Yin, Yang, and the Five Elements

To understand the treatment of horses by acupuncture and acupressure, one needs to understand the flow of energy through the body. This vital energy, or life force, is known as Qi (a Chinese word, which is pronounced "chee"). Acupuncturists see the body as a self-healing entity, capable of maintaining its own good health until this life force becomes unbalanced in some way. By using acupuncture and acupressure, this energy balance can be restored. Once it is rebalanced and normal energy levels have been regained, the body is again capable of self-healing.

Yin and yang

Nature is in a constant state of change and continuous development. Everything, according to traditional Chinese medicine, has dual and opposing aspects.

The body's energy system is quite complex. Qi flows through the body in meridians which are channels that run within the body and close to the body surface. Specific locations on the body surface along the meridians are known as points. By stimulating certain points or combinations of points - with needles, fingertips, lasers, and other means - Qi equilibrium can be regained to allow healing to begin.

Nature is in a constant state of change and continuous development. Everything, according to traditional Chinese medicine, has dual and opposing aspects. All things in nature develop within a field of tension and opposing forces, or yin and yang. Qi consists of yin and yang, opposing energies which regulate energy flow and maintain balance. Balance between them is characterized by health, and an unhealthy state is an indication of some imbalance of yin and yang in the body.

Yin is negative and yang is positive. Yin represents the female principle, shade or darkness, passivity, inside, deficiency, and cold; yang represents the male principle, light or sun, activity, outside, excess, and warmth. These opposites complement each other in a dynamic process, and occur in various combinations in an individual. One cannot exist without the other; for example, night has no meaning without day. Yin and yang always combine to make the whole.

According to the Chinese, everything has physical existence because everything has both yin and yang qualities. However, yin and yang are not two separate things. They are one thing expressed in two ways, like two sides of a coin or two ends of a pole. One day, a 24-hour cycle, is half day and half night. This is the basis of the yin-yang symbol with the dark half (yin) and light half (yang) enclosed in a circle. When yang reaches its peak at midday, yin begins to emerge until it is night; when yin reaches its peak at midnight, yang gradually unfolds until it is day again. This cycle exists for all opposites; yin and yang become each other. Change is yin transforming into yang and vice versa; each contains the seed of its opposite which is symbolized as the small black and white dots in the yin-yang symbol. When this transformation process is blocked, yin and yang imbalance occurs.

Yin and yang balance plays an essential role in life, the body, health, disease, and medicine. The point of balance varies from individual to individual, but ideally the body should be in a perfectly balanced state of organ function, intake and outflow, activity and rest, sleep and wakefulness, and so on to gain or maintain optimum health; Qi should flow freely.

The meridians channel and maintain the flow of Qi throughout the body. (See NHM Volume 1, Issue 2, Meridian Magic.) Each meridian is grouped as yin or yang, and each yang meridian is paired with a yin meridian in a complementary male-female relationship. Each meridian corresponds to an internal organ and the corresponding organ is considered zang (yin) or fu (yang). The function of the zang organs is to manufacture and store body fluids and essential substances, including Qi. The function of the yin organs is to receive and digest food and eliminate waste.

The meridians are paired as follows:




Large intestine




Gall Bladder


Small Intestine


Triple Heater



The Conception Vessel, which is an unpaired meridian, influences all the yin meridians. The Governing Vessel, also unpaired, influences all the yang meridians.

The five elements

Wood, fire, earth, metal, and water are the five basic materials that make up the material world. According to ancient philosophers' views of the world, these five elements are intimately interlinked in a way that one stimulates another, but each also inhibits and controls another. In the theory of the five elements, the interdependent and inter-restraining relationship among them keeps them in a state of constant motion and transition. Wood generates fire (wood fuels fire), fire generates earth (ashes make earth), earth generates metal (metal forms within earth), metal generates water (metal in contact with cold will form water), and water generates wood (water promotes wood growth). This pattern is circular and endless. Along with the mutual generating relation of the five elements, each of the elements controls and is controlled. According to the order of mutual control, wood controls earth (roots of trees hold earth), earth controls water (earth dams water), water controls fire (water extinguishes fire), fire controls metal (fire melts metal), and metal controls wood (metal can chop and saw wood).

The ancient Chinese physicians used the five-element theory as a guide in their medical practice to understand and interpret the relationship between man and nature. Physiologically, the five-element theory explains the relationship between the zang and fu organs and body tissues as well as between the body and nature. The internal organs and their functions are all closely related and, like the five elements, are mutually controlling and mutually generating. If there is no generation, then there is no growth and development. If there is no control or restriction, then endless growth and development will become harmful. In this way, the movement and change of all things exist through their mutual generating and controlling relationships. These relationships are the basis of the continuous cycle of the natural elements.

This cycle depicts the flow of energy from element to element and from meridian to meridian. In the body, each meridian pair is associated with one of the five elements with the exception of fire, which is associated with two paired meridians. The physiological activities of the organs can be classified according to the different characteristics of the five elements. For example, heart yang has heating properties so it is categorized as fire. The kidney controls water metabolism and is associated with water's downward flowing and moistening action.


Putting it all together 

Yin, yang, and the five elements are used together as a guide to understand disease, diagnose, and determine treatment. Normal physiological activities indicate relative balance and harmonization between yin and yang. In disease there is either too much yang and not enough yin or too much yin and not enough yang. Symptoms of deficient yin and excess yang would be rapid pulse, constipation, dry skin, scanty urination, and feeling hot and restless. Symptoms of excess yin and deficient yang would be slow pulse, loose stools, edema, frequent urination, not thirsty, low energy, and feeling cold.

Balance is vital within the body as it is in the universe. Essentially, all disharmonies are an imbalance of yin and yang. Through the use of acupuncture and acupressure, the body's yin and yang are brought into relative balance. Where there is not enough yin or yang, those acupuncture points and herbs that strengthen yin or yang are utilized; where there is too much, the ones that reduce excess yin or yang are used. This results in an improvement in health and an increase in well-being and vitality.

For more information and a list of certified veterinary acupuncturists contact:

The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, Inc.

1132 North Main St.

P.O. Box 1478

Longmont, CO  80502-1478


(303) 682-1167

Fax:  (303) 682-1168


For additional information:

An Introduction to Acupuncture for Animals by S. Altman

Equine Acupressure, A Working Manual by Zidonis, Soderberg and Snow

Healing your Horse, Alternative Therapies by Snader, Willoughby, Khalsa, Denega, and Basko