Cultures and customs from ancient times are always fascinating to learn about. The story and meaning behind yin and yang, known by some as simply yin-yang, is no different.
Yin and yang are ancient Chinese concepts that gradually developed over time, first originating thousands of years in the past. To give a simple elevator pitch, the yin-yang philosophy believes that two cosmic deities work in tandem to govern the universe. These two energies are polar opposites and can be observed through nature if we take the time to slow down and observe our surroundings.
The History Behind Yin and Yang
The ideas behind the yin-yang philosophy began to circulate in Chinese culture long ago. We’re not entirely sure how early it actually originated, but we can look to written records in order to make an educated guess. Ancient writings mentioning yin and yang first crop up from the Yin dynasty. This dynasty held power from roughly 1400 BC to 1100 BC, making the concept of these twin natures over 3000 years old.
The oldest records of the actual philosophy behind the yin and yang come from the Western Zhou dynasty in the 9th century in a book titled The Book of Changes. The concept really began increasing in popularity from 800 BC to 200 BC. Since then it has influenced almost every aspect of Chinese culture from martial arts and science to literature selections, political beliefs, and the daily minutiae of the Chinese people’s lives. Many beliefs probably stem from popular philosophers running with and adapting the ideas of yin and yang in their own lives, including Confucius.
The Yin Yang Symbol: Beauty and Simplicity
Most people are already pretty familiar with the yin yang symbol, which is sometimes referred to as the tai chi symbol. It’s popular in many forms of media and has probably been known to you since you were a pretty small child. The symbol is a circle divided into two equal parts by a curved line. One side of the circle is black. This represents yin. The other side, representing yang, is white, the polar opposite to the color across from it.
Each half has a small circle in the center, the color of which is that of the opposite side of the symbol. This is done to show that each side carries the seed, or essence, of the other. This tells us that in order to thrive in life, these forces must coexist and form a perfect union, as we should too with those around us. The curved line separating the two halves of the yin-yang symbol shows that though they are opposites, there is no strict separation between anything: all things exist together and effect each other.
Everything must always strive towards peace, harmony, and balance.
The Origin of the Yin Yang Symbol
Though the principles and philosophy behind yin and yang have been around for a few thousand years at least, the symbol is a newer trademark of this system of belief, and its origins are unknown to many. Surprisingly, the symbol actually has ties to the ancient Chinese way of keeping track of the changing days, months, and seasons.
Around 600 BC, the Chinese would keep track of the solar year. They did so by using a pole to measure and record the lengths of shadows. They would do this at different times during the year to track how these shadows changed with the seasons. It is believed that the yin-yang symbol is a visual representation of how these shadows change and shift.
Yang is closely tied to the sun in peoples minds because it begins at winter solstice. It represents days when light rules over the dark and nights are short. Yin plays the opposite role, beginning at summer solstice and often being associated with darkness or night since it goes through the time when darkness is more prevalent than light.
The connection between the yin-yang symbol is even more deeply tied to shadows. Consider that some believe the symbol also charts how the Big Dipper moves in the sky throughout the year and you’ll see how this philosophy is tied to almost every aspect of the human experience.
Yin is typically viewed as feminine energy, or the female side to the duality of the universe. Yin is associated with cold and the color black. It is meant to be a divine, feminine energy. Typical characteristics are gentleness, wisdom, introversion, persistence, relaxation and peace.
Yin is a gentle energy. It guides you in a way that feels like a comforting touch. Those who are working in a gentle care taking role are embodying yin energy into themselves.
Yin is a slow kind of energy that appreciates taking time to grow as a person both in the spiritual and physical realm. Slowing down to sip a coffee and learn something new is a way to feel more yin.
Though our society tends to value loudness and extroversion, yin energy values things that stand out in a quieter way. Feminine energy is quieter and more introverted than male yang energy, since yin is about solitude and self reflection.
Steady growth and stability are hallmarks of yin energy. Persistence is tied right along with this growth. Yin is at play when a project is worked on for days or weeks at a time, and is rewarded accordingly.
Yin is not the energy of getting everything done. Rather it is the energy that reminds us to balance things out and relax when our bodies and minds are telling us to. Sweet relaxation and a mother-like nurturing are two things that are often associated with yin.
Our ultimate goal in life is to find peace, both within ourselves and as a society at large. Yin energy is soothing and gentle, bringing about a slow sense of peace that is very grounding. Bringing more yin energy into our homes and lives can help calm us and lessen symptoms of anxiety.
Yin is a calming and peaceful energy to embody. However, the entire principle behind yin-yang is balance. If there is too much yin in the body, you may experience negative effects such as:
- Feeling lazy or sluggish
- Feeling blue or down in the dumps
- Weight gain and overeating
- Slowed or cloudy thinking
Yang is in direct opposition to yin. This is often considered to be the male side of the equation. Associated with the color white and heat, yang is a fiery energy full of life and passion. Common character traits associated with yang energy include courage, ambition, having a sense of adventure, action, excitability, and extroversion.
Yang energy is not timid. It involves seeing what you want and going for it. No hesitation. Jumping headfirst into the unknown is a yang powered move that can reap a lot of benefits. Yang gives us the bravery needed to move through life always evolving, instead of remaining stagnant.
The hot white energy of yang leads to a lot of productiveness and ambition. If there’s ever been a time in your life when you were super motivated to accomplish huge tasks, you were probably running on yang.
Yang is a powerful energy that can move us to do things that might otherwise seem scary, like going on a cross-country adventure.
Taking action is directly linked to motivation and ambition. Since ambition thrives in masculine yang energy, so too does taking actionable steps that lead to accomplishing a goal.
While yin is calm and soothing, yang is go, go, go! Lots of pent up yang can make you feel antsy or full of energy. This can happen before a big project or trip, where excitement overflows from your being.
This fiery hot energy is very out there and outspoken. Those carrying a lot of yang around inside them might be loud and boisterous. They are drawn to people and like to spend their time actively doing things with those they love.
Like yin, yang needs to be properly balanced in the body. Being out of whack can effect both your physical and mental health. If you’re yang heavy, you may experience a range of symptoms, including:
- An inability to sit still/restlessness
- Anger or unexplained irritability
- Insomnia or poor quality of sleep
- Uncontrolled emotions that lead to violence
- Impulse control problems or an addiction to substances
A Fine Balance
The yin-yang principle is one of the simplest yet most complex philosophical ideas in existence. These two dualities reside inside all of us. By keeping them in harmony, we’re better able to lead happy, prosperous lives. When we are in balance, we can work on balancing the rest of the world.