What is Yin and Yang?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Yin and yang are critical concepts to Chinese philosophy, and they are also integrated into Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chinese architecture, and many other branches of Chinese culture and society. Famously, these concepts are often represented with the yin/yang symbol, in which equal parts of black and white are shown in balance to demonstrate their harmony.

Meditation may be done to achieve balance, which is key to ying and yang.
Meditation may be done to achieve balance, which is key to ying and yang.

Rather than being actual forces or things, yin and yang are better understood as abstract concepts which explain a variety of phenomena. They are viewed as complementary, arising from the same root or action and transforming each other while also working in opposition. They also strive for balance, reaching for a state of equilibrium so that they will be at peace with the universe as a whole.

One of the classic representations of this concept is as male and female. Women are said to be “yin,” associated with things like water and cool temperatures, while men are “yang,” associated with fire and metal. Under the beliefs of Traditional Chinese Medicine, every body should have a proper balance of yin and yang, and it may be necessary to correct this balance with various practices, herbs, and foods.

Chinese martial arts incorporate the concept, and many other Asian martial arts traditions have picked up these concepts as well. Balance is a critical aspect of practicing martial arts effectively, and experienced practitioners may use a variety of techniques to achieve balance, including meditating and following traditional etiquette in matches and bouts.

Students of Chinese philosophy often integrate discussions of these two concepts into their analysis of philosophical issues, and the need for balance is also seen in practices such as feng shui. According the idea, everything in the universe has an opposite, and things can always be broken down into opposites. Fire and water, for example, are an example of opposites which are also complementary. One can destroy the other, but both need oxygen to exist, and both are critically important to life on Earth.

Chinese philosophers have been discussing yin and yang for centuries. They are part of the five movements or five elements which are also integrated into Chinese philosophy. These concepts have been explored since at least 1,000 BCE, when written discussions on these issues first began appearing, along with graphical illustrations and lively debates about the nature of the universe.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I think as with yin and yang, if you believe a philosophy to be true, you will adapt your life to fit the standards. I think it makes sense that most people are going to feel more balanced and at ease, when they take out both literal clutter and metaphorical clutter from there life.

If you believe completely in the yin and yang, you will be obsessed with it and never fully satisfied in your life because you will be so worried about perfectly balancing out your life.

I think balance is good to have in your life, but it shouldn't be the end all, be all of your life.

Anything you completely obsess over will take over your life, and you may find yourself more stressed out and confused than you were before you even starting obsessing.

I like the idea that women are the yin and men are the yang. One person can help another person balance themselves out, without even trying.

When you are in the right relationship, you will not have to try to balance/better your significant other, because you were both made to help each other out/balance each other out without trying.


@turkay1-- Achieving yin and yang in a home is not as hard as you think, and it doesn't require constant thinking and altering furniture.

All that is needed is to select the right types of colors and things for the rooms in your home. For example, in rooms where we would want more energy and activity like our office, we would put very lively colors and furniture.

In the rooms where we want less activity and more relaxation and rest, like our bedroom, we would use some basic light colors and keep away electronics from that room.

This itself establishes a nice balance in the home because both yang and yin is present. I have benefited from this concept a lot, I am more efficient at work and get a better night's sleep now.


A close friend of mine is very interested in feng shui and yin and yang. She has modeled her entire house based on these principles and has become a bit obsessed with where things are and which direction they are facing. She constantly wants there to be a balance in her home and thinks about this all the time.

I do believe in yin and yang opposites and that when there is an imbalance, these energies can have a negative effect on our mood or health. But I cannot live my life or set up my home completely based on this. A balance exists in nature, but I don't think it's possible to maintain that balance all the time around us.

What do you think? Is it right to constantly work to balance yin and yang?


I was looking through Chinese food recipes the other day and read an article about how yin and yang also applies to food, cooking and herbal remedies.

I learned that the Chinese believe that every food, spice or herb has either a yin or yang properties. So, it is either a cooling or a heating food. And they also believe that food should be prepared in a way that balances the yin and yang in an individual.

So if I caught a cold, and have an excess of yin, I need to eat foods which have yang properties so that I can balance it out and get over my cold.

I've never been very into the idea of Chinese yin and yang but this makes so much sense!

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