Yin and Yang

(what has a front, has a back)

The Yin Yang Symbol

The concept of yin and yang has been described as “the native language of atoms, cells, tissues, organs, individual species, ecosystems, stars, constellations and galaxies: life itself.” In Oriental philosophy, the seasons are inherently yin or yang and foods produced and consumed during those seasons create their own energy in harmony or conflict with the overriding energy present at that time.

In macrobiotics, yin and yang are intrinsic in formulating a balance in both diet and lifestyle. Taking the seasons as a guide, Oriental philosophy refers to “The Transformation of the Five Elements”. Spring is characterised by an upward, expanding yin energy of renewal and rebirth that continues and peaks in summer with every living thing active and in full bloom.

Days are long, nights short: people are out of doors, attracted to (yin) water and often relaxing on holiday. After summer’s peak of yin expansion, late summer sees planetary energy beginning to move in the opposite direction: downward and inward yang. Green (yin) starts changing to red, yellow and brown (yang) and the energy is one of contraction: people become more serious and focused, animals begin storing food for winter, children return to school.

This contraction reaches its peak during the Winter Solstice: days are shorter and nights are longer. People remain inside before the fire and light itself becomes the focus of many festivals including Christmas and Hanukkah. Towards spring, the energy seems to float between yang contraction and yin expansion finally remaining with expansion as the winter months fade.

Cooking styles reflect the change in seasons and during the yin months of spring and summer using less oil and salt is recommended for balance.

Upward-growing, leafy green vegetables are important ingredients and light methods of cooking such as blanching, steaming, quick-pickling and pressing are best.

Spring fruits include apples and as summer progresses, soft fruits such as berries and melons.

In summer, quick stir fries and sautés come into play using corn and other seasonal vegetables and late summer sees the introduction of quick deep frying, grilling and marinating vegetables such as cabbage and cauliflower: deeper cooking styles and flavours in preparation for the change in season.

Autumn cooking starts to put greater emphasis on beans, harder fruits and brings the cooking style nishime – long cooked squash, chestnuts and turnips - to the fore, also oil sautés, stews and medium boils.

Food cooked during the winter months requires long nabe cooking, stewing, pressure-cooking, deep-frying and baking. Recommended vegetables during this season include burdock, carrot, parsnips, dried and sea vegetables. In winter, eating in balance with the season can mean the difference between feeling:

Balanced: confident, courageous, inspired or;

Not balanced: fearful, hopeless, shy, timid, distant and cold.

Similarly in spring, a balanced individual will feel:

Balanced: patient, capable of endurance, adventurous, creative or;

Not balanced: cruel, stubborn, intolerant, rigid, angry and short-tempered.

So, it’s easy to see why so much emphasis is placed on balancing yin and yang in macrobiotic eating and lifestyle choices.

Balancing Choices

In the following table, the most balancing choices are those in the four centre columns, while the foods and substances listed in the outer columns are the most unbalancing to the system.

Extreme yang Very yang Moderate yang Slight yang Slight yin Moderate yin Very yin Extreme yin
Refined salt, hard cheeses, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, pork, bacon, sausages, ham, wild game, shellfish, tuna, swordfish, eggs, steroids, insulin. Sea salt, salmon, white fish. Miso, sea vegetables, soy sauce in cooked dishes, whole grain flour in baked products. Rice (cooked), barley (cooked), millet, oats, rye, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, wholegrain noodles, tempeh, aduki beans, most root vegetables. Onions, leeks, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, squash, kale, collard and mustard greens. Beans and lentils, tofu, peas, celery, sprouts, green beans, spring onions, most local, in-season fruits, most seeds, almonds, walnuts, rice & soya milks, vegetable juice, rice syrup, barley malt syrup. Processed baked goods, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, aubergines, dates, figs, avocado, Brazil nuts, cashews, maple syrup, soft cheeses, yogurt. White sugar, artificial sweeteners, spinach, tropical fruits, coconut, spices, honey, cream, ice cream, milk, butter, synthetic additives, microwaved foods, painkillers, sedatives, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, all other recreational drugs, EMFs.