art: giphy

art: giphy

Yin and Yang (also denoted as yinyang or Yin-yang) is a concept that many of us have casually encountered, even if we’re not familiar with its Chinese roots. Yin-Yang is derived from Taoism, along with practices like feng shui and qigong. The concept is a way of understanding duality, paradox, balance, and harmony by working to understand how two halves make up a whole.

The almost universally recognizable symbol for yin and yang is one of the variants of a Taoist diagram referred to as the taijitu. The taijitu dates back to at least 600 BCE to a tool used for an ancient method of cosmology or timekeeping in China. Iterations closer to the modern-day symbol emerged sometime during the 1960s.

The black half of the circle represents the yin side and the white half of the circle represents yang. The curved line that separates the two halves signifies how the two halves are intertwined and how one flows into the other. The small dots of one color inside the other represent how each contains an element of the other.

Yin and yang carry various associations that are useful for reflection. Yin means shady side and yang means sunny side. Yin is typically associated with feminine energy, introversion, the cold, the moon, passive qualities, and the dark. Yang is typically associated with masculine energy, extroversion, heat, the sun, active qualities, and light. Yin is also associated with existence and yang is associated with non-existence. Understanding the movement from existence to non-existence is seen as gaining a deep level of wisdom. More generally the symbol and philosophy tied to it are used to consider how both the universe and people as individuals are governed by both competing and complementary energies of yin and yang.


With regard to timekeeping, yang is associated with the period of the year in which light dominates darkness, while yin is associated with the darker periods of the year. Each period still contains both night and day and there can’t be shadows without light, a demonstration of the balance that’s inherent to the philosophy. Seeking out this balance of yin and yang is a core part of the philosophy.

The pursuit of balance has been seen in aspects of Chinese culture (including literature, politics, and science) for thousands of years. The ideas of yin and yang can apply to multiple areas of our lives. Balancing the two halves of the whole is also fundamental to some traditional Chinese healing practices as well as the Taoist movement practice of QiGong.

In QiGong, the upper body corresponds to the yang, while the lower body is tied to the yin. The body’s center is where yin and yang meet. Many movement practices, both Chinese and otherwise, focus on strengthening and moving from this core. Regardless of whether we’re talking about emotional, intellectual, or physical balance, the key thing to note is that because yin and yang are constantly melding into each other, finding balance is an ongoing process and we should be patient with ourselves as we’re seeking it out.

Eleanor IgweComment