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How To Enrich Your Yoga Practice Using Principles From Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Updated: May 26, 2023

PART 1: YIN & YANG



photo of yin and yang - Traditional chinese medicine

Traditonal Chinese medicine

TCM has a long history of use in Asian countries. Today TCM is a complete medical system that is primarily used as a complementary form of medicine. The principles of TCM date back more than 2000 years. These principles, when properly understood can be applied to yoga in ways that enrich the practice. The most fundamental principle of TCM is the principle of Yin and Yang. This article examines this principle and how it can be applied to both our yin and yang yoga practices in ways that promote good health.

yin and yang illustrated image - Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Taiji Symbol Shows Yin & Yang Energies in Perfect Unison


In TCM there is a fundamental belief that everything in our world - including us humans - is created from an ever-changing balance of two different types of energy- yin and yang. Yin is commonly depicted as the shady side of a hill, while yang is commonly illustrated as the sunny side of a hill. Yin energy is more solid, dark, slow, cold, quiet and deep. Yang energy is more hollow, bright, fast, warm and superior. Women are considered more yin than men. Yin yoga practices are slower paced. They focus more on stretching the connective tissues of the body. Yang practices are more active, they strengthen and stretch the muscles of the body while generating heat. The lower, anterior and interior parts of our bodies are yin. Blood, sweat, saliva and body fluids are also considered yin. The upper, posterior and exterior parts of the body are more yang. Metabolism and the physiological functioning of our organs are considered yang.


Yin and yang energies are complementary yet opposing. Neither can exist without the other. They can change into each other, and they are also dependent on each other. Good health in Traditional Chinese Medicine occurs when our yin and yang energies are balanced. There are a few imbalances that occur with yin and yang energies. Yang and or yin energies can become deficient. They can also become excessive.


a bar graph of Traditional Chinese Medicine

The stresses of life can constantly impact on the balance of yin and yang in our bodies, throwing these fundamental elements out of balance. Imbalance, in particular chronic imbalance, is associated with poor health. Take for example a fever. In Traditional Chinese Medicine fever has yang qualities. It is associated with warmth and inflammation and is therefore considered a yang energy. Fever, when mild and of short duration, is associated with healing. 1 Chronic fevers however generally weaken the yin and qi (energy) of the body, damaging yin body fluids and leading to poor health. Consider here a few symptoms of damaged yin throughout the body, for example a sore throat (yin fluids damaged in the throat creating soreness), or a dry cough (yin fluids damaged in the lungs leading to dry coughing) etc.

Maintaining the balance of yin and yang is then fundamentally important from a Traditional Chinese medical point of view to the creation of good health. Below are a few examples of how yoga can help create balance between yin and yang and in so doing bring us into a state of better health.


Examples of Traditional Chinese Medicine

1. You’ve spent a week doing house renovations or helping a friend move. This extra activity is considered yang in nature. Depending on your fitness levels, your yang energies may be in excess and your yin energies need a bit of support to bring the body back to a state of balance. Alternatively your energy levels (qi) have been weakened (qi is considered a yang energy) and need to be boosted by rest. The latter case is an example of yin transforming into yang. Instinctively some of us will rest more (a yin activity) after overworking (a yang activity). A restorative yoga class ( which has yin qualities) may be a good practice to help bring your body and mind closer to equilibrium.

2. It’s winter, you’ve been fueling up with warm foods and drinks, but you still feel sluggish both in mind and body. Winter is a yin season. During winter yin energies are at their maximum. Yin energies must be protected during winter but excessive yin energies during this time may greatly reduce our productivity. A yang yoga practice that gently invigorates our yang energies can help bring us into a state of balance.


Traditional Chinese Medicine yin and yang illustrateed image

3. You have just finished your menses and your body feels tired. Blood is a yin substance. It is the mother of qi (energy in the body). Blood is the material (yin) substance that holds qi and allows it to perform some of its functions. Loss of blood can at times create a yin and qi deficiency. A gentle yin yoga practice may help support the body during this time. Stimulating acupuncture points (for example Spleen 6 and Stomach 36) while practicing yin yoga can gently support both yin and qi in the body.

4. You’ve been sitting at work all day with little chance to get up and move. Stillness is yin in nature. Yin energy in this example will be in excess because of inactivity. A short yang yoga practice can help invigorate your yang energies, easing stiffness (a yin quality) from the body that can build from long periods of inactivity.


These are just a few examples of how you can begin to incorporate knowledge of yin and yang into your yoga practice. Stay tuned for further articles that will continue to explore the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine and how they can be applied to yoga. At Yoga with Dr. Acumassage you will find both yin and yang yoga classes designed to help guide you to better balance. Vibrational yin yoga includes the stimulation of specific acupuncture (acupressure) points while practicing yin yoga postures. Get a free one-week trial of all classes when you subscribe.


END NOTES

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4786079/

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