Ancient cultures and customs are always fascinating to learn about. The story and meaning behind yin yang colors are no different.
Chinese concepts of yin and yang, which emerged thousands of years ago, gradually developed over time. The yin-yang philosophy holds that two cosmic deities govern the universe together. These two opposite energies can be seen in nature if we slow down and observe our surroundings.
- The History Behind Yin and Yang
- The Yin Yang Symbol: Beauty and Simplicity
- The Origin of the Yin Yang Symbol
- Yin Characteristics
- Yang Characteristics
- A Fine Balance
The History Behind Yin and Yang
Long ago, yin-yang philosophy began circulating in Chinese culture. We aren’t completely sure how early it originated, but we can make an educated guess by looking at written records. Yin and yang are first mentioned in ancient writings during the Yin dynasty. In that time period, roughly 1400 BC to 1100 BC, this dynasty ruled, making the concept of twin natures over 3000 years old.
Yin and yang were first put on record in the 9th century by an ancient book called The Book of Changes, from a dynasty of the Western Zhou. Popularity of the concept started increasing around 800 BC to 200 BC. Chinese culture has been influenced by it almost in every way since then, from martial arts and science to literature selections and political beliefs, as well as every aspect of the people’s day-to-day lives. It is likely that many beliefs come from popular philosophers incorporating the ideas of yin and yang into their own lives, including Confucius.
The Yin Yang Symbol: Beauty and Simplicity
Many people are familiar with the yin yang symbol, or tai chi. Many forms of media have covered this topic and you have probably been familiar with it since you were a child. The symbol consists of a circle divided in half by a line. The circle has a black side. 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 whose color matches the opposite side of the symbol. It is done to show that each side contains the essence of the other. In order to thrive in life, these forces need to coexist and form a perfect union, just as we must do the same with those around us. The curved line separating the two halves of the yin-yang symbol indicates that although they are opposites, there is no separation between anything: all things exist together and have an effect on each other.
Everything must strive to achieve harmony, peace, 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.
In Chinese culture, red and black were often associated with the directions of south and north, respectively. The north was associated with the element water and cold temperatures. The south was associated with the element of fire and hot temperatures. These colors correspond to the elements of the Daoist symbol. Black symbolizes the dark, heavy energy of Yin. Red, within the context of the normally white half, symbolizes the bright, light energy of Yang.