Yin & Yang – The basis of traditional healing

by Eyal Shpringer

Macrobiotics view of yin & yang in diagnosis and nutrition

“The Dao gives birth to One, One gives birth to Two, Two give birth to Three and Three give birth to Ten thousand things. The Ten-thousand things carry yin and embrace yang. They mix these energies to enact harmony” Lao Zi (Dao De Jing)

The above quote is one of the cornerstones of Daoist philosophy. For thousands of years, this view has influenced the way people in East Asia have experienced observing life

Over generations, many interpretations have been given to the sequence of events in the world which stem from the “Dao” (impossible to define) to the ‘One’ (the world in its entirety) and from there to all the diverse phenomena that create the reality (“ten thousand things”).

In the medical world, it can be said that the form of diagnosis, the understanding of the nature of the disease, and the selection of the appropriate treatment, are all derived from the perspective of the therapist – the way he or she understands things.

It can be said that in every aspect of healing there is a constant tension between two extreme points of view: one is represented by the “ten thousand things“, and the second by the “one“. This tension indeed exists (and is healthy) ranging on one hand from the “ultimate holistic approach”, which considers all phenomena as interrelated based on a common origin, and on the other hand, approaches that encourage specialization, precision, and separation. The skilled practitioner has both of these perspectives and during treatment is able to juggle between them by zooming in and out and enjoying the benefits of each of the above methods. Such a movement is also made possible using the Macrobiotic point of view.

 Integration of the two points of view

The Macrobiotic approach began developing in Japan at the end of the 18th century. Japan at that time was exposed to the growing influence of Western culture and this exposure led to a change in lifestyle for many people who began to fall ill with diseases that until then were unknown in Japan. Against the background of these events worked a doctor named Sagen Ishizuka who knew how to combine the knowledge of traditional Japanese nutritional diet, traditional medicine of East Asia, and the newly emerging Western medicine knowledge. He called the method SHOKU-YO, a term which is related to the ability of a man to learn what kind of nutrition, both physical and spiritual, he needs in order to achieve complete health. His new treatment method has gained popularity in Japan and he used to treat approximately 100 patients a day. Ishizuka’s disciples continued to teach and spread the method of treatment around the world under the name “Macrobiotics“.

Dr. Daikon

Within the existing patterns of Chinese medicine, the founders of Macrobiotics chose to focus on the original and most basic pattern of Yin & Yang. This theory is associated with the number 2 and is the closest to the oneness of the holistic approach. The advantage of this method is the ability to define and compare between effects of foods, medications, disease states, the physique of patients and be able to define them as leaning towards Yin or Yang. This definition allows building a treatment protocol in a simple and logical way.

Yin and Yang in Macrobiotics

Before discussing treatment strategies, let’s define the characteristics of the Yin and Yang according to the Macrobiotics approach:

Yang: Refers to the sky, incorporating features of the heat, movement and activity. Its direction, according to the macrobiotic philosophy, is in the direction of the heavenly influences relative to the earth, an inward and downward movement of concentration that controls and shapes the material world. Yang-type phenomenon (human being, illness, weather, etc.) will be hot, active, dry, and what will enhance it is inward and downward movement.

Yin: refers to the earth and incorporates features of cold, materialistic and with minimal movement. The movement of the Yin, according to macrobiotic philosophy is characteristic of the earth’s response to heaven: rising and expanding movement that creates relaxation and coolness and supports the creation of raw material that is a substrate for Yang influence and shaping. Yin-type phenomenon (human, illness, weather, etc.) will be cold, passive, damp and what will enhance it is outwards and upwards movement.

 Defining foods according to Yin & Yang nature

When comparing different foods, a Yang-type will be one that will warm, will lead to contraction and increase in muscle tone thus shaping form, will encourage inward body movement and will help the body generate heat. On the other hand, Yin-type foods will help the body cool down by creating movement outwards, producing a state of relaxation, expansion and construction.

Yang-type foods include animal products, foods grown in cold climates (and thus contain internal heat designed to balance the external cold), foods that have been cooked for a long time, roots and vegetables grown close to the earth, salty foods, dry or those rich in minerals, proteins and fiber.

Yin-type foods include those from plants, leaves and fruits – parts of the plant that are farther away from the ground, foods grown in warm climates (and thus accumulated fluids and internal cooling system to balance the warm climate), foods cooked for a short time or not cooked at all and sweet foods that are usually a poor source of minerals, protein and fiber.

Treatment approaches using Macrobiotic Yin and Yang

When looking at a patient through the lenses of Yin/Yang, one can define the relationship between all phenomena/symptoms that exist and build a treatment strategy: For a Yin-leaning situation, one might tailor a Yang treatment approach and vice versa. For the experienced therapist, looking through the Yin/Yang glasses is a simple method to understand pathological conditions, treatment methods, medications and foods, before diving into more in-depth diagnostic methods and evaluation.

 An example of Yang-leaning condition and its treatment approach

A state of high fever, thirst and constipation is generally considered a Yang condition, for which we will develop/adopt a Yin protocol that may include: diet with more fresh/uncooked food and more fruits, green tea and mint that are known to cool and push outwards. One of the best treatments according to Macrobiotics is drinking “Kudzu-apples drink”, a compote made from apples and a starchy ingredient known to thicken the drink called “Kudzu”. The juice secreted from apples is of Yin nature – the fruit is farther away from the ground, it is sweet, and when in juice form, it is relatively poor in minerals and fiber. The gelatinous nature of the “Kudzu” adds an additional softening and cooling effect that helps to regulate excretions, cools the body and perspire lightly (Yin effects).

An example of Yin-leaning condition and its treatment approach

Post-natal women tend to experience fatigue, feeling cold, looseness and sometimes depression. The woman is in a situation that may be over-Yin due to the pregnancy and childbirth causing expansion and outward movement. After birth, a Yang inwards movement should be encouraged including creation of heat, contraction of the uterus to its original size, cessation of bleeding, and the strengthening of the mind. The intention is to help the woman reach a Yang state that is not too extreme as there is still a need for movement outwards for the purpose of breastfeeding.

In order to create the effect of heating and raising the tonus we use Yang-type treatment that includes external heating of the legs, lower back and lower abdomen using heating pads, medicinal baths and moxibustion (defined in Eastern medicines as “baking of the mother”). Nutrition will be based on well-cooked foods that include many roots. We will increase the amount of animal-based foods, and we also use herbal medicine (roots mostly). All of these ingredients are Yang-contracting-warming in nature.


The theory and the terms of Yin and Yang have become household names in our times, but many therapists still find it difficult to apply them in their in a satisfactory manner, and seek more detailed models to explain and treat diseases. Macrobiotics offers a simplified perspective, both logical and practical, that can be applied as a therapeutic tool in guiding our patients for a nutritional lifestyle that suits them.

This approach may serve as some kind of anchor and go back to examine the therapeutic approach from a broader perspective when reaching critical and confusing intersections during treatment.

This article was written by Eyal Shpringer, MSc, Dipl.Ac.Cl.Hb

A Chinese Medicine practitioner and teacher, specializing in Chinese nutrition and traditional nutritional approaches.

Translated by Dr. Gil Barzilai.


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