What is yin?
Yin is a very large concept in Chinese medicine. You may have seen the classic yin-yang or tai ji symbol depicting the balance between yin and yang. Yin makes up the shadows, night, anything damp or wet, dense substances, and cold. Women are considered more yin. Yang makes up the opposite: sunlight, daytime, warmth, dryness, ephemeral, energetic substances. It seems rudimentary, but is actually one of the most complicated academic discussions in Chinese medicine. Yin and yang cannot exist without each other. They are constantly changing into each other. In our bodies, there are very yin organs with a minute yang action or function, and there are mostly yin organs that may behave more like a yang organ to the casual observer. You see, it gets complicated.
Generally speaking, in our bodies, yin is the deepest aspect of the fluid part of our body. Yin is considered the foundation of blood or deeper body substance that generates/creates blood. Yin makes up the more dense parts of our bodies. All of our organs are divided into yin and yang organs. Our yin organs are the more dense, solid organs, such as the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, spleen, pancreas. The yang organs are the more hollow; such as the small intestine, large intestine, bladder, and gallbladder. Yin is influenced by time of day, with twilight and night time being considered a yin time. Sleep is a yin activity.
When yin in your body is healthy, your energy cycles throughout the day will be seamless. You will sleep easily and for roughly eight hours a night. You will have ample energy to approach your work load. The yin, like your blood, will help anchor your emotions, and it will be easy to manage stressful environments, demanding jobs, etc without feeling triggered into a stress response.
If you read my previous post, Heal Yourself With Food: Food Therapy For Blood Deficiency, then you will notice that many of the signs of yin deficiency are the same as blood deficiency. The yin deficiency symptoms that overlap with blood deficiency are generally worse. For instance, both blood and yin deficiency share fatigue as a symptom. Fatigue with yin deficiency is a deeper fatigue.
Signs and Symptoms of Yin Deficiency
- Spontaneous afternoon sweats
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes–especially in the afternoon and evening
- Five palm heat— meaning the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, or all of the above will feel very hot periodically throughout the day. You may feel yourself having to kick your feet out from under the blankets throughout the night when this happens.
- Difficulty staying asleep or frequent waking throughout the night
- Dry hair, dry skin, dry mucus membranes
- Fatigue — deeper than the blood deficiency fatigue
- Frequent urination during the day
- Frequent nocturnal urination
How Does Yin Deficiency Happen?
Yin deficiency can occur for a wide variety of reasons. Living in a dry climate will slowly tax our yin if we do not use dietary measures to maintain our yin level.
Yin is depleted by excessive sweating and excessive exercise, stress, living in an extremely noisy environment, long periods of worry, and overconsumption of hot spices, caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, other drugs, and refined foods.
Most chronic illnesses, autoimmune disorders, and waisting diseases will either start out with a yin deficiency picture or will develop yin deficiency in conjunction with other symptoms. These cases are inherently more complicated and need supervision of a trained health care provider. Adding some of the food therapy below can help in these conditions, but will need more individualized guidance than this post can provide.
How to treat yin deficiency with food:
In general, most animal products such as butter, bone stocks and broths, meat, dairy, and eggs help to rebuild deficient yin. Meats should be used more as a garnish than the main component of a meal. Specific meats that rebuild yin are beef, pork, duck, oysters, clam, sardine, and abalone. If you tend to have significant mucus or allergies, than stick to the animal products of broths, stocks, and butter, while limiting actual meat, eggs, and dairy.
There are also a wide variety of non-animal products that can help rebuild yin. These foods are: millet, barley, rice, quinoa, amaranth, seaweeds, tofu, black beans, kidney beans, mung beans and their sprouts, beets, string beans, persimmon, grapes, blackberries, raspberries, banana, and watermelon.
In general, if you fall into the yin deficient camp, then cooking your foods as soups, stews and congees will significantly aid in the regeneration of yin. Remember yin is the deeper fluid aspect of the body, so eating more fluid, watery meals will quicken your recovery. Try adding adding a soup a day to your meals– either as a main course or a side dish. Even drinking a cup or more of animal broth or stock throughout the day can be a helpful addition to provide more fluid to your body.
Yin deficiency can combine with multiple other health concerns and create complicated patterns in the body. Patterns involving lots of phlegm, mucus, difficult digestion and wasting diseases are some examples of more complicated patterns. If you are suffering from complicated health issues with a yin deficiency component, it will be helpful to seek nutritional guidance from a trained Acupuncturists and Chinese Medicine specialist, as some individuals will benefit from eating yin nourishing meats, while other individuals with complicated patterns need to take a vegetarian approach.