Learn Your Yin from Yang: What does this look like in the body?
In my last entry I described some general concepts of Chinese medicine including the theory of yin and yang. Let us explore a simple example to make this understanding more vivid.
A generally healthy person comes to the clinic with a symptom of anxiety that has been agitating them for the past few days. After intake we discover there is also a dryness in the throat and eyes. Looking at the tongue we can see some redness to its color, and the pulse itself is not filled out the way we believe it should be for the person, it is ‘thin’.
Any student of Chinese medicine would be able to infer a yin deficiency pattern of imbalance from these few symptoms. What is occurring is a pattern of dryness and heat that is a result of not enough yin in the body. The body fluids that lubricate the eyes and moisten the throat are yin substances. The blood that fills out the pulse is also a fluid - yin - substance. Redness in the tongue shows there is heat; to understand this you can think of what happens to your skin tissues when you have a sunburn! Perhaps the most difficult to understand is the anxiety. In Chinese medicine all patterns of imbalance have emotional symptomatology that will correspond and anxiety reflects a state of heat in the body* (see note below). Without enough yin substance to cool the body, excess yang manifests as heat (remember from the last entry that yang is hot, yin is cool). Heat in the body rises, like a flame will rise up, to agitate the Shen, or emotional spirit of the person causing a fidgety, nervous, monkey mind syndrome.
For this particular pattern to create balance we don’t look so much to clear out the heat as to bring in more yin substance to the body which will cool and settle the excess yang heat, a harmonizing balance of these polar energies. This can look like yin activities such as quiet meditation and relaxing breathing practices; nourishing yin by consuming yin substances like foods such as healthy fats, green vegetables and whole grains; and herbs like Shu Di Huang (prepared rehmannia) and Gou Qi Zi (goji berry).
If the patient continued in their lifestyle practices and did not make any alter to their current state, they might begin to experience more symptoms that fall into this pattern as the yin diminished and heat progressively increased like insomnia, night sweats and dry stools, blurry vision, unsettling hot flashes or a delayed menstrual cycle and infertility. This is how we can interrupt these cycles early with ancient and simple health practices.
*NOTE: Not all anxiety is caused from yin deficiency, it gets more complicated because it can be due to a yang excess; this excess yang will eventually begin to consume the yin like fire boils away water, but in this instance we focus on reducing yang as our main strategy rather than nourishing yin primarily. All symptoms of ill health can be viewed in this complicated manner, and takes dedicated study to understand the complexities. This example is meant for an aid to general understanding of the foundations.