Yin & Yang

A very central concept in eastern medicine and culture is the theory of Yin and Yang.

Historical background

The world is incredibly complex and it is impossible to explain everything into its smallest details. The more specific and precise one gets, the more incomprehensible it gets. That results in the need to create symbols, in order to explain reality in a more general manner.

Ever since the stone age, different cultures have been developing their symbols. One symbol, which has been developed to fill this need, is the symbol of Yin and Yang.  Due to its flexibility and general character, this symbol has proven to be just as useful now, as it was when it was created, thousands of years ago.

Why Yin and Yang?

An interesting question is why we will be using the words Yin and Yang, instead of western concepts/words with the same meaning? The advantage with Yin and Yang is that it is a common and well known concept all over the world. Another advantage with the symbol in question, is the fact that it is so strongly connected to the art of medicine, and thereby also to the body. That makes it easier to relate phenomena’s in the surroundings, to one’s own body, as well as to one’s behaviour. It also functions as a link between the other theories in the eastern philosophy, such as the five elements.

 

The theory of Yin and Yang

The main principle of Chinese philosophy is to view the world as a whole, a unity, where everything is coexisting and co-operating. In the universe two powers constantly oscillate, Yin and Yang.

Yin and Yang represent two destructive, but at the same time productive, aspects of life. Everything in universe is made up and influenced by these two forces. Yin and Yang are not two separate phenomena, but two aspects of the same energy. Nothing can be only Yin or only Yang; everything and everybody has more or less Yin and Yang in them. Both forces are included in every aspect of the universe, and they are both essential to establish balance and harmony. They include a constant change – Yin turn into Yang and vice versa, just like day turn into night, light into dark and so on. Yin and Yang shows how the energy moves in different directions.

This energy is a basic concept within the eastern medicine. We think of it as our “life essence”, which maintains and nourishes the physical body, and also maintains an inner, mental balance. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the source of all diseases is imbalance between the two forces Yin and Yang, or disturbed circulation of Qi / Ki (=energy) in the energetic channels, due to them being blocked. The energy flow can be disturbed by both physical injuries, as well as inner influences such as worries or stress.

That is when ache and pain and similar symptoms arise, and one starts to feel physically or mentally uncomfortable. Puncturing appropriate points aims at returning energetic equilibrium, opening up blocked energetic channels and thus returning health.

Yin and Yang – the core of martial arts

Let’s look at Yin and Yang from a martial arts perspective. As mentioned earlier; the main principle of this philosophy is that everything exists in opposites; black/white, hard/soft, high/low, good/evil and so on. One cannot exist without the other.

This means that you have some areas in your body that has high pain thresholds and some which has low pain thresholds. It also means that the key to subdue a strong arm is using a soft arm. If somebody raises his voice to you, you should lower your own, in order to avoid a conflict and to establish balance and harmony.

In other words, if someone makes a yang attack, you should make a yin defence. Here you have the basic explanation of the name Ju Jutsu, as “Jiu” means “soft” and “Jutsu” means “technique”, and Ju Jutsu is a self defence system and most of the attacks in the street are yang-techniques.

One way to really understand the basics of the Yin and Yang in martial arts is by practicing the exercise “Randori with knee” (see Pointers for practice).You must become one with your opponent, in so doing, make the opponent fight against himself.

Balance and harmony

The thing sought by the various methods employed by Eastern medicine is a balance or harmony. It can be related to the body, where the energies of the body should flow in harmony with each other without stoppages and excessive concentrations in specific areas. If harmony is missing, the result is hampered ability and possibly diseases. A balanced mind can also handle sorrow, grief or stress in a more efficient manner, and lack of balance brings uncertainty and worry.

Since the Eastern view is more holistic than the Western, the belief is that an imbalance of the mind might express itself as physical disease, and vice versa. Western studies seem to prove likewise. One notable case is the statistically increased risk for middle-aged men, with a strong emotional suppressing habit, to attract cancer. The old saying “Mens sana in corpore sano” (a sound mind in a sound body) seems to be rather accurate.

 

How the concepts relate to each other

Energy flows as an input into the Personality, activating and feeding your roles and programs. The Personality can at this stage transfer the energy into action (an output). It can also let the energy flow on to the Soul, where the intentions, “the voice of the Soul” can check on the energy. To maintain a balance, the Soul and the Personality has to be “friends”. That is not always the case. Ideally, the Personality will crosscheck a decision of energy output with the intentions of the Soul before activating a certain program. The voice of the Soul is always true. For good or for evil, the Soul is the essence of what and who you really are. A decision that has been anchored in the Soul will feel right to you. However, if you for some reason suppress or shy away from dealing with incoming energy, it may not reach the Soul. Even if it does, you may act in discordance with your true intentions. Then, an imbalance appears, and a mental burden is created. The burden gets heavier for every decision or action that is not anchored in the Soul. You can carry such a burden for a while, but the imbalance will affect you, and you won’t feel good.

That is because the burden will make itself known and reminds you of its existence by negative feelings. Ideally you have no mental burdens.

Fear

There is one thing that can really paralyse the soul, and that is fear. Instant fear locks down the soul, and the body acts only on its programs. If the fear is a known factor, you can program – train – yourself to act in a way that will be beneficial. This is why personnel on sailing vessels have all those lifeboat drills. If the fear becomes reality (the ship is sinking), they can act by their programming without much conscious thought and quickly save themselves in the lifeboats.

Vague, lingering long-term fears (often referred to as “stress”) are a little more difficult to handle but it can be done, for instance by the methods we have described below.

 

Methods to improve

So, what can you practically do to improve the balance of your body and mind?

There are many ways to do that. Here are some examples:

  • Relaxation (concentrates on the body, takes 15 minutes)
  • Breathing exercises (to combat stress and anxiety by regulating breathing)
  • Meditation (brings you in contact with the soul)
  • Qi-gong and Thai Chi (collecting energy)
  • Zone therapy
  • Acupuncture, and
  • Nutrition

Let’s take a closer look at some of those methods!

One of the simplest is the Relaxation. This is usually done lying on your back or sitting in a chair, and should be performed during ca 15 minutes per day. While lying or sitting there, you will consciously relax your body, part by part, which also helps you relax your mind. A good complement to this exercise is to listen to a so-called “relaxing” tape or CD when doing it. Some relaxing tapes provide you with a soft voice that step by step instructs you in what to do, and usually there is some soothing music to further improve your relaxation. Properly done, this is a cleansing act for the body and to some extent the mind, which gives you strength and will to continue with your daily business.

Breathing

Breathing is a requisite for life, but modern life has given humans some bad breathing habits. People with immobile occupations have a tendency to breathe very shallowly for long periods, using only the top of their lungs to get oxygen. Incorrect breathing constitutes a detrimental influence to the function of the heart, which according to Eastern medicine is the vessel in which stress is collected. Anxiety is connected to the abdomen, which also suffers when we are breathing incorrectly. Actually, a few long, deep, regulated breaths is one of the most efficient ”panic-killers” available. The trick is of course to remember doing it when in panic, but it is possible to program!

Deep-breathing is one of the key aspects of martial arts.

  • When we are in pain, we perform deep-breathing to reduce the pain (try it with for example stretching)
  • It is for the same reason that we exhale and scream Kiai/Kihap when we execute an attack (strike, kick, throw or look etc.), or receive an attack!
  • We also take a deep breath when we need to calm down and find focus.

Furthermore deep-breathing helps us to ventilate most of the lungs which leads to cells becoming healthier, which leads to better long-term health. One way to practice deep-breathing is to consciously control breathing to a slower pace. This can be achieved through meditation, qi gong or the 4-7-8 method.

The 4-7-8 method

There are many different breathing exercises. A common one is the “4-7-8 method”. Here you draw breath during 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds (so your lungs have time to oxygenate the blood with the available oxygen), and exhale for 8 seconds, totally emptying your lungs, and then repeat the process. Inhaling shall be done through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, formed like an “O“.

This should be done in a position where the back is straight and the shoulders are slightly withdrawn but relaxed. If your shoulders are hanging forward and your body is “slouching”, the lungs don’t have the optimal space in which to expand.

This exercise will have the benefit of you becoming aware of your breathing and your posture. It will also relieve stress and anxiety.

Use your breathing in your martial arts training!

Basic breathing principles: Always exhale when you perform the most powerful part of your technique, weather it is a punch, a kick, a restraint etc.

Exercise:

  1. Person number 1: Stand comfortably and steady in front of person no 2.
  2. Person no 2: Raise your hands and push gently on person no 1s chest, just enough to make his upper body slide back a bit.
  3. Person no 2: Now do the exact same things again, but this time you exhale deeply, simultaneously as you push your opponent. There should be a big difference in force this time, and person no 1 should have difficulties standing straight, resisting the push.