Exploring Qigong – What Does Yin Yang Mean?

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The EXPLORING QIGONG Series includes:
1. The Chi (Qi) Story | 2. What Does Yin Yang Mean? | 3. What Are Body Meridians? | 4. What Is A Dantian? | 5. Wu Chi (Wuji) And Other Qigong Principles | 6. Microcosmic Orbit Chi Meditation


The yin yang sign, or symbol, is known worldwide but what does yin yang mean? This famous sign is included in the Exploring Qigong series because it’s an important part of the practice of qigong. Many of the techniques taught by qigong masters are designed to balance the flow of yin and yang in your energy body.

 Yin Yang Sign FootprintYin Yang is a founding concept of Chinese philosophy and medicine. Traditionally, it is illustrated by a mountain with one side in sunlight and the other in shadow. As the sun moves, so does the balance of sun and shade. This is partly what inspired the black and white yin yang sign that we know so well.


  1. The Yin Yang Sign, Or Symbol

  2. Yin And Yang Meaning

  3. Yin And Yang Theory

  4. Examples Of Yin Yang Qualities

1. The Yin Yang Sign, Or Symbol

I have found several different stories regarding how the yin yang symbol was created, and it seems to me that it’s a bit like the origin of a famous recipe, that many people want to lay claim to.  Different Chinese people have contributed to the design over the centuries, but as to when the first yin yang sign was created, no one can really say. (At least not in any language that I can read).

Where Did The Design Come From?

The “two fish” design is not the only yin yang symbol but it is the most popular one. This version of the Tai chi symbol, commonly called the yin yang, or yin and yang sign, is attributed to Chou Tun-yi, a confucian philosopher and cosmologist, (circa 1000AD), during the time of the  Chinese Sung Dynasty.

Some of the other designs that are less well known in western civilisations, are thought to date back to the 14th century BC or even earlier.

The Chinese are patient observers, great philosophers and mathematicians, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this following explanation is true, even though I can’t verify it.

Apparently a special measuring stick was used to record changes in the length of the shadows, cast by the sun, throughout its yearly cycle. These measurements were plotted within a circle divided into 24 segments, instead of the 12 monthly divisions of the Julian calendar, resulting in the famous “two fish” design.

4 variations on the "two fish" yin yang symbol

The Summer solstice, at the top of the circle, marked the tail of the dark “fish” or birth of yin; (as in the symbol on the far left of the image above) and the winter solstice, at the bottom of the circle, marked the tail of the light “fish” or birth of yang.

Sometimes, however the image is flipped horizontally, (second sign from the left) so that the white – yang is on the right and yin – dark is on the left; or the sign is rotated.

All of these variations can be very confusing so it’s useful to remember that what it means or the philosophy that led to its creation is more important than the yin yang symbol design itself.

The Philosophy Behind The Yin Yang Sign

In the familiar yin yang sign, (shown here with a pink, yin “fish” instead of the usual black), the circle represents everything in the universe. Within it, all energy or chi is divided into the two polarities of Yin (dark) and Yang (light).

Common yin yang symbol, shown in pink and whiteAt first glance, you may notice the bold separation of yin and yang, which reinforces the concept of opposites. However, the interlocking shapes cleverly demonstrate their co-dependence. They reveal the true nature of polarity, where opposite qualities cannot exist without each other, so they are constantly finding ways to blend.

For example, hot and cold are opposite ends of the temperature scale, but in between the two extremes is a huge field of blended hot-cold. For cold water to become hot, (or  hot to become cold) it passes through varying degrees of warm, and somewhere in the middle is a place of balance where neither dominates the other. The dividing line is not so clear as we would believe. It’s more of a dividing field, or a transitional zone.

Even at the polar extremes, there is always the possibility of the energy shifting to its opposite. Cold contains the possibility of hot, and hot the possibility of cold… just ask anybody who left their cup of coffee too long before drinking it.

In the yin yang sign, which is sometimes called the Tai Chi  or Taiji symbol, both polarities contain a seed of the other, in acknowledgement of their common ground, or their oneness. Even if your eyes can’t see it, there is always some light in the darkness, and a hint of shadow can be found in the light.

In a state of  perfect health, these polar energies are balanced and connected, and are constantly flowing, one into the other.

2. Yin And Yang Meaning

What does yin yang mean? As you’ve already read, it’s a philosophical concept, about polarities, with an unspoken goal of oneness, or at least a state of balance. This applies to all aspects of your being, not just physical health.

Everything is energy in motion and, to the Chinese, this energy is either  predominantly yin, or  predominantly yang, or it is BECOMING yin or yang.

Two sides of a coin | 1977 Australian 10 cent coinLike the two sides of a coin that (if you didn’t know better), you would think were individual objects, yin and yang appear to be separate elements, but this is just an illusion. They are, in truth, different aspects of the one creation.

In a three dimensional universe you cannot have a one-sided coin; the presence of one side dictates the presence of the other, just as yin cannot exist without yang, and vice versa.

And so it is, with all of life in a duality-based world, where every component has its opposite. You cannot have hot without cold; or night without day, or joy without sadness.

This is NOT to say that you have to experience both polarities equally in your life. You can choose what you invite into your experience by shifting your focus. You need never look at the other side of the coin if you don’t want to!

3. Yin And Yang Theory

Qi is never fixed as yin or yang.
It is always cycling between the two. It’s like slowly turning the coin; the head (yang)… becomes the tail (yin)… becomes the head again… endlessly… for as long as there is movement.

According to the Chinese, yin yang follows a 24 hour cycle. Qi shifts from ‘utmost yin’ at midnight, to ‘utmost yang’ at midday, but between these times, the energy is shifting and blending in a gradual transition from one form to the other.

It’s interesting to note that there is no judgement implied with yin and yang. It has no  moral connection. One quality is not better or worse than the other. To the Chinese, excess happiness can cause health issues, just as much as excess sadness can. Weakness in masculine (yang) energy is no worse than weakness in feminine (yin) energy.

The important thing is to find the balance between the two, which is what qigong aims to achieve. An excess of yin or yang, or a weakness of yin or yang will throw your mind, body, spirit health out of balance.

4. Examples Of Yin Yang Qualities


The yin yang sign and common yin yang qualitiesYin is Earth chi. It is feminine energy, dark, passive, inward and contracting. It is water, cold and shadow.  Yin chi flows up the front  and medial (inner) aspects of the body and limbs.

Yang is Heaven chi. It is masculine energy, light, active, outward and expansive. It is fire, heat and brightness. Yang chi flows down the back and lateral (outer) aspects of the body and limbs. (except for the stomach meridian which is on the front of the body)

Just to clarify… the masculine and feminine energies are NOT related to gender. All men and women; all males and females, contain BOTH masculine and feminine energies. It is finding the balance of these energies in ourselves that is so difficult.


There is always more to know but hopefully you feel you have a satisfactory answer to the question, “what does yin yang mean?”.

To briefly recap…

Everything in our duality-based universe is divided into yin and yang polarities. Each polarity contains the seed of its opposite, or at least the possibility of its opposite.

In order to experience a healthy, vital body, yin and yang must be balanced, and they must flow continuously into each other.

The yin yang sign and its meaning can be taken as a simple acknowledgement of the relationship of opposites, or it can be given a more mysterious and complicated nature.

By the way, if you enjoy ‘complicated’, and you’re looking for highly detailed information on what  yin and yang means, you may like to visit Thomas Dehli’s, Sacred Lotus Traditional Chinese Medicine site. (This page will stay open so you can come right back to this point.)

 Without the concepts of chi and yin yang, qigong would appear to be an insignificant practice; a simple form of exercise lacking firm foundations, and totally bereft of soul.

Well, that’s how it seems to me but what do YOU think? Share your ideas below.

Thanks for visiting. I hope you enjoyed this article. The next in the series is about the Chinese meridians.

GO HERE NEXT >> to find out what meridians are


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