Are You Yin or Yang?

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The forces of yin and yang describe everything in the universe. Everything has its opposite, and yet, each is an intrinsic part of the other. Everything that exists has a yin as well as a yang aspect and health and the human being are no exception. In Chinese medicine, a person is seen to be made up of yin and yang forces. Each of the organ systems have yin and yang energies, and although this is a dynamic relationship and constantly changing, when these forces become unbalanced, illness can result. Below is a list of some of the basic things that are considered yin and yang, but remember, each of these individually also has a yin and yang aspect.

Yin

  • Darkness
  • Moon
  • Female
  • Night
  • Inwards
  • Contractive
  • Passive
  • Rest
  • Earth
  • Flat
  • Space
  • West
  • North
  • Right
  • Back
  • Below
  • Slow
  • Damp
  • Cold
  • Inside

Yang

  • Light
  • Sun
  • Male
  • Day
  • Outwards
  • Expansive
  • Active
  • Brightness
  • Activity
  • Heaven
  • Round
  • Time
  • East
  • South
  • Left
  • Front
  • Above
  • Fast
  • Dry
  • Hot
  • Outside

A human being also exhibits yin and yang energies. Each organ system is striving for a relative balance of its yin and yang forces, but the body as a whole often has a tendency to be more yin or yang. Are you the kind of person who can go out in the winter without a coat? Or do you need to wear socks and jammies to bed even on a hot sumer night? Are you drawn to frozen foods like ice cream, or do you crave hot drinks like tea and hot chocolate no matter what the season? Knowing the tendency of your body to be more yin or yang can help you determine how to bring it back into balance by using all the tools that Chinese medicine has in its impressive tool box.

The Yin and Yang of Foods

The Yin

Food therapy has been an integral part of Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The Chinese understood not only the medicinal properties of foods, but ascribed to each a thermal nature, contributing either a yang, or heating quality, a neutral energy or a yin or cooling energy to the body. This understanding, that all foods are either heating, cooling or neutral in nature helps to rebalance the body when the internal yin or yang energies are out of balance.

As part of my initial patient intake, I ask "are you a hot or cold person?" Most people know right away what the answer is. "Oh, I am always cold!" Or, "I am like a furnace running day and night." This is a clue to someone's relative level of yin or yang. Once you can determine if a person has an overabundance of yin or yang (cold or hot), I usually introduce a list of foods and their heating (yang), cooling (yin) or neutral nature. It is interesting how often a person with an overabundance of yang is actually eating mostly yang or heating foods, and a person with a constitution that is more yin may tend to eat more cooling foods. But this is the wonderful thing about Chinese medicine. Part of the job of the practitioner is to educate the patient and to empower them to participate in their healing. Once they become aware that they have a predominance of yin or yang, they can then take a list of foods and their yin or yang qualities and remove certain foods (that may be exacerbating the condition) and add in others to help the body to rebalance.

Here is a handy chart that lists some yin (cooling) and yang (warming) foods in Chinese medicine - but remember, there are neutral ones too.

Yin & Yang Foods in TCM : Chinese Medicine LivingThis lovely image thanks to rawayurveda.com

Yin & Yang Constitution

There are many clues that you can use to determine if you are constitutionally more yin or more yang. These are generalizations of course, an all of us have both yin as well as yang aspects, but below are some guidelines to help you recognize yin and yang traits in yourself and others.

Yang people tend to speak loudly, be excitable and move quickly (like fire). They tend to be robust, have thinner, stronger bodies, and can be red faced and passionate. Yang personalities are active, expansive and always on the move. They flare up and are changeable, like fire. They can also tend to frustration and anger.

Yin people tend to be quiet, move more slowly and are more grounded. They tend towards weight gain, or in Chinese medicine what is called dampness. They are generally soft spoken and introverted, enjoying to spend time by themselves. Yin personalities often have a rich inner life and live in their fertile imaginations. Yin people may also tend towards sadness and melancholy.

Yin & Yang Conditions

Diagnosis also depends on a deep understanding of yin and yang, and while there are many theories that are used in Chinese medicine to formulate a diagnosis, yin and yang are always a consideration. While each condition has a yin and a yang nature, there are some characteristics that point to weather a condition is more yin or yang.

Yang conditions tend to excess, exhibit heat and symptoms tend to change quickly. They are characterized by redness, swelling, red eyes, bitter taste, fevers, excess type headaches and pain with a sharp or intense nature.

Yin conditions tend to be deficient, exhibit cold or dampness and change slowly. They are characterized by discharges, lumps and bumps (dampness), a feeling of heaviness, slow movements and thinking, and a dull, achey type of pain.

The good news is, that once there has been a proper diagnosis, there are many ways to restore the relative balance of yin and yang in the body, from the foods you eat every day to acupuncture to Chinese herbs. Meditation and martial arts like Tai Chi and Qi Gong are also excellent to restoring health. Once you have an idea of your constitution, you can be aware of when you are swinging out of balance and will be armed with the tools to help yourself restore balance once again. Because the interplay between yin and yang is dynamic and constantly changing, it is helpful to be able to make small adjustments - which is why Chinese medicine works best as a medicine of prevention - rather than waiting until disease develops as the changes needed then are more drastic and generally things take longer to correct.

So... are you more yin, or more yang?? Once you begin to observe your behaviour and the ailments you tend towards, it might become obvious which you are predisposed to. But, hopefully, with the knowledge that there are foods, as well as other simple things that you can do to regain balance, it will help to keep you healthy in the present and long into the future. Yay Chinese medicine!!

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Curing Disease with Nutrition - Using Food as Medicine

Nutrition and dietary therapy is an essential aspect of Chinese medicine. The Chinese have known for thousands of years the direct correlation between what we eat and our health. Even before the development of acupuncture and Chinese herbs, foods were used by traditional peoples to heal diseases and build immunity.

The Chinese medicine model of nutritional therapy, or using foods as medicine, is sophisticated and there are many factors that contribute to determining what to eat when trying to heal from certain diseases or imbalances. Below, I will attempt to explain some of those factors and the way they can be used to not only heal us when we are sick but to keep up healthy so sickness never has a chance to develop.

Fighting Disease with Nutrition

Whole Foods

One of the things we’ve lost in our modern society is access to whole foods (not the grocery store) and an understanding of their value. We now live in a culture where refined foods such as white rice, white sugar, salts and processed oils (many extracted with chemical solvents) are ubiquitous and more desirable than their whole-grain counterparts. What’s worse is that stores make these processed foods readily available to meet demand and whole foods become harder and harder to find. In many larger cities, there may be access to health food stores, but even there, you’ll find scores of packaged foods with the same highly processed ingredients. Many people don’t realize that it is just as important to read labels in a health food store as it is anywhere else. Some of the worst offenders are foods sweetened with cane sugar. As an example, many products labelled organic use white sugar and various organic cane juices and cane juice powders – which are actually refined sugar. If you are striving for less processed foods in your diet, you should be looking for products that are specifically labelled unrefined. Alternatives to processed sugars include unrefined cane juice or powder, barley malt, rice syrup, date sugar or whole green stevia powder or green stevia extract.

Another unhealthy product which is difficult to metabolize and detrimental to our health is refined oils. Often these are labelled with words like “organic” or “expeller-pressed” which are both desirable, but again, unless they are specifically labelled unrefined they are refined and best avoided.  Refined oils and fats include canola oil, vegetable oils, margarine, shortening, virtually all oils used in restaurants, nearly all oils used in prepared foods in both supermarkets and health food stores and in things like bread, pastries, chips, and soups. The healthy alternative is unrefined cold-pressed flax oil, unrefined olive oil, unrefined sesame oil, and all other quality, unrefined and cold-pressed oils. Below is a chart of the refined foods found in supermarkets and some healthy alternatives.

refined sugar is bad for your health

Refined, Unhealthy Food

  • white sugar
  • cane juice
  • dried cane juice (often used in the health food industry)
  • cane sugar
  • *all above items should be labelled “unrefined” on labels or they are refined

Healthy Alternative

  • *unrefined cane juice or powder
  • barley malt
  • rice syrup
  • date sugar
  • whole green stevia powder
  • green stevia extract

unrefined oils are bad for your health

Refined Oils & Fats

  • canola oil
  • common vegetable oils
  • margarine
  • shortening
  • virtually all oils used in restaurants in fried and deep-fried foods
  • nearly all oils used in prepared foods sold in supermarkets and health food stores like pastries, cookies, chips, bread and soups

Healthy Alternative

  • unrefined and cold-pressed flax oil
  • unrefined olive oil
  • unrefined sesame oil

eating for health - Chinese medicine nutrition

The Thermal Nature of Foods and People

In Chinese medicine, all foods are seen to have a temperature, either hot or cold. Although this may seem overly simplistic, their actions on the body come from thousands of years of observation and empirical evidence and therefore have incredible diagnostic value in treating disease. What is also significant, however, is the thermal temperature of the person eating the foods as there is an important interaction which allows foods to be used to heal disease. There are some theories that help to explain the warming and cooling properties of foods.

  • Plants that take longer to grow, like cabbage, rutabaga, parsnip, carrot, and ginseng, are more warming than foods that grow more quickly like lettuce, cucumber, radish and summer squash.
  • Foods that are fertilized with chemicals, which causes them to grow more quickly are considered more cooling in nature. This includes most commercial fruits and vegetables
  • Raw food is more cooling than cooked food
  • Foods that are blue, green or purple in colour are often cooler than similar foods that are red, orange or yellow
  • Cooking foods at a lower heat for a longer time are considered more warming than foods that are cooked for a short time using high heat
  • Processes like fermenting and sprouting cause foods to be cooler in temperature

Of all the ways we manipulate foods, the most important is the method of cooking. This is why it is important to understand the ways in which different methods of cooking can change the thermal temperature of the foods we eat, especially when we are eating to help us fight disease. Cooking foods (as opposed to eating them raw) is a way for it to be more easily broken down and assimilated, and if the cooking time is short, few nutrients are lost and the ones that remain are more easily used by the body.

Heat Patterns

Imbalances in the body are what cause disease in Chinese medicine. Too much heat can be caused by too many heating foods or not enough cooling foods. It can also be caused by excessive physical activity, a high level of stress, long-standing or intense anger (the Liver is prone to heat and its emotion is anger), or being exposed to extreme temperatures. Below are some symptoms of heat in the body.

  • feeling of heat
  • dislikes heat
  • bright red tongue with a thick yellow coating
  • red face
  • red eyes
  • nosebleeds
  • canker sores
  • bad taste in the mouth
  • high blood pressure
  • haemorrhage
  • convulsions
  • delirium
  • very fast pulse
  • local inflammations, swellings, rashes, sores or skin eruptions
  • constipation (heat dries up fluids)
  • dry and smelly stools
  • dark yellow and scanty urine
  • blood in the stools or urine
  • desire to drink cold liquids
  • if stools or urine are excreted forcefully or urgently or have mucus that is yellow or green

watermelon is good in summer

Cooling Foods

One of the best things that we can do when we have excess heat in the body is to eat more cooling foods. Some other things that will help are to take it easy and slow down. Also, expressing emotions like anger and frustration as if these are continually unexpressed they cause heat to build up in the body which can lead to problems. Also, meat is considered very heating to the body, so if you are experiencing a lot of heat, you might try cutting back on meat and adding more cold foods to the diet to balance things out. Below is a list of cooling foods.

  • apples
  • bananas
  • pears
  • watermelon
  • all citrus fruits
  • lettuce
  • cucumber
  • celery
  • bok choy
  • broccoli
  • summer squash
  • spinach
  • eggplant
  • soy milk
  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • alfalfa sprouts
  • barley
  • wheat
  • amaranth
  • kelp and all seaweeds
  • clams
  • crab
  • spirulina
  • peppermint
  • cilantro
  • lemon balm

Lemons Cooling Foods

Cold Patterns

Too much cold in the body can come from a lack of physical activity, exposure to a cold environment or eating too many cooling foods such as raw foods which are considered cold. Internal cold can also arise from not eating enough warming foods, especially in the colder months. Below are some signs and symptoms of cold in the body.

chilly sensations
dislike of cold
wanting to drink warm foods and liquids
copious, clear urine
stiffness
watery, loose diarrhoea
fearfulness (the Kidney is associated with fear and is particularly susceptible to cold)
pain that is fixed
white complexion
a runny nose

cold

Heating Foods

  • Mussels
  • Shrimps
  • Chicken
  • Chicken Livers
  • Lamb
  • Lamb Kidney
  • Beef
  • Quinoa
  • Spelt
  • Black Beans
  • Almonds
  • Coconut
  • Peanuts
  • Pine Nuts
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsley
  • Parsnip
  • Cherry

heart fruits and vegetables

Food therapy in Chinese medicine is complex, but looking at how people and foods are seen to have a thermal nature is a simple way to begin to look at your body, its symptoms and the foods you eat so that you can begin to understand how you are reacting to certain foods, and potentially, how to add and subtract certain foods from your diet depending on the symptoms you are experiencing in an attempt to rebalance and stay healthy.

Food is something we eat every day and the Chinese knew this was (and still is) the best medicine we have at our disposal. Learning how foods can heal us and keep us in balance is the best and most efficient way that we can fight off disease and stay healthy for many years to come. And the Chinese weren’t the only ones who knew the value of eating well…

 

Hippocrates

If you are having health concerns and would like assistance, Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP offers Skype consultations.
Please email info@chinesemedicineliving.com for more info.