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  • Writer's pictureJamie Bass

Feng Shui Core Concepts: YIN/YANG

Remember, in the ‘90s, how the Yin/Yang symbol was on everything? Most of us are probably vaguely familiar with the meaning behind this well-known image due to its emergence in popular culture, but I bet you wouldn’t have guessed that the theory of Yin/Yang plays a major role in feng shui. Along with the other core concepts of Tao, Chi, and the Five Elements, Yin/Yang, which means balance, is a crucial tenet that helps guide us when applying feng shui to spaces.

What is Yin/Yang?

In its essence, the theory of Yin/Yang explains how complementary opposites comprise a whole. Yin and Yang are actually two separate entities, but the concept of Yin/Yang refers to the way in which forces can interact to create a system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. Think of it this way: although day and night are opposites and each can stand on its own, we need both in order to create a 24-hour day. We can apply the concept of Yin/Yang to almost anything: spaces, activities, temperaments, the cycles of nature, and personality types. And because Yin and Yang are separate entities, they each have distinctive characteristics that are often (you guessed it) opposite. Yin elements are more reserved and contemplative, while Yang elements are excitable and action-oriented. Think of Yin as breathing in and focusing inward. Attributes typically associated with Yin include old, small, curved, empty, dark, faint smelling, endings, still, and quiet. Yang, in contrast, is more like breathing out and connecting outwardly. Attributes associated with Yang are young, big, straight, crowded, busy, light, heavy smelling, beginnings, active, and noisy. In the example above, daytime is more strongly associated with Yang and nighttime is associated with Yin.

Neither Yin nor Yang is better or worse than the other; it's more about how they can support and balance each other. Most situations benefit when balance is achieved (and what “balance” means is unique and specific to each person). It can actually be detrimental to us to not experience opposites. For instance, exposure to too little light (like during the winter months) can cause depression. And at the other extreme, too much light, in the forms of sun exposure or radiation therapy for cancer, can harm or kill. All things need their counterpart. And what’s interesting is that the extreme form of either Yin or Yang creates its opposite. A room that is too warm (Yang) causes drowsiness (Yin), too much noise (Yang) causes one to seek silence (Yin), and food that is old and begins to rot (Yin) produces an awful and strong smell (Yang). Perhaps the most obvious example of this interplay is how a very cold ice (dry ice) feels hot to the touch.

Yin/Yang also explains the process of change, transition, and cycles, especially in nature, with the clearest example of this being that day (Yang) turns into night (Yin) over and over again. Other examples of Yin/Yang in nature include low tide (Yin) becoming high tide (Yang), fall and winter (Yin) transitioning into spring and summer (Yang), and dark clouds (Yin) bringing rain (Yang). Yin/Yang describes how interconnected opposites complement and complete one another, and it's a concept that resonates strongly with us because, as humans, we are drawn to finding the balance in things.

Yin/Yang in Our Spaces

Since we are always affected by our surroundings, having balance in our physical environments helps keep our mental and emotional selves (and health!) balanced as well. But we can all recognize that certain areas in our homes are more conducive to high-energy activities (Yang), while others are more focused on introspective activities and rest (Yin). The purpose and function of each area serves as a guide in determining whether it needs more Yin or more Yang influences. And it's perfectly acceptable for a room to feel more Yin or more Yang (very few, if any, spaces will be split equally 50/50): it depends mostly on the mood you're looking to create and how you want to feel in that space. A bedroom, for instance, would skew towards Yin, but you might want your kitchen to feel more Yang. Keep in mind, also, that each one of our five senses (taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound) contribute to how we experience the Yin and Yang of a space.

So how do you know whether a space is more Yin or Yang? Well, a dusty, small apartment with darker, muted colors and low lighting would be more Yin, and a sixth floor, sunny apartment with highly polished light wood floors and colorful art would be more Yang. The chart below, from Feng Shui with What You Have: Maximum Harmony, Minimum Effort, lists some other key things to look for in helping you decipher.

And let’s say your space veers too much in one direction – it feels too Yin or too Yang and you want to get things more in balance. Luckily, there are some quick and easy ways you can incorporate aspects of the opposite component into your space, as laid out in the chart below (also courtesy of Feng Shui with What You Have: Maximum Harmony, Minimum Effort).

When it comes to Yin/Yang, the takeaway is that opposites often actually support each other. Contrary to what we’re frequently told (and what many of us may believe), we don’t live in polarities, and like nature, we’re really drawn towards balance and harmony.

Up next? Chi!


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