Posts Tagged ‘qi’

Tai Yang / Greater Yang = big white part

Shao Yang / Lesser Yang  = small white part

Yang Ming / Yang Brightness = white circle

Tai Yin / Greater Yin = big black part

Shao Yin / Lesser Yin = small black part

Jue Yin / Reverting Yin = black circle

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The Chinese name for the yin-yang symbol is the “Grand Ultimate Map” (tai ji tu). As its name implies, it is a description of the changes of states in which all phenomena are expressed. Yin and Yang are categories into which the myriad things can be ascribed.

The Chinese character for Yin was originally comprised of the character for the shady part of a hill, while the character for Yang included the character for the sunny part of a hill. The modern simplified characters involve the moon for yin, and the sun for yang, as they are far easier to write (at least for a westerner like me). The old characters do a great job of illustrating the concepts for categorization.

The shady side of a hill relative to the sunny side is wetter, darker, cooler, lower, and the earth falls into it (gathers). The sunny side of a hill relative to the shady side is drier, brighter, hotter, higher, and the earth falls away from it (disperses). These initial descriptors do a decent job of establishing the parameters for yin-yang delineation. Though we speak of separating phenomena into yin or yang categories, it should be remembered that nothing can be a yin concept without an attending relative yang concept, and vice versa. The little circles within the greater teardrops emphasize this point.

So is water always yin and fire always yang? Yes, but water can have yang aspects, such as the capacity to wear away rocks, while fire can have yin concepts, such as bending around logs. Some aspects of water are more yin than others, i.e. a still pool versus a raging river. So too are there examples of fire behaving more yang than other fire, i.e. running up a tree versus a smoldering coal.

The six divisions of yin and yang are a way of distinguishing the present state of a phenomena in its expression of yin or yang.

Greater Yang: This is the state of maximum yang. It is the most apparent, the zenith, and a great mover & shaker. Something in Greater Yang expression is expanding as quickly as possible. It is outward moving, expanding, and centrifugal force. In Eastern medical theory it represents what we call in English the Urinary Bladder and Small Intestine meridians and the posterior/dorsal aspect of the body.

Lesser Yang: The state of yang where its actions are not as obviously yang as they are in the Greater Yang. It is the pivot, for if we use the analogy of a lever, the input of force (the handle) is Greater Yang, and the output of force (the bit moving the heavy object) is Greater Yang, for these are both sites of great action. The fulcrum/pivot point acts on the lever in a way that changes the force from one end to the other depending on the relative distance. This is a contained force that doesn’t get into the heavy object, but changes the way the input force does. Lesser Yang is an active yang, rather than a passive yin, but its actions are obscured by the actions of Greater Yang, although they are not hidden. In Eastern Medical theory it represents the Gall Bladder and Triple Burner meridians and the lateral aspects of the body.

Yang Brightness: This is Yang behaving in a Yin fashion. The Sun casts light and warmth, and is about as yang as it gets. When the full moon reflects the light of the sun, we get light (albeit reduced) but do not detect any warmth. The same can be said of the sun reflecting off the ocean, it may hurt the eyes, but we don’t particularly feel anything. Where the Greater Yang Sun moves across the sky, the Lesser Yang’s presence allows for changes, the Yang Brightness creates movement through yin concepts like contraction. In this way it is the basis/foundation of Greater Yin. It is conveyance, moving other objects, not moving itself. This is best exemplified by the intestines conducting a bolus of food, the biological force we call peristalsis. In Eastern medical theory it represents the Stomach and Large Intestine meridians, and the anterior aspect of the body.

Greater Yin: This is the state of maximum yin. It is a vacuum; the vacuum of space, the lower pressure differential that draws air into the lungs. When we see yin at work in our environment we are witnessing the Greater Yin. It is obscuring like mist, dark like the deep trenches of the ocean. It is centripetal force, gathering and condensing. It is a phenomena at its nadir. In Eastern medical theory it is the Lung and Spleen/Pancreas meridians, and the most lateral of the medial aspects of the body.

Lesser Yin: What lies behind the scenes. Greater Yin is the yin aspects of nature where, though invisible, we can see its effect, while Lesser Yin is the aspect of nature that remains totally hidden. In a body it is the bones, in a film it is the physical script. If Greater Yin is the vacuum, then Lesser Yin is the absolute void without a force or material presence made manifest. In Eastern medical theory it is the Heart and Kidney meridians, the most medial of the medial aspects of the body.

Reverting Yin: This is the state of transition from the inward movement of yin into the outward expansion of yang. When the Universe collapses inwards on itself, condenses to a minuscule point, and then “bangs” out again, this is the action of Reverting Yin. In this way, the Reverting Yin functions as the basis/foundation of Greater Yang. In Eastern medical theory it is the Liver and Pericardium meridians.


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Qi is synergistic function as it is perceived by the aspect of our consciousness that is responsible for intuition. It is often spoken of as energy, and elaborated upon with metaphors of water, but this is merely to facilitate explanation. Energy is capable of transforming into matter and back again, but qi does not do this. It also does not register on the electromagnetic spectrum. Indeed, yin and yang qi is understandable as the positive and negative aspect of magnetism.

The very first line of the section of the Dao De Jing that talks about the Dao (“The Way”) says that “the way that can be spoken of is not the true Way.” Or as Alan Watts puts it, “The course that can be discoursed is not the true Course.” The same holds true of qi. If we think qi is anything like the metaphors we use to discuss qi, we miss the point entirely and go clamoring after illusions and fancies. The best way, in my opinion, to understand qi is experientially. This is not satisfactory for a discerning mind of science, I know, and to this objection there are two things I can say:

1) There are phenomena which are capable of being experienced and understood in a purely rational manner, and then there are the phenomena which arrive only through intuition. Barring the notion that intuition is the result of complex lateral calculations and processing we cannot yet understand, which is still speculation despite its deference to reason, intuitive phenomena deserve to be treated as possessing categorical differences from rational ones. In this approach, qi is a quality of intuition that communicates with rational phenomena, but is not itself of reason. Our senses and mental processes grounded in reason cannot perceive it, but this does not mean it is not there. There is a rational system for qi to follow, yin-yang theory, which it always follows. Thus, qi itself is perfectly rational in functioning, though it is something outside of reason. A reasonably unreasonable phenomenon.

2) Assuming intuition is a category of rational thought that we are yet unable to trace and understand, qi would then be an imagined variable that allows a system to work. Eastern medicine relies on qi, which may be how the ancients explained nerves and hormones, which for some reason are capable of being influenced by putting needles in the body at certain places, which do not have to be the same two points for the same results.

My study of this topic, both written and experiential, has led me to a conclusion with much more in common with the first point. I invite skeptics to give these healing arts a fair shot by placating their inner critic with one or both of these points. Belief or acceptance of qi has nothing to do with their efficacy, but it is a fascinating area of study.

That said, acupuncture, Eastern herbalism, Tai chi & qi gong all operate on the level of qi. Yoga describes this as prana, which is translated as breath energy. Try some daoist breathing and see where it takes you!

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