The theory of Yin and Yang is an element that has been part of the philosophical current of Taoism (And ancient Chinese philosophy in general) for thousands of years, but which has also, in recent times, been incorporated into Western pop culture and New Age beliefs. In fact, there has even been an attempt to incorporate this concept into holistic therapies not based on psychology or science-based medicine.
But … what exactly is it about Yin and Yang? How does this belief relate to psychotherapy? Let’s see.
Yin and Yang in Taoism
When we talk about the theory of Yin and Yang we are not referring to a scientific theory, but to a framework of thought linked to the tradition of Chinese philosophy from thousands of years ago. It is, so to speak, a very fuzzy theory and supported by very abstract concepts, which is normal given its antiquity. Moreover, the concepts of what Yin and Yang are cannot be understood without considering what Taoism is and how it has been the historical context in which the fundamental ideas of this philosophy emerged.
Although Taoism as a cohesive religion appeared around the 3rd century AD, the writings on which it is based they are attributed to a philosopher known as Lao Tse who would have lived around the 6th century BC However, as in the case of Homer, it is not known whether he is a mythical character or not: his name means “old master”, something in which it is easy to recognize him. tell, for example, to one of the archetypes Carl Jung was talking about.
The original Taoism was a philosophy based on metaphysics that addresses both the nature of what exists (animals, humans, seas, rivers, stars, etc.) and what needs to be done, i.e. morality. According to the writings attributed to Lao Tse, what is right to do emanates from the natural order of thingsSo nature and morality are one thing. To act badly is therefore to “deviate” from the path through which the change of nature passes when it remains in harmony.
The route: Tao and King
With what we have seen so far, that is, we have many basic ingredients of Taoism: the concept of change, the concept of harmony and the idea that evil must move away from Natural “path”. In fact, the name of the only book attributed to Lao Tzu is known as Tao You King: tao means “way” and you, “virtue”.
Following Lao Tse’s ideas means accepting that nature is constantly changing, that there is a path or path by which this change occurs in harmony with nature, and that virtue is in not altering this harmony, in letting the world change by itself. So, the way of following this “path of virtue” is called wu wei, which means “no action”. Don’t alter what flows naturally, so to speak.
If Karl Marx understood philosophy as a tool to change the world, Lao Tse had the opposite idea: the way of the Tao it consists in not altering the universe personal desires and goals based on need; you have to let yourself be guided by simplicity and intuition while giving up ambitions.
After all, philosophizing on the Tao cannot lead to any good, for it is designed as a metaphysical entity that is beyond the human intellect, And trying to get its essence from thought could damage the natural order of the universe, which underlies all that exists.
The Eternal Complements of Yin and Yang
Like the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (and all pre-Socratic philosophers in general), in the writings attributed to Lao Tzu, the emphasis is on the process of change, which causes everything around us to constantly transform, even what seems motionless.
How to explain that in the same things, change and permanence seem to exist at the same time? Lao Tse turned to the idea of duality and cyclical changes to explain it. For him, everything that exists and what we can see contains two states between which a balance is established: day and night, light and dark, etc. These elements are not exactly opposite and their raison d’être is not to end the other, but rather to complement each other, one cannot exist without the other.
The concepts of Yin and Yang, belonging to ancient Chinese philosophy, are used to designate this duality. that Chinese thinkers have seen in everything. A duality in which each state contains part of its complement, because the two are co-dependent; Ying and Yang is Lao Tse’s way of expressing the change that surrounds everything, which shows the transition between what has been and what will become.
Ying and Yang represent a duality in which it is very difficult to separate the two elements that compose it. In fact, in their visual representation, it is much easier to understand the whole that these elements form than each of them individually, which denotes that they are not exactly the two ends of something, but two elements of a whole.
More specifically, Yin refers to a state in which things are cold, damp, soft, dark, and feminine, and Yang represents dry, harsh, shiny, and masculine. For ancient Chinese philosophy, this duality would be present in all things, and if it is so abstract and ambiguous it is precisely because it tries to encompass everything.
Human nature according to the Tao
Taoism was not born as a religion in which the rules come from one or more deities that they offer preferential treatment to human beings; in this philosophy, people have the same rank as any other element in the cosmos. This means that they are subject to cyclical changes like everything else, and that there is no unchanging essence in them that makes them more important than others. This is why Lao Tse’s book insists on the need to remain discreet and to follow the path with simplicity.
According to Tao Et King, all the changes that can occur in a human being are also expressed by this logic of Ying and Yang complements. Therefore, harmony is making sure that Yin and Yang stay in that perfect balance.
However, this only makes sense in the context of traditional Chinese philosophy and especially Taoism. Outside of the philosophical realm, this idea of harmony serves to describe neither reality nor the human mind in scientific terms, or at least not on its own.
Theory of Yin and Yang in alternative therapies
Some forms of alternative therapy (i.e. without sufficient scientific basis) use the idea of Yin and Yang as a theoretical element to support claims about the healing power of certain practices. The ambiguity of original Taoism is mixed with all kinds of assertions of a specific nature on the effects of exercising one or another activity, as if Taoism and Chinese philosophy were a guarantee of therapeutic practices to be applied in particular situations.
That is, it mixes up a series of statements about practices that work for specific problems (like “if you do tai chi, you will age slower”, etc.) with statements totally abstract (in the style of “virtue is in harmony”). This is why the appeal to Chinese philosophy in general and to Yin and Yang in particular to justify the usefulness of certain strategies it is not appropriate in psychotherapy, Which is based on concrete solutions to specific problems.