What is Yin and Yang? 阴阳是什么?

Updated: Jan 25

Yin Yang 阴阳

You may have heard your TCM practitioner describing your body using terms such as “Yin deficiency (阴虚)” or “Excess yang (阳亢)”, and may have wondered what they mean to your health.

In general, Yin and Yang is a multi-faceted concept that can be used to describe any object or phenomenon in the universe.

In its simplest form, Yin Yang describes the idea of “opposites”, such as 2 objects having opposing characteristics (e.g. male and female / fire and water), or the 2 opposite sides of an object (e.g. front and back / exterior and interior).

Examples and properties of Yin and Yang:


  • Sunny

  • Day

  • Warmer

  • More energetic

  • More outgoing

  • More mobile

  • Drier

  • Lighter

  • Brighter


  • Shady

  • Night

  • Cooler

  • Quieter

  • More passive

  • More static

  • Wetter

  • Heavier

  • Darker

The simplest example of Yin and Yang is water and fire. Comparing the two, water is cooler, wetter, darker, heavier, more passive, and tends to sink, and is thus more Yin. Fire is warmer, drier, brighter, lighter, more aggressive, and tends to rise, and is thus more Yang.

In TCM, Yin and Yang should not be misinterpreted as 2 specific types of chemicals or molecules within the body. It is not the name of any single physical item, but a general philosophy to describe the relationship between things or within things.

In the human body, Yin and Yang most commonly refers to the "heaty" aspect and "cold" aspect of the body.

How is the Yin and Yang concept applied clinically?

Balanced Yin and Yang

In a healthy person, the Yin and Yang aspects within the body should be appropriately balanced. At this state, the person’s body is neither too hot nor too cold, and neither too dry nor too damp.

Excessive Yang (阳亢) - "heaty"

Too much Yang can cause symptoms that are associated with heat, such as:

  • feeling warm easily

  • red face

  • agitation

  • constipation

  • mouth ulcers

  • sore throat

  • bright red tongue with yellow coating

This form of heat is known as “excess heat (实热)”, and such a condition is often colloquially referred to as “heatiness”.

To clear this excess heat, cooling herbs and foods such as bitter gourd (苦瓜)and chrysanthemum (菊花) can be consumed.

Excessive Yin (阴盛) - "cold"

Similarly, too much Yin can lead to symptoms that are associated with cold or sometimes dampness, such as:

  • feeling chilly

  • preference for warm environment or warm drinks

  • pale/purplish tongue, possibly with thick coating

  • cold pain that is aggravated upon applying pressure

  • feeling of heaviness

This form of coldness is named “excess cold (实寒)”. Warming herbs such as ginger (姜) can be used to dispel the cold.

> Related article: 3 common types of pain in TCM and what they mean

Deficient Yin (阴虚) - "heaty due to deficiency"

If the Yin is lacking, then the Yang is relatively excessive, thus leading to symptoms of “heatiness” as well. However, since this heatiness is not due to an actual excess of yang, the symptoms are somewhat different from those caused by excessive Yang.

Symptoms of Deficient Yin:

  • night sweat

  • hot flush

  • hot palms and soles

  • red cheeks

  • dry skin

  • bright red tongue with thin or no coating

This type of heat is named “heat due to deficiency (虚热)”.

Herbs and foods that replenish Yin include: lily bulb (百合), white fungus (银耳), Yù Zhú (玉竹) etc.

Deficient Yang (阳虚) - "cold due to deficiency"

Similarly, deficient Yang can also lead to symptoms associated with cold. However, since this coldness is not due to an excess of Yin, some of these symptoms are different from those caused by excessive Yin.

Symptoms of deficient Yang:

  • feeling chilly

  • preference for warm environment or warm drinks

  • cold pain that is relieved by applying pressure

  • pale and puffy tongue

  • loose, watery stools

This form of coldness is named “cold due to deficiency (虚寒)”. Herbs and foods that replenish Yang include: cinnamon (肉桂), dried ginger (干姜), mutton (羊肉) etc.

Replenishing Yin and Yang

Again, replenishment of yin and yang should not be thought of as supplementing specific molecules that are called yin or yang. In a person with Yin deficiency, replenishment of Yin helps to elevate the cool and moist aspects of the body back to a balanced state and thus eliminate the symptoms of heatiness and dryness that are attributed to yin deficiency.




  • 阳光

  • 兴奋

  • 开放

  • 运动

  • 干燥

  • 阴凉

  • 抑制

  • 保守

  • 静止

  • 湿润









  • 温热感

  • 面红

  • 急躁

  • 便秘

  • 生口疮

  • 咽痛

  • 舌红苔黄

此热证属“实热”,也常称为“上火”。 若要清利火热,应使用寒凉食品药物,如苦瓜、菊花等。



  • 怕冷

  • 喜温

  • 舌淡/紫,苔厚

  • 冷痛,拒按

  • 沉重感

此寒证属“实寒”。 若要散寒,可使用温性药,如姜。

阴虚 (虚热)