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Chinese Medicine: The Tao & Yin Yang

Chinese Medicine is deeply rooted in two fundamental concepts of Chinese philosophy, which may be unfamiliar to Westerners. As a Westerner endeavoring to integrate these concepts into my worldview, I'll do my best to introduce them as I understand them.

The Tao: The Tao represents an ancient, naturalistic understanding of the world that naturally evolved among the Chinese people due to their profound connection to the heavens and the earth for sustenance. It acknowledges that the natural world follows discernible patterns, including the cycles of night and day, the seasons, decay, and regeneration. It emphasizes that human well-being is intricately tied to these patterns. By aligning one's life with these patterns, harmony can be achieved, while disregarding them can lead to hardship. The Nei Ching, a foundational text of traditional Chinese medicine, written around 2600 B.C., states that “..those who follow the Tao achieve the formula of perpetual youth and maintain a youthful body. Although they are old in years they are still able to produce offspring.” These are two very desirable outcomes which modern health care seeks to fulfill. To maintain youthfulness in ones body and to be fertile. In these regards I feel there is so much more progress to be made in uncovering what has been forgotten rather than discovering something new. In our pursuit of well-being, we can engage with the Tao and discover how to live in harmony with our natural world, as those who came before us intimately understood.

Yin and Yang: The concepts of Yin and Yang are essential for anyone engaging with Chinese Medicine to understand. Originally represented by the shady side of a hill (Yin) and the sunny side of a hill (Yang), they embody opposing, yet interdependent forces. Yang symbolizes qualities such as the sun, heat, heaven, summer, light, clarity, ethereality, energy, expansion, and an upward and outward movement. In contrast, Yin represents the moon, earth, night, water, winter, darkness, substance, contraction, and a downward motion. The interplay of these opposites influences everything. According to Giovanni Maciocia in "The Foundation of Chinese Medicine," the Yin-Yang relationship can be summarized in four key concepts: the opposition of Yin and Yang (e.g., heat dispels cold, water quenches fire, and light dispels darkness), the interdependence of Yin and Yang (neither can exist without the other), the mutual consumption of Yin and Yang (each influences the other to generate change, akin to the cycle of water evaporating with heat, rising, then cooling and condensing, and falling), and the intertransformation of Yin and Yang (a regulated, predictable transformation, such as night turning to day or a chicken hatching from an egg). These transformations require specific conditions to occur, both internally and externally, similar to the precise ingredients and external temperature needed for baking a cake.

To integrate these concepts into your life, begin by observing your surroundings: How do plants in your area change with the seasons? How do animals behave differently from day to night? How do you feel when watching the sunrise? How does the wind affect your skin and muscles? Is your dinner more Yin or Yang in nature? By viewing the world through the lens of these concepts: Yin and Yang, and the Tao, I hope you too can find greater harmony and connection to the great mystery unfolding around us.


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