The Yin-Yang and Five Element Theories

By Grandmaster Shou-Yu Liang and Master Wen-Ching Wu

In an attempt to understand and describe the phenomenon of the universe, ancient Chinese philosophers, astrologers, and doctors, used the Yin-Yang and Five Element Theories to describe everything in the cosmos. The Yin-Yang and Five Element Theories have been the basic reasoning behind all ancient Chinese natural science. Ancient Chinese believed that the production, the development, and the changes of everything in the cosmos were the result of the interaction of yin-qi and yang-qi. The interaction of yin-qi and yang-qi is also used in the description of the interactions within the fundamental elements. These five symbolic elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water which make up the universe. Table 1-1 shows the classifications of the human body and nature in the Five Elements.

HUMAN BODY Emotions Anger Joy Pensiveness Sorrow Fear
Anatomy Tendons Blood Vessels Muscles Skin and Hair Bones
Specific Openings Eyes Tongue Mouth Nose Ears
Bowels Gall Bladder Small Intestine Stomach Large Intestine Urinary Bladder
Viscera Liver Heart Spleen Lungs Kidneys
NATURE Directions East South Center West North
Seasons Spring Summer Late Summer Autumn Winter
Weather Wind Hot Wet Dry Cold
Developments Production Growth Transformation Harvest Storage
Colors Green Red Yellow White Black
Tastes Sour Bitter Sweet Spicy Salty
Table 1-1

The basic theory behind the five elements can be summed up by two normal and three adverse interactions. Mutual Nourishment (interpromoting) and Mutual Restraint (interacting), are normal cyclic patterns. Mutual Over-Restraint (encroachment), Reverse-Restraint (violating), and Mutual Burdening are the adverse conditions. By understanding the cyclic patterns in the human organs (elements) and the possible adverse conditions, the illness of one organ can also indicate problems in the corresponding organs.

Mutual Nourishment refers to the cyclic enhancement or interpromoting pattern of the Five Elements. In this normal cycle, each element gives and receives nourishment in the cyclic pattern. Mutual Restraint refers to the cyclic neutralizing of the elements in order to keep each other in check and balance. Mutual Nourishment and Restraint cycles are not independent cycles. They interact with each other and are closely related. Drawing 1-3 is a typical representation of the normal cyclic interactions of the Five Elements.

Mutual Nourishment Cycle and Mutual Restraint Cycle, Yin-Yang

Everything in the great cosmos contains many linkages. Any object that has any type of interaction with another object, and within itself, has an opposing, yet interdependent nature. This opposing, yet interdependent nature, is due to the interaction of yin and yang. The Yin-Yang philosophy is a means to understand and grasp the lays of nature. It is the empirical reasoning for the production, development, and perishing of all things in the great cosmos.

Drawing 1-4 is the most commonly used symbol to represent the yin-yang philosophy. This symbol is known as Taiji - the grand ultimate. The big enclosed circle symbolizes the whole universe. The curvature within the circle symbolizes the opposing, yet interdependent nature of yin and yang. The black (yin) and the white (yang) tear drop shapes symbolize the decreasing and increasing of yin and yang, as well as, thetransformation of yin and yang. At the highest concentration of yang there is black dot, and at the highest concentration of yin, there is white dot. The dots symbolize that yin and yang are not absolute. They are not only interdependent, by there are subdivisions of yin and yang within yin and within yang.

The Yin-Yang Theory is primarily used to describe the opposing, interdependent, waxing and waning, and transformational nature of all things in the cosmos. The Five Element Theory is primarily used to explain characteristics, classifications, and the law of mutual nourishment and mutual restraint. In the practical applications of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements, they are used in conjunction with one another.

Human physiology, and the causes and development of diseases are also within the Yin-Yang and Five Element Theories. In the Spring-Autumn and Warring Kingdom periods in China (8th-3rd Century B.C.), the Yin-Yang and Five Element philosophy was appended into Chinese medicine to describe human physiology, illness, herbal characteristics, and the relationship between humans and nature. This effectively guided the diagnostic and healing processes and became an important component of Chinese medicine.

In traditional Chinese medicine, yin-yang also refers to the various antitheses in the human bodywhich occur in the anatomy, physiology, pathology, diagnosis and treatment. For example, the material aspect of the body is yin, and the functional aspect of the body is yang. The five elements are used in traditional Chinese medicine to expound on the unity of the human body and the environment, and the physiological and pathological relationship between the human internal organs.