The theory of Five Elements holds that wood, fire, earth, metal and water are five basic materials constituting the material world.
There is among them an inter-depending and inter-restraining relation which puts them in a state of constant motion and change.
“The skilled practitioner examines the countenance and feels the pulse. First dividing them into Yin and Yang, he judges the pure (Yang ) and the impure (Yin) and thus knows the diseased part of the body… He feels the pulse to ascertain whether it is floating (Yang), deep (Yin), slippery (Yang) or rough (Yin) and knows where the disease orginated. Thus, no mistake would be made both in diagnosis and in treatment.” – Su Wen (Plain Questions)
In the treatment of disease:
- If Yang is hot and over-abundant, thus injuring the Yin fluid (Yang excess causing a Yin disease), the surplus Yang can be decreased by a method called “cooling what is hot“;
- If Yin is cold and over-abundant, thus injuring the Yang Qi (Yin excess causing Yang disease), the surplus Yin can be decreased by the method called “heating what is cold“.
- If Yin fluid is deficient and so, unable to control the Yang, causes it to become violent; Or
- If Yang Qi is deficient and unable to control Yin, causes it to become over-abundant, then the deficiency must be tonified.
The Neijing (Internal Classic) describes the method:
Thus: “In Yang diseases treat the Yin; in Yin diseases treat the Yang.”
What are Yin and Yang?
Yin and Yang are:
- The Tao of heaven and earth (the basic law of opposition and unity in the natural world),
- The fundamental principle of the myriad things (all things can only obey this law and cannot transgress it),
- The originators (literally parents) of change (change in all things is according to this law),
- The beginning of birth and death (the birth and creating, death and destruction of all things begins with this law).
- The storehouse of Shen Ming (the location of all that is mysterious in the natural world).
- The treatment of disease must be sought for in this basic law (man is one of the living things of nature, so the curing of disease must be sought for in this basic law).
~ Shu Wen (Plain Question)
For life as we know it to be possible with all its richness and variety, its infinite potentialities for good and ill, this world had to be split in two. The Unity had to become a duality; and from this duality arose the idea of the complementary opposites, the negative and the positive, which the Chinese called the Yin and Yang. These two principles are at the very root of the Chinese way of life; they pervade all their art, literature and philosophy and are therefore also embodied in their theories of traditional medicine.
These principles are of course, up to a point, accepted in the West. Every phenomenon can be divided into its two contrary components. Male and female, hard and soft, good and bad, positive and negative electrical charges, laevorotary and dextrorotary chemical compounds – all these are “opposites “. It is indeed a fact that nothing can happen in the physical world unaccompanied by positive or negative electrical charges.
The perpetual interplay of the Yin and the Yang is the very keystone of thinking. It is the law operating throughout all existence that the states of Yin and Yang must succeed one another, so that, in a Yin condition, the corresponding Yang state can be precisely foretold. The practical application of this law to acupuncture can be illustrated thus:
In the natural world day night
clear day cloudy day
In the body surfaces of the body interior of the body
energy (Qi) blood
In disease acute/virulet chronic/non-active
hot feeling cold feeling
Organs Gall bladder Liver
small intestine Heart
Stomach Spleen (pancreas)
large intestine Lung
triple warmer pericardium
The qualities of Yin and Yang are relative, not absolute.
For example, the surface of the body is Yang, the interior is Yin. But this relation also remains constant within the body, for the surface of every internal organ is always Yang and its interior always Yin, down to the individual cells that compose it.
Similarly, a gas is Yang, a solid Yin; but among the gases the more rarefied are Yang, the denser are Yin. Life and death belong to Yang, growth and storage to Yin, so that
“if only Yang exists, there will be no birth; in only Yin exists, there will be no growth.”
The life of every organism depends upon the correct balance of its various components.
Since everything in the life can be classified according to its Yin and Yang components, it is said:
“Now the Yin/Yang has a name but no form. Thus it can be extended from one to ten, from ten to a hundred, from a hundred to a thousand, from a thousand to ten thousand (i.e. it can embrace all things).” – Ling Shu (Spiritual Pivot)
Each component not only opposes but also contains its opposite, for:
“There is Yin within the Yin and Yang within the Yang. From dawn till noon the Yang of the Heaven is the Yang within the Yang; from noon till dusk the Yang of heaven is the Yin within the Yang; from dusk till midnight the Yin of heaven is the Yin within the Yin; from midnight till dawn the Yin of heaven is the Yang within the Yin.” – Su Wen (Plain Questions)
Thus ”functional movement” belongs to Yang, ”nourishing substance” to Yin, nor can the one exist without the other; for, if the intestines and other internal organs do not move, ”nourishing substances” can not be digested and, if over a long period ”nourishing substances” are not provided, the organs cease to move.
“yin in the interior is the guardian of Yang; Yang in the exterior is the activator of Yin.” – Su Wen (Plain Questions)
The opposition of Yin and Yang is not static; it is a perpetually changing rhythm of movement, whose interplay produces growth, transformation and death.
“The relation of Yin and Yang is the means whereby the myriad things are able to come to birth, Yin and Yang react upon each other, producing change”. – Su Wen (Plain Questions)
This changing rhythm in the balance of Yin and Yang ensures that there is never an excess of either of these polar opposites, for overactivity of Yang is a once adjusted by the yielding passivity of Yin.\
“In winter on the 45th day (the beginning of spring) the Yang Qi is slightly superior and the Yin Qi slightly inferior; in summer on the 45th day (the beginning of autumn) the Yin Qi is slightly superior, the Yang Qi slightly inferior”. – Su Wen (Plain Questions)
In the former case, Yang Qi waxed with the upsurge of spring as Yin Qi Waned; in the latter, Yin Qi waxed with the decline to winter as Yang Qi waned.
”When speaking of Yin and Ynag, the exterior is Yang, the interior is Yin; when speaking of Yin and Yang in the human body, the back is Yang, the abdomen is Yin; when speaking of Yin and Yang of the Zang and Fu in the body, then the Zang are Yin, the Fu are Yang; liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidneys are all Yin, the gall bladder, stomach, large intestine, small intestine, bladder and triple warmer are all Yang.”
Thus the back is Yang and the Yang within the Yang is the heart.
The back is Yang and the Yin within the Yang is the lungs.
The abdomen is Yin and the Yin within the Yin is the kidneys.
The abdomen is Yin and Yang within the Yin is the liver.
The abdomen is Yin and the extreme Yin within the Yin is the spleen” – Su Wen (Plain Questions)
If this balance of Yin and Yang is upset there is a reaction:
“Excess of Yin causes a Yang disease, excess of Yang a Yin disease. Yang in excess produces heat and Yin in excess produces cold; If the heat is extreme, it will produce cold; and if the cold is extreme, it will produce heat.” – Su Wen (Plain Questions)