Yin and Yang are metaphors for the idea that we live in a dualistic reality. In the “ultimate dimension” there is no YinYang differentiation, only the Tai Yi (Supreme Oneness), but in the “historical dimension” we experience the world as the interaction of opposites. Yin is seen as the shady side of the mountain. Yang is the sunny side of the mountain. Yin represents solidity, substance, nourishment, while Yang represents activity. Yin and Yang are not absolute terms: they each contain each other and can only be defined in relationship to each other. When we say something is Yin, it is in relationship to something else that is more Yang in nature. What was Yin in relationship to one observation may become Yang in another relationship. Yin and Yang oppose each other, are interdependent of each other, consume each other, and transform into each other. Ultimately, one can say that the highest form of medicine is to bring Yin and Yang back into balance.
Qi is often translated as energy or life force. The Chinese character Qi is of a grain of rice and the steam that comes out of it, thus representing the transformation of a grain of rice into cooked rice, into something that can be used, and representing influences and relationships in transformation (and everything is considered to be transforming at all times). To the Chinese Qi is life (and life is Qi). Yin and Yang are in fact just Qi with a certain flavour, as are the Five elements. We can say that Qi has quality, and direction. It takes many forms, shapes, and qualities. Humans come into existence as the interaction of the Qi of Heaven and the Qi of Earth. This is another way of saying that we extend what was given to us by heaven (Shen – Spirits) or our ancestors, by using our physical form (the seed of which is called the Essence – 精: that which generates life). To be in good health is to ensure that the Qi is flowing in accordance with nature. And since everything is changing, our Qi is adjusting and changing all the time. This change and our adjustment, or lack of adjustment, to change is often viewed as the cause of disease.
Wind: Change is seen as Wind since it is movement. When we are unable to accept the change in our lives, we might begin to have Wind signs: headaches, tremors, itchiness, or a cold or flu.
Cold: When we are slow to move with the changes in our lives, we might be having Cold signs: we are slow to move, stiff, contracted, and feel cold.
Heat: When we move toward change with too much enthusiasm and too fast we might experience Heat signs: feeling hot, flushed, rashes.
Damp: When we are unsure how to react to changes, we begin to hesitate and we try to “dampen” life so as to slow the change down. We then get Damp signs: feeling heavy as if swimming in a swamp, lots of mucus and discharges.
General View of Pregnancy in Chinese Medicine
The four elements also show us how the fetus develops into a fully conscious being over the ten lunar months of pregnancy. Each two month period relates to one element, so that the generation cycle of the four elements is completed as we move from conception to birth. Beginning with wood, each element represents part of the cycle of physical, mental and emotional development that eventually leads to the birth of a healthy, whole and conscious human being. In traditional Chinese medicine, each element represents both an internal organ of the body and an aspect of mind/spirit. This is an “energetic” map that shows us how each aspect of our bodies, minds and spirits is related to the others. It is also one possibility for understanding how we can honor and nurture the life that is growing within us during pregnancy.
Conception is the merging of the essence of two people (regardless of how conception is actually achieved). It is important to note that, according to traditional Chinese medical theory, both the prenatal (genetic) and postnatal (acquired) essence merge to form the embryo. What this means is that the state of health of the parents at the time of conception will profoundly affect the future health of the child. Therefore, it is important in the preconception period (36 months before you begin trying) that both parents get adequate sleep, food, and exercise, and that they maintain a peaceful state of mind as much as possible.
After conception, the mother produces increased kidney essence, which in turn causes greater production of blood to nourish the fetus. The blood is diverted to the uterus to support the pregnancy. This diversion of blood can cause insomnia, as well as fatigue, sleepiness, and food cravings. The increase of essence also stimulates the increased functioning of all the organs and channels. At the same time, the Qi ascends upwards, causing breast development and the dark line along the lower abdomen. The upward movement of Qi can also cause morning sickness, dark patches on the face, and heat signs such as mouth sores, a red complexion, or excess appetite.
Strong emotions can cause the Qi to move too strongly, too quickly, and upset the fetus, therefore people, environments, or media that upset the mother should be avoided. Throughout pregnancy, the body is sending as much Qi and blood as possible to the uterus to nourish the growing baby. As a consequence, less Qi and blood are circulating in the other channels and organs of the body. Qi and blood can easily stagnate and cause hemorrhoids, varicose veins, constipation, breathlessness, insomnia, irritability, edema, and other symptoms. This is why it is important to keep the Qi and blood moving with mild physical exercise, meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, or other forms of relaxation.
The most important advice we have to give pregnant women can be summarized as follows: rest, reduce stress, and keep your belly warm inside and out. Warm, cooked foods are essential to nourish both you and your baby. Foods rich in turmeric, ginger and cinnamon. Bone broth is also a postpartum essential. Avoid cold, raw foods, and try to maintain an acid/alkaline balance in your diet. It is best to eat light, bland, warm, nutrient dense foods. Rest allows your body to focus the energy it needs on the growing baby. Being well rested also makes you less susceptible to colds and flu.