What is Yin Yang?

Yin Yang is perhaps the most known and documented concept used within Taoism.

A starting definition: Yin / Yang : Two halves that together complete wholeness. Yin and yang are also the starting point for change. When something is whole, by definition it is unchanging and complete. So when you split something into two halves – yin / yang, it upsets the equilibrium of wholeness. This starts both halves chasing after each other as they seek a new balance with each other.

The word Yin comes out to mean “shady side” and Yang “sunny side”.

Yin Yang is the concept of duality forming a whole. We encounter examples of Yin and Yang every day. As examples: night (Yin) and day (Yang), female (Yin) and male (Yang). Over thousands of years quite a bit has been sorted and grouped under various Yin Yang classification systems.

The symbol for Yin Yang is called the Taijitu. Most people just call it the yin yang symbol in the west. The taijitu symbol has been found in more than one culture and over the years has come to represent Taoism.

Diving Deeper into Yin Yang

Yin Yang illustrated from the Tao Te Ching [2]

When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.

Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.


Basic Concepts Defining the Nature of Yin Yang
  1. Neither Yin nor Yang are absolute. Nothing is completely Yin or completely Yang. Each aspect contains the beginning point for the other aspect. For example: day becomes night and then night becomes day…Yin and Yang are interdependent upon each other so that the definition of one requires the definition for the other to be complete.
  2. Yin Yang is not static. The nature of Yin and Yang flows and changes with time. A simple example is thinking about how the day gradually flows into night. However, the length of day and night are changing. As the earth ages, its spin is slowing causing the length of day and night to get longer. Day and night are not static entities.Sometimes changes in the relationship between Yin and Yang can be dramatic where one aspect can literally just transform into the other. As an example: some species of fish have females that transform quickly into males when the population of males aren’t enough.
  3. The summation of Yin and Yang form a whole. One effect of this is: as one aspect increases the other decreases to maintain overall balance of the whole.
  4. The balance of Yin Yang can be skewed due to outside influences. Four possible imbalances exist:
    • Deficiency Yang
    • Deficiency Yin
    • Excess Yang
    • Excess Yin

    These imbalances can be paired: so an excess of Yin can also simulate a Yang deficiency and vice versa.

    As an example this concept is especially important for Chinese healing practices. So an excess of Yang results in a fever. An excess of Yin could mean the accumulation of fluids in the body. Chinese healing examines a person’s health is in terms of the eight principles: Internal and External stimuli, Deficiency and Excesses, Cold and Heat and Yin and Yang.

  5. Yin Yang can be subdivided into additional Yin and Yang aspects.For example a Yang aspect of Heat: can be further subdivided into a Yin warm or Yang burning.
  6. Additional principles defining Yin and Yang qualities exist. The concepts listed here are merely a starting point to illustrate the nature of Yin and Yang. Usually as a practice Taoism does a good job of not codifying life. Which is ironic since many Taoist’s can happily list out what is Yin and what is Yang. Typically Taoist texts will list a few examples of Yin and Yang and then meander off to the next topic. Which makes sense as from a Taoist perspective it’s for the reader to reveal life from their own perspective. As an example go back to the Taoist passage quoted above from the Tao Te Ching. You will discover a few additional aspects to Yin and Yang, but the passage isn’t a complete definition either. The author of this passage fully expects you as the reader to go out and to explore the ideas on your own.
  7. This is only the start. You can dig into Yin Yang in an infinite manner due to its relative nature.

Additional material for Yin Yang can be read here:

Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Yin Yang


How Yin Yang Flows

Now forget everything you have learned about Yin and Yang for a moment. Step back from all the descriptions and classifications of Yin and Yang to consider the following passage from the Tao Te Ching:

The Way begot one,
And the one, two;
Then the two begot three
And three, all else.

A clearer understanding of Yin Yang requires looking back into the Tao. The Tao can be considered as the fundamental absolute. Upon examination: the nature of the Tao expands out. This process of expansion defines a pattern, splitting apart into finer and finer patterns. Yin and Yang is the point where perception demarks the Tao’s expansion into one and then one into two.

Taoism as a practice enjoys examining patterns. Over the years countless sects of Taoism have formed and quite a bit of literature written over the delineation and description of these patterns. Often times Taoists use the concept of Yin Yang as a familiar starting template to work with patterns.

For example Qigong is based upon the patterns of breath and physical movement. Knowledge of bodily patterns forms the basis of this Taoist practice to keep a body healthy. The human body and its movements are divided according to Yin and Yang categories. So the upper body corresponds to the Yang, while the lower body roots into the Yin. The body’s center is where the Yin and Yang meet. Qi Gong exercises are grouped and explained in terms of Yin and Yang to help classify the body’s harmonies into a working practice. Knowledge of Yin or Yang isn’t required to perform Qi Gong, instead it’s an additional filter which helps people connect to the practice.

Another example is Taoist divination within the Book of Changes / I Ching. Divination in Taoism is a practice of examining human interactions based on well known psychological patterns. To generate a result either coins or yarrow stalks are tossed down to form a pattern. The patterns generated correspond to Yin and Yang defined qualities. The nature of the Yin and Yang pattern are applied against the psychology of the moment to return advice for the person asking the question.

Yin Yang is a fundamental aspect of Taoist thought. We always naturally apply human based values over naturally occurring patterns. However, remember it’s also important not to chase finer and finer descriptions of these patterns, to do so would be to chase down infinity.

Yin Yang is a system of recognizing how to separate out patterns in our life while also relaxing to accept the overall whole and complete nature of the Tao.

46 Comments. Leave new

@Melvin: No.

That’s a trap of yin and yang… to force everything into a duality. Even when one shouldn’t.

Many things add up to what people define as success. Yes partners do impact each other. But to force it as the main reason will only hurt you.

It would be more graceful to understand you haven’t found the career that matches to your nature yet.

Would like to knw more about yin and yang on relationships..

The principle is very useful for yoga practice.

“The Way” — the way to ‘what’ you might ask? Take it from an old Hippie; the Yin/Yang helps one in understanding the structure of the Universe and leads one to a door, a door that can only be opened from the other side, “The side of Love!”

Alexis Martinez
December 7, 2014 11:26 am

@santoshi I can’t speak from anything other than personal experience. This ended up being longer than I intended, but I want people to know that my relationship is beautiful. and the day I realized that he was the Yang to my Yin I think our relationship changed for the better, and I believe they can be the strongest. Here is more or less why…

People say you should be with somebody who is similar to yourself. People also say opposites attract. While both can be good to certain people I have found that a relationship that has the yin yang components is beautiful. Two people can not think alike. Life effects each person a different way. You could have ten people in the same room all who have had identically life experiences and each of them feels a different way. Sure they can relate, but all kinds do not think alike. the way I see it is if you have someone who is almost completely like you at some point and time there becomes no balance. When you have what I call a yin yang relationship, like that which I have with my boyfriend of seven years, you can have harmony. He is loud with a happy booming voice and when he walks into a room he can’t help but brighten everyone’s day and talk to every person there whether he knows them or not. me on the other hand I could curl up on the couch or find a corner in a waiting room and watch those people for hours, but speaking to them? Not for me. I don’t know them. Why would we converse? My amazing yang of a boyfriend has the capability to be happy and ebergetic, and is a light of purity for every person he knows. Me on the other hand, I have been described as a b**ch, high maintenance, neurotic, and if I’m not being careful to I have a tendancy to be controlling. Not on purpose, but because it makes me feel safe knowing exactly what is going to happen next. My man doesn’t care. Tell him what he has to do to make everyone happy and he will do it.

Now that a little background on personalities is out of the way… We started dating in high school, my freshman year his junior. We are still young but I feel as if our relationship has gone through enough trials already that I don’t ever picture us not being together. He completes me as I do him. We have had about a year or so where we dated other people right after we were both out of high school. And for both of us we feel it to be a huge mistake. We both fucked up with the other. However our energy couldn’t be a part for one because he is truly my soul mate. Since we got back together a bit over two years ago I have discovered that the only reason we work is because we compliment each other. He makes me high spirited and can make me smile and laugh for hours. I keep him grounded, and while we discuss all aspects of life with the other, I help make sure life is maintained the way we like it. Like I said, I’m neurotic. He goes with it. Happily, truely. Yes we fight just like every other couple, but by the end of the fight we can see the others side completly and we can grow and realize that we were both right to begin with we just needed to see the whole picture.

I feel as if I’ve done a really bad job of explaing to the world how this type of relationship is so awesome for us, but what it comes down to is without the other we would not be whole. He is a gamer. I dig Netflix. He wants to hang out with everyone he can. I like my solidarity. I have my plus one, and I’m comfortable with that. without me he would be bouncing of the walls a million miles an hour just bopping through life with a smile. Without him I would be depressed and without friends, mostly by choice because people are hard to get a long with. I speant 21 years of my life looking for friends who will be there till the end. And the only one who is honest and true is the man I plan to marry. The absolute opposite of me. But the absolute perfect fit to my life.

Im still learning about all of this. I want it in my life!

I think it is misleading to post about how awesome your relationship with someone else is when you embody mostly one side of the yin/yang relationship, and they the other. Perhaps this appears to work from the outside, but realistically when not together, you both still feel like half a person and cannot function normally. The more you develop this kind of relationship, the more you rely on the other person for these aspects which you are fully capable of developing for yourself. This can feel crushing and heartbreaking and can result in extreme dysfunction when either of you become unhappy with the other, spend time apart, etc.
I feel it is far more important to pursue an understanding of the balance of yin and yang within oneself, for no other reason than self-improvement. That way when you find someone you want to support, you will already have beautiful and fully represented feelings to offer them, and will know who it is appropriate to “hold out” for. Finding someone you feel is right for you can be amazing when you feel a lack, but this is certainly not the best way to achieve balance, as being desperate for something is a horrible feeling with which to enter a relationship and relying on another person for balance can make you seem needy and be disastrous, unreliable, or unsatisfying. When you understand the energies at work within your own thoughts, actions, lifestyle patterns, or body as an individual, you are far more powerful and more prepared to offer something good to the others around you.
Regardless of how well you feel that a partner may complete you, or how much you yearn to feel at one with energies opposite your own, finding real stability and power requires an understanding of balance within oneself.
Focus or energy directed toward another person from one side of the yin/yang spectrum may restore temporary balance to the mind or emotions by presenting aspects which are attractive to the opposite, but once these aspects disappear or equalization occurs, the connection is over. This kind of involvement also does not require synchronization between the two people, one may be happy to give while the other receives, but they may not really see or feel the other person. Often in this case, sexual intimacy is seen as the highest possible form of pleasure and synchronization. Often grave misunderstandings, egotism, and selfishness can occur and perpetuate itself here. Either or both people may just be acting out their own mental patterning instead of sharing a conscious involvement.
A more deep and powerful connection with a lasting positive impact on another person has many alternating aspects and is more about being in the moment, understanding the presence or lack of certain ideas or emotions within an experience, and then reflecting those with an outward expression of appropriate nature. It may start with an understanding of one’s own emotions, but sensitivity is paramount, and if either person cannot “see” or “feel” the energy of the other, deeper synchronization will not be possible. For people who understand this kind of involvement, working together to achieve a goal, dancing, or even sharing conversation can be far more valuable and rewarding than sexual intimacy. These kinds of involvements feel truly selfless and good, and are more about understanding the significance of the experience and expressing an appropriate space that feels comfortable and nurturing for the people involved.
I feel like many (especially young) people fall prey to the trap of wanting some perfect “soul mate” person to come along and fix everything. Then, the moment they find someone close, they start to imbalance themselves to match this other person so they may grow to be well-suited for each other and possibly become married. It looks good for a while, but we cannot escape the fact that we are all full people within ourselves with a complete range of thoughts and emotions. Regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, if you do not try to understand this internal balance with a will to satisfy yourself, you may find yourself deeply unsatisfied at one end of the extreme from time to time – no matter who you are with.
The only one who is sensitive enough to understand and satisfy you is yourself. If you cannot find the will to be a full person and love yourself even when all others are gone, you have nothing to offer except neediness, and like it or not this void will perpetuate imbalance and bring down others. Strive to love, accept, and satisfy yourself, and you will truly have something to offer: a full and balanced perspective, the shining mirror of truth a beautiful partner deserves to see.

Well said Richard Ward!

Oh dear Richard
The lady is in love! Clearly her relationship is in the early stages, and she is fantasising about the future she may have. Leave her alone, and let her enjoy the experience. The relationship may or may not work out, who knows, whatever happens the lady will learn something of her path. Don’t be so negative, it’s good to have a little more love in the world!

Everything is dual, but inside us should only be good. No bad can live within us and if you have bad within you, good can’t reside. There is good and bad, but if you think you have both inside then your soul will run from you. Nothing to do with religion or a book. Nothing but the truth comes first. If you think you have a soul then whats it for? The soul is only good and not for sale. You can lose it, but you need to get it back before its too late. Death is too late and you will “not” be judged. You do that yourself now.

@Oscar The whole concept of yin yang focuses on duality and how to parts must come together to form a whole therefore, good and bad must exist in unity in formation of ones soul. Are you saying you are a hundred percent moral? That you have never made any wrongs or mistakes? One simply cannot exist without good and evil residing in there heart. Sorry but what you said is totally flawed. Yin and Yang must exist in unity to even exist at all. So rethink what you just said.

Bill Champagne
February 10, 2015 1:10 am

I have been told that if you are wearing a shirt with the Yin Yang symbol on it the ” WHITE ” must be on the right side. What is the reason for this ?

Here is one article talking about orientation of Yin Yang.

Here is another article talking about orientation of Yin Yang.

Here is yet another article talking about orientation of Yin Yang.

Interestingly they would change the orientation after dynasty changes.

Back to the Yin Yang shirt question.

If you are a time traveler make damn sure you pick the proper orientation for the proper dynasty you are visiting or you will probably get your head chopped off. So unless you are time traveling it doesn’t matter.

Richard Ward – very beautifully said. I did not find your comments negative. Its a very positive and true perspective

Hello, I’m really enjoying your site which has really opened me up to a new perspective. It is so rewarding to find a philosophy, a way of being that isn’t laced with dogma and regulations. My only question is, does Tao have to be so serious? I am by no means trying to discredit the beautiful teachings, I just get the impression from reading the comments that we can at times get bogged down in looking for meaning in the teachings. Perhaps it might be better to take them at face value and learn from what they mean to each of us personally as opposed to looking for what each teaching is supposed to be teaching us. Hope this makes sense. I would like to think the Tao was meant to be enjoyed and not simply studied for hidden meaning. Then again, as it is a personal way of being, looking for a greater depth of meaning may be one persons way as opposed to another’s. And therein lies the beauty of the Tao I guess! :)

@Elide: The path of Taoism is always matched relative to those who walk it. It is only overly serious if a person holds it overly seriously.

People being people, being human and rolled into their stories > love drama <. This means in writings we often see more drama and not necessarily teachings. Many Taoist teachings are there to help others release drama. When drama is very personal it can be a very serious business and a long path.

People being people, always exploring life also means people love secrets and poking about. So again so many teachings become like treasure hunts to keep the story interesting. Again that is optional.

Sometimes the hidden aspects exist because the teachings do shift on a person’s maturity level. So at times you will find writings written in way to help protect people to prevent misunderstandings, which ironically often creates more misunderstandings. So goes the spiritual road, strewn with much craziness.

Taoism and actually any “ism” is what people make it to be. Doesn’t mean that is what it is, but life is what we make it to be. So it’s a choice isn’t it? In how one wants to spend their energy and motion in life.

For myself I keep it simple and for the teachings I give, again I do my best to remove drama and match it to a student. When writing, you have to average/balance it all out for larger audiences as a result many spiritual writings will always be a bit different than the living of it.

Yin and yang chase each other believing that they’re one another

The discussion on “good” and “bad” is really interesting!!
I struggle to make sense out of how both need to be in balance, can’t we just strive to only have “good” in the world? And would it be yin or yang?
I start to see it a bit like this: where we live there is no way of only having “good” because “bad” is part of us. It however has to be managed by training to be a balanced person. This is achieved by many things but most importantly not getting ourselves controlled by negative state of minds like anger, stress and jealousy. We all feel it probably every day but then we don’t need to overdo it and create a monster that controls our lives and also lies behind our actions that create even more of the “bad” around. Less those emotions control our lives easier we can understand and accept ourselves as a person and reach “peace of mind”.
To me this is the balance: when we have our typical human “flawed nature” that pushes us for “bad” not overflow and dominate our “soul” which always wants “good”.
The ethics exist to help us with that and provide us with lists of rules but the true balance is when it comes from within.
Both “bad” and “good” are essential for our lives, to my understanding “bad” is the same energy that pushes us for survival, action and progress but this energy goes easy out of control and can create damage around as well as inside the person. It’s a bit like playing with fire. For example I need to meet my deadline at work, I use fear, frustration, stress, hunger for promotion and more money etc to give me a kick and achieve it. Without it we would probably not live too long because we wouldn’t care to actually even eat anything. The “bad” is natural part of having physical body and being alive.
The “good” is our “soul” would be the divine part that want’s peace and happiness to the whole world. We are born with it and it’s not about “pleasure” but true happiness and love that everyone wants. It’s that wonderful feeling we have when we look into eyes of someone we love or a spiritual experience somewhere in a wild nature, when we suddenly feel world is a good and beautiful place. The proof that this exists is also intuition that gives us signals to protect us and guides us to avoid problems and suffering.
To my interpretation yin would be the “good” and yang the “bad”. And people suffer because of overdose of yang and can be happy or happier only when the two are balanced meaning healthy dose of yang that keeps us going through live but still with presence of yin. This would be possible for a person who is as close as possible to be in peace with himself and aware of his “dark” side so also able to manage it. That would also make him a relatively “good” person or as good as it’s possible by living in the world (let’s be honest we create suffering just be being alive, it’s how the world works, for example even vegetarians contribute to cutting trees to create agriculture and in many cases abused farmers or even if we don’t wear fur just pure cotton, we still contribute to human rights violation in factories in developing countries etc).

Love the yin and yang sign so cool

Everyone is like a moon. Every moon has a dark said at some time. We all have a dark side. Sometimes the though we may have, we’re glad no one can see them. I’m loving my own discovery of this. There is good and bad in all of us. Which ever side we feed will be the one that manifest itself more often. The right balance is what we all probably seek to achieve. In that balance, may we find the peace we need.

Finding the balance in life is life long journey. Finding the universal balance between the soul and the body is the ethernal journey…
I am learning about ying and yang and the two sides that we all have…
Some say that we are not complete without the other. I still believe we may find balance within ourselves if we listen to ourselves, if we listen to our intuition when needed and use the human mind as needed. Though in the material world there is a high demand of heart whispers…

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