and often without adequate rest appropriate for your life stage, health and constitution. You’ve snuffed out the fire (Yang) by using up all the oil (Yin). This includes having too many children and leading an excessive lifestyle. Yes, Qi and Yang are recoverable, but it takes time which can be difficult to convince a type-A personality that they may now need 8-10 hours of sleep. I am a huge proponent of naps and a firm believer that all of us at any age should be napping. That might be a 15 minute power nap for some whereas an hour might be necessary for someone else.
Illness – Severe illness, frequent or chronic patterns will whittle away the immune system and the body’s resources. Included in this we also have to look at the drugs a client may be using to treat illness and its impact on the body. Post viral syndromes like Epstein Barr, Lupus, Mono, and shingles fall into this category. Covid-19 may fall into this category as well, but it’s a little too early to tell.
Lack of digestive vitality – Ideally, we make the Qi that our body uses daily by properly ingesting foods and transforming them into vital essence, nutrients, Qi and Blood. When our digestion is weak or we have irregular eating habit the system declines. In times of need, the body will utilize Jing to keep the system going. Jing, unlike Qi and Yang, is not a renewable substance. You are born with a certain amount based on your parent’s health at the time of conception. Jing is then stored and in the Kidney and used a little a day for each functioning. Think of it as your stored treasure or savings account. Each time we dip into it rather than properly nourishing our system we chip a little off the stone. When it’s gone–that’s it–when the essence is gone the body dies. Need a few tips on healthy eating habits?
Overuse of stimulants – Americans love stimulants to ‘keep us going’–just look at the sales of energy drinks. Powerful foods like coffee, caffeine, chocolate, sugar, and guarana may give us a kick now and then, but they often don’t replenish or return much to the body. They can lead to adrenal exhaustion. You are dipping into your Jing. It’s a matter of balance, if you find yourself requiring a strong stimulant daily take a look at whether you are getting enough rest, proper nourishment and exercise.
Symptoms – Fatigue, slow and sluggish digestion, feelings of cold, slowed metabolism, weight gain, weakened immunity, frequent colds and flu.
Corresponding Western Patterns – Fatigue, patterns of chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, mild hypothyroidism, low metabolism, weak immune system, feeling cold, chills easily, weight gain, slowed digestion and weak and sluggish bowels.
Tongue – The tongue is often swollen or thick, but color may vary depending on other factors.
Pulse – Slow, deep pulse especially on the right side and in the proximal (Kidney Yang) position. If dampness has crept in the pulse will have a slippery quality.
If Yang deficiency is not recovered from, Yang will eventually collapse.
Yang Collapse –
Symptoms – Cold limbs, weak and labored breathing, profuse sweating (specifically with an oily sweat), lack of thirst; pale, profuse and frequent urination or incontinence, loose or incontinent stools, weight gain and exhaustion.
Corresponding Western Patterns – Chronic fatigue syndrome, adrenal exhaustion, hyperthyroid, impotence or low hormone levels, autoimmune disorders, fibromyalgia, coma.
Tongue – Pale, wet and swollen
Pulse – Minute, deep and slow
Building and Supporting Yang – Yang can be rebuilt but how long that takes depends greatly on how depleted you are and whether you actually take the time to rest, recover and slowly rebuild. It’s not uncommon for clients to become too eager once they start to feel better they are back to their poor habits and they fall back down exhausted – again. The deeper the deficiency, the longer it takes. Have patience and work gently forward.
Avoid cold and raw foods – If you come to me with Yang deficiency the first thing I will likely pull from your diet is the smoothie you are so attached to – and this is where I lock horns with raw food enthusiasts. The digestive system is like a cauldron. The Middle Burner, made up of the Stomach and Spleen, require warmth to cook down the foods and transform them into energy, which they move into the Small Intestines and Colon for further refinement and elimination. If your metabolism is already low and your body temperature already cold, the fire isn’t there to manifest the transformation properly. This creates a slow, sluggish digestion, bloating, gas and lethargy. Iced foods should be avoided. A little in the summer might be okay, but you are literally dumping ice on the fire. Raw foods may be fine for some here and there, but not if you are treating Yang deficiency. Use warming pungents and spices like cinnamon and turmeric regularly, yet gently–not so much that you get hot enough to sweat. We are looking for a consistent warming glow.
Eat foods that specifically build Yang –
- animal protein
- black pepper
- bone marrow – time for some stock
- essential fatty acids (cod liver oil, primrose oil)
- ginko biloba
- glandulars – especially adrenal and thryoid
- licorice (not the candy!)
- rhodiola (ask your healthcare provider about how to use rhodiola)
- salt – needs to be naturally occurring salt with iodine in it.
- star anise
Don’t skip meals – The body relies on you to feed it regularly. It then uses that food to create energy. If you are irregular with your diet habits the digestive fire (a Yang function of the Spleen warmed by the Kidney Yang) will burn out. Your metabolism slows and weight will creep on. The digestive fire is at its peak from 7-11 am in the morning, so eat a good breakfast.
Keep the body and Kidney 1 warm – It’s essential to give the body the aid it needs in keeping warm with this disharmony. Don’t challenge the weather and dress appropriately until your energy recovers. Kidney 1, located on the ball of the foot is a significant source for Yang energy in the body. If your feet are cold, you run the risk of decreasing the body’s overall Yang–find some fun slippers.
Get appropriate rest- Constantly going, working and moving–all Yang qualities– without resting and restoring (Yin qualities) will lead to a collapse of Yang which takes time to recover from. Yang and Qi are replenished when we partake of Yin activities–that rest, gentle qigong and t’ai qi. This can be quite the task for some clients that work and play hard. I often ask them to schedule in at least on PJ day a month. A day to just rest–remember when the norm used to be that you took one day a week to rest or take it easy? Pop in naps every now and then too.
Get appropriate exercise but know your limits – On the opposite side of rest, you need adequate exercise. What is right for you is probably not what’s listed on the internet as the perfect exercise. Enjoy a variety, walk, swim, do t’ai qi or yoga. I rarely recommend running for hypothyroid or chronic fatigue patterns – it’s too extreme leaving the person more wiped out and sending us backwards in treatment. They may be able to build up to running or more extreme athletics but it will take time. You should come away from whatever workout you are doing feeling like you’ve moved, feeling open and refreshed, but not exhausted or worn out – that’s taking it too far. If you just had major surgery or a baby you should probably not lunge into running a half marathon 3 months later.
Get supporting treatments – Asian medicine modalities like Amma therapy are very beneficial in addressing both the symptoms and root causes of thyroid disorders. Your practitioner may also recommend glandulars or herbals.