This ancient concept has proven itself both prescient and practical as modern research affirms its accuracy.
Stand on one foot for just a few seconds, and life can immediately become awkward or even precarious. Once you’re back in balance with both feet firmly on the ground, strength, stability, and harmony return.
This is the lesson of yin and yang.
Yin and yang are symbolized by the taiji—a circle composed of two teardrops; one black, the other white. Both sides contain a small piece of the opposing color.
This enigmatic symbol is a popular image today, but the idea goes back millennia and is fundamental to ancient Chinese science and culture. The earliest known reference of yin and yang comes from the I Ching (Book of Changes)—a mystical divination practice at least 3500 years old.
Yin and yang describe the world as an endless pair of polar opposites: cold and hot, up and down, wet, and dry. The literal translation of yin/yang is dark/light. It refers to a mountain, one side illuminated by the sun, the other cast in shadow. If the scene was either too bright or too dark the mountain would be hard to see. But a balance of light and shade gives the mountain definition, clarity, and meaning.
However, not everyone gets the gist of the dark-light dichotomy at first. According to Brandon LaGreca, a Chinese medicine practitioner and director of East Troy Acupuncture in southeast Wisconsin, the biggest misconception people have with the yin/yang relationship is that they mistakenly interpret it as a struggle of good versus evil.
“Instead of opposites in conflict, think of it more as opposing forces in complement,” LaGreca said. “We need both of them. One is not better than the other. At face value, yang is male and yin is female, but you need both of those to have a species.”
To better understand the yin/yang relationship, take a step back to the beginning of this ancient origin story. In Taoist theory, the universe starts with the void or wuji— symbolized by an empty circle. From wuji comes taiji, and from taiji emerges all things. Once you become familiar with this pair of complementary forces, you can find poetic evidence for it everywhere around you: earth and sky, night and day, winter and summer, plants and animals, the rolling waves crashing against the rocky shore.
As modern scientists find their own ways to understand the world, they have also found elements that affirm the idea of yin and yang: The positive and negative charges of atomic elements, the equal and opposite reaction of Newton’s third law of motion, the growth and decline of all organisms and systems that are sometimes described as entropy and atrophy.
When yin and yang are in balance, life flourishes through the creative flow of natural law. But when these forces fall out of balance, the life force becomes warped and stagnant. Over time, this imbalance leads to disease and destruction.