By Shihan Mary Bolz
Master of Science Oriental Medicine
Doctoral Fellow, FBU
Master Martial Arts Instructor
So you think it was Albert Einstein who discovered the theory of relativity? Well, there has been a theory of relativity, which has existed for as long as at least 3,000 years ago, starting in China. A Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor bases all of his/her principles of practice on that theory. It is extremely sound, and that law never changes. If you let someone as recent in history as Albert Einstein influences you, why would you not consider his predecessors? Have you ever heard of Hegel, a German idealist philosopher? George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was a philosopher of his time who described reality in terms of the pattern of dialectical reasoning. He criticized the Western traditional epistemological distinction of objective from subjective and offered his own dialectical account of the development of consciousness. He had a comprehensive worldview that encompasses the historical development of civilization in all of its forms. Oriental thinking has a relational, interactive, and process-oriented thinking that somewhat resembles Hegelian theory. This thinking and the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the theory of yin-yang. The whole is a contingent structure, in reciprocal interaction with its own parts and with the greater whole of which it is a part. Which is the part, which the whole changes because of their relationship is, and how the interactions take place. Constants become variables, causes become effects and systems regenerate and destroy the conditions that created them. This is nature–constant change and interaction. In Oriental medicine, the doctor is a detective, an artist, a gardener, a teacher, a student. A teacher of his/her patients, a student of the universe, a gardener of his/her patient’s being (body, mind, spirit) and an artist in the application of treatments for the patients.
The theory of relativity starts with the Dao, the basis of Tai Ji Quan (Tai Chi) and of Oriental medicine. It is the unity of all things and the way the universe works. It is not a religion in any way, shape. It is a theory of the universe, just as any other theory created by the Western minds. If you can accept the theories of Western physicists and scientists, you can accept Dao. Yin-Yang emerges from the Dao, the unity. Yin-Yang is a symbolic representation of the universal process that portrays a changing rather than static picture of reality. Yin-Yang can also show the different aspects of this process of constant change. You may use any words, which show yin-yang, it does not matter. It is a concept of the two opposing, yet complementary and necessary forces in the universe. You can think of them as opposite poles that constantly interact.
Yin and Yang must be looked at as states of reality without any moral judgment. Yin and Yang are not good and bad; they are terms applied to actual objective observed states of nature. The Western scientific method prides itself on objective observation. From the objective observations and repetition of like phenomena, a theory is created. Oriental thought is the ultimate in objective observations and repeated experimentation. Whether an observation is predominately yin or predominately yang in nature depends on the point of view of the observer. It is relative. Here is a Daoism poem:
To the frogs in a temple pool
The Lotus stems are tall;
To the gods of Mount Everest
An elephant is small.
Where do the terms yin and yang come from? They come from the Chinese characters that represent them. The Chinese written language originally comes from pictures. These characters portray the side of a mountain. The shady side of the mountain, where the sun does not hit as strongly is the yin side. The sunny side of the mount is the yang side. Observe these characters and these pictures.
As the sunrises and moves across the sky, the warmth and light of the morning sun on the one side of the slope moves to the other side and the afternoon occurs. The sunny and shady sides merge and then alternate. Yang becomes yin and yin becomes yang. This same principle is everywhere in the universe. When day turns into night, the entire mountain becomes dark and cool. When the moon starts to shine on the dark mountain, the light of the moon is then “Yang (bright) within Yin (dark). Therefore, yin changes to yang and yang changes to yin. These designations are made only in relation to each other. The sun is brighter and hotter (yang) in comparison to the earth, which is darker and cooler (yin). However, the earth is yang in relation to the moon, which is more small and cold. Now, remember too, that there is yang within yin and yin within yang. Notice the Tai Ji symbol.
Everything is always in constant motion and all processes are cyclic, everything contains its opposite. This starts the so-called dilemma of what comes first, the chicken or the egg. There is no dilemma in this. In Chinese philosophy this is not a dilemma, it is transcended; they are accepted as merely inseparable agents of the process of what exists. It does not matter which comes first, there is really no first or second. It is a cycle. Cause from effect does not need to be separated. One turns into the other in an ever-repeating cycle. The day does not cause the night, birth does not cause death, summer does not cause winter, and they just are. It is useless to know which came first, what matters are how they interact. Why am I going into all this? Because Oriental medicine diagnostics is based on patterns and cycles and balance. Understanding these patterns and cycles very well is the key to turning around ill health. Yin changes to Yang, and vice versa, if only you know how to do it, or what not to do.
Properties assigned to yin-yang are as follows: Yin is at the core, sinking, condensed, and internal. Yang is at the surface, rising, dispersed, external. The vapor in the air accumulates and condenses into clouds. This cloud, the condense mass of vapor builds until it is discharged (Yang) when the weight and density of the moisture transforms into thunder, lightning, and rain. Relative to yang, yin is quiet, static, contracting and soft, whereas Yang is dynamic, active, expanding, and hard. If there is a fort with soldiers inside, protected and hidden from threat and you compare it with the battlefield, the battlefield would be yang and the fort yin. Health is a balance between yin-yang and sickness is the result of a deficiency or excess, or a Yin-Yang disharmony. Survival is based on an organism’s ability to adapt to changing conditions and maintain equilibrium. Yin-Yang harmony is a metaphor for maintaining adaptability and equilibrium.
You can see the yin-yang in the stages of the human life from conception to birth, growth, decline, and death. Youth (Yang) is like the rabbit – quick, capricious, erratic, and light. Older age (Yin) is more like the tortoise – slow, deliberate, dense, and persevering. Expanding and filling our chests with air, we are in the yang phase of respiration, when we exhale and empty our lungs; we are in the contractive, Yin phase.
Yin is the material base, the tissue, for the transforming of power (yang) which then reorganizes and regenerates. Food (yin) is transmuted by metabolic activity (yang) into more substance (tissue) and more energy (activity). Understanding this, it is not difficult to see why “we are what we eat.” Yes, literally.
The internal organs of the body, hidden and protected from external influence are Yin relative to the exposed skin and muscles, which are Yang. The lower part of the body is in contact or rooted to the ground, Yin; whereas the upper body is able to move freely, Yang, even when the legs are rigid. The front of the body is protected by folding the arms and legs to enclose the chest and abdomen, whereas the back of the body is relatively exposed. Therefore, the front is more Yin relative to the back, which is more Yang.
Immunity functions as the first line of defense in the human body (Yang), guarding the surface protects against internal harm. The army in the field wards off the attacks on the inside. If the troops in front are weak, the fort is unable to ward off attack and the enemy forces penetrate the protective walls. If the Yin forces inside the fort are not strong, supplies and food are insufficient to meet the fighters’ need to refuel the energy they have expended. Remember the Yin fort provides the substance that keeps the Yang going in the field. The troops on the outside rely on the troops on the inside and vice-versa. They are mutually dependent and mutually support each other, the system is indivisible. Indivisible-that is an important concept to know and remember. Seeing this interdependence, you may just begin to understand, just a little, that the Oriental medical doctor is more like a farmer tending a field. One must understand the forces of nature and work according to them. The Western doctor, (allopathic medicine) is more like the mechanic; this is more like the theory of Decartes. In the Western scientific model, life is dissected into separable, discrete parts within the context of a fixed and stable environment that can be measured objectively. In the Chinese model, life is about the dynamic, constantly shifting relationships of one functional system with another, within the context of the whole system; the aspects of the personality and body function as interdependent entities.
The models of East and West are different, as is the point of view, the methods, the outcomes. What works for the farmer out in the field may not work in the factory. Compost does not nourish a machine and oil and gas does not nourish the soil. Oriental medicine readjusts balance, enhancing self-healing and helping chronic, long-term problems. Allopathic medicine affects the structural components, suppressing and eliminating pathologic phenomena, intervening in life threatening crises. In Western medicine, disease is understood primarily as a defect of structure, and there is no “real” basis for a functional disorder.
Functional problems like migraine, fatigue, mental illness, colitis, rheumatism, asthma, menstrual cramps, etc. are often difficult for allopathic medicine to deal with since they cannot be shown to originate in the body and are sometimes relegated to the mysterious realm. Oriental medicine has in its power to detect and meaningfully describe dysfunction even if the structures appear normal. That is why many Western medical doctors will say, “there is nothing wrong with you.” The ability of Oriental medicine to read the body and help conditions before and after they occur is great.
Once structural damage has occurred, however, allopathic medicine can be quite useful. Determining what malignant carcinoma is or what bacteria are responsible for a given infection is part of its strengths. Separating the problem from the person can be effective for major diseases and infections. Both Oriental medicine and Western medicine have their strengths and weaknesses and there is value in each and both. It is time for the West to realize the great strengths of traditional Oriental medicine in addition to their conventional allopathic medicine.