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One of the major assumptions inherent in Chinese traditional medicine is that disease is due to an internal imbalance of Yin and Yang; therefore disease can be treated by correcting the Yin Yang imbalance, thereby returning the body to a healthy state. The Chinese assume that the body is a whole, and each part of it is intimately connected. Each organ has a mental as well as a physical function.

Some authors, such as Ivan Illich, have been hypercritical of Western medicine and thus some people have looked upon Chinese traditional medicine as not just an alternative but a superior system of medicine. But it is just another medical system, with ideas that may be of benefit to the individual patient and Western medicine as a whole, but it cannot be promulgated as either superior or a cure all. The major disadvantage of Western medicine is that it has the potential to cause a great deal of harm. Chinese traditional medicine, on the other hand, is most unlikely to cause any serious damage as it is a particularly safe form of therapy; this is undoubtedly one of its main advantages.

Yin and Yang

The theory of yin and yang is a kind of world outlook. It holds that all things have two opposite aspects, yin and yang, which are both opposite and at the same time interdependent. This is a universal law of the material world. These two aspects are in opposition to each other but because one end of the spectrum cannot exist without the other they are interdependent.

The ancient Chinese used water and fire to symbolize yin and yang; anything moving, hot, bright and hyperactive is yang, and anything quiescent, cold, dim and hypoactive is yin.

The yin and yang properties of things are not absolute but relative. As an object or person changes so the yin and yang components change at a gradual rate. Each of the yin and yang properties of the object is a condition for the existence of the other; neither can exist in isolation.

These two opposites are not stationary but in constant motion. If we imagine the circadian rhythm, night is yin and day is yang; as night (yin) fades it becomes day (yang), and as yang fades it becomes yin. Yin and yang are therefore changing into each other as well as balancing each other.

The Application of Yin and Yang to Chinese Medicine
Each organ has an element of yin and yang within it. The histological structures and nutrients are yin, and the functional activities are yang. Some organs are predominantly yang in their functions, such as the gan-liver, while others are predominantly yin, such as the shen-kidney. Even though one organ may be predominantly yin (or yang) in nature, the balance of yin and yang is maintained in the whole healthy body because the sum total of the yin and yang will be in a fluctuating balance.

If a condition of prolonged excess or deficiency of either yin or yang occurs then disease results. In an excess of yin the yang qi would be damaged, and a disease of cold of shi nature would develop. Excess of yang will consume yin and a disease of heat of shi nature would develop. In a deficiency of yin, diseases of heat of xu nature develop, while a deficiency of yang causes diseases of cold of xu nature.