The theory of yin and yang is one of the most fundamental ideas in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It is based on the cycles of nature, such as night turning into day, and winter transforming through spring and into summer, then back through autumn and into winter once again.
Yin and yang are complementary opposites. Yin represents darkness, cold, water, stillness, and rest. Yang represents light, warmth, fire, movement, and activity.
Yin and yang are both present within the human body as well as in nature. In order to be healthy, our bodies’ yin and yang must be in a constant state of balance. A deficiency of yin can lead to symptoms of heat and dryness within the body. Likewise, a deficiency of yang can lead to symptoms of cold and dampness.
The main symptoms of yang deficiency include:
- Feeling cold most of the time
- Cold hands and feet
- Weak or difficult breathing
- Sweating easily
- Frequent urination or incontinence
- Loose stools
If you are suffering from yang deficiency, you may also have other symptoms depending on which organ is being affected. The organs most commonly affected by yang deficiency are the Heart, the Spleen, and the Kidneys.
The Heart is responsible for the circulation of blood, and also plays an important role in our mental health. In TCM, the Heart is said to house the mind. This means that any imbalances of the Heart can lead to psychological problems. It also means that any long-term emotional stress can negatively impact the Heart.
The most common cause of Heart-yang deficiency is chronic sadness or depression. It can also be caused by severe blood loss following an injury, hemorrhage, or childbirth.
The final possible cause of Heart-yang deficiency is chronic Kidney-yang deficiency. This comes about because the Kidneys are the source of all yang energy in the body, and they have a very close relationship with the Heart. In the five element cycle, the Kidneys are governed by water, and the Heart is governed by fire. In nature, water controls fire, stopping it from burning everything in its path. Likewise, fire warms water, stopping it from freezing into solid ice. In a similar way, Heart-fire is responsible for warming and moving Kidney-yin, and Kidney-water is responsible for cooling and nourishing Heart-yang.
If the Kidneys are deficient, they will not have enough energy to push their water up towards the Heart, which will also become deficient over time.
The symptoms of Heart-yang deficiency include:
- Stuffiness in the chest
- Difficulty breathing on exertion
- Excessive sweating
- Cold body and limbs
- Pale skin
The Spleen is one of the major digestive organs in TCM. It relies on yang energy to power its function of transforming and transporting fluids and nutrients extracted from food. If Spleen-yang becomes deficient, it cannot do this effectively and the whole system becomes weakened. This can lead to digestive issues as well as other symptoms throughout the body.
Spleen-yang can be weakened by a number of different factors. One is mental overwork, as the Spleen is responsible for digesting thoughts and ideas as well as food. Eating while concentrating on something else is particularly harmful because of this.
Your diet also has a direct impact on your Spleen. Regularly eating cold or raw foods, or drinking iced drinks can all injure Spleen-yang and weaken your digestion. Living in a cold and damp climate can also lead to Spleen-yang deficiency over time.
The major symptoms of Spleen-yang deficiency are:
- Poor appetite
- Abdominal bloating after food
- Loose stools
- Weak or cold limbs
- Pale skin
In TCM, the Kidneys are seen as the source of all yin and yang within the body. They are also said to house what is known as the ming men, or “gate of vitality.” This is like a fire burning between our two Kidneys, warming our bodies and providing energy for our organs to carry out their vital functions.
When Kidney-yang becomes deficient, the fire of the ming men becomes weaker. This means that this syndrome can have a knock-on effect throughout the whole body. As previously mentioned, chronic Kidney-yang deficiency can lead to Heart-yang deficiency, and it is often found in combination with Spleen-yang deficiency too.
Kidney-yang deficiency can arise from chronic illness, or simply as a result of old age. It can also be caused by excessive sexual activity, especially if you are exposed to cold conditions soon afterwards.
The symptoms of Kidney-yang deficiency include:
- Sore, cold lower back
- Sore, cold, or weak knees
- Dislike of cold weather
- Pale skin
- Frequent urination (possibly only small amounts each time)
- Loose stools
- Premature ejaculation in men
- Infertility in women
One of the Kidneys roles is to transform fluids, along with the Spleen. If these two organs do not have enough yang to do this properly, water can begin to collect in the body, leading to symptoms of edema, especially in the legs. If this water overflows to the Heart, it can cause palpitations, shortness of breath, and cold hands. If it overflows to the Lungs, it can cause a cough with thin, watery sputum, asthma, and shortness of breath on exertion.
How to Prevent Yang Deficiency
One of the best ways to prevent yang deficiency is by ensuring that you maintain an appropriate balance between exercise and rest. Exercising is a yang activity, and doing it regularly can help you to build up your reserves of yang. However, if your capacity to use this extra yang energy goes beyond its maximum point, it will begin to turn into yin, and you will become exhausted. This is why it is important to exercise, but not to overdo it on a regular basis.
Yang represents warmth, and keeping warm is another good way to nourish your yang energy. Wrap up well when you go outside in cold weather, and take particular care to keep your Kidneys warm. Wear long sweaters and pants with a high waist when you go out. You could even try wrapping a scarf around your lower back and abdomen if it is especially chilly. In summer, avoid sitting directly under air conditioning units, and resist the temptation to consume cold drinks and snacks.
Ensuring that you have enough warmth in your diet is also a good way to keep your yang energy topped up. As well as eating more foods which are warm in temperature, try incorporating foods and spices with a warming nature into your meals. This could include red meats like beef or lamb, vegetables such as onions, and spices like garlic, ginger, and cinnamon. If you use chili peppers in your cooking, do not overdo it. Too much strong spice will make you sweat and cool you down, another example of too much yang transforming back into yin.
Acupuncture for Yang Deficiency
If you are suffering from yang deficiency, acupuncture and Chinese herbs may help. Your provider is likely to choose acupuncture points to nourish your Kidneys as well as supporting your Heart and Spleen if necessary. The back of the body is considered more yang than the front, so do not be surprised if they use a lot of points in this area.
In TCM, there is a tradition of treating winter disease in summer and vice versa. If you suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma or frequent colds, especially if they are worse in winter, it could be due to deficient yang. The idea is that by treating these diseases in summer, when the Earth’s yang energy is at its peak, you can take advantage of nature and store up enough yang to last you through the winter months.
Treatment for yang deficiency may also involve warming herbal formulae and the use of moxa, a warming herb which is often used in combination with acupuncture. Your provider will also be able to give you personalized dietary and lifestyle advice to help you boost your yang energy, and restore balance to your body and mind.