Yin Yang and the Five Elements are the Standards of Oriental Medicine to Classify Our Body
If modern medicine classifies the organs by its spatial placement, Oriental Medicine classifies by its function. For example, modern medicine classifies lungs as “two chunks of masses at the chest”, whereas Oriental Medicine classifies all organs that perform the respiratory function as a whole, as “lungs”. That would include the organ, lung, itself, but also respiratory tract, nose, skin, and sweat pores too. This kind of special standards are used in Oriental Medicine and of them all, the two most important are the Yin and Yang and the Five Elements (fire, water, wood, metal, and earth).
‘Yin’ is Having Too Little Energy, and ‘Yang’ is Too Much Energy
‘Yin’ generally means deficiency of some kind in the body and ‘Yang’ means an excess of something. So, in Oriental Medicine, ‘Yin’ would be referring to organs that perform resting and saving to counteract on deficiency and ‘Yang’ refers to organs that perform an activity that use up the excess energy. It’s like the concept of ‘sympathetic nerves/parasympathetic nerves’ and ‘autonomous nerves/dysautonomic nerves’ in Modern medicine but Oriental Medicine breaks down the concept into organs.
‘Yin and Yang’ is the Conceptualization of Functions of Organs
If the concept of Yin and Yang is based on the function and the range each organ performs, then the Five Elements are the organs symbolized into the elements of nature. For example, the spread of the heat all over the body through circulation of blood is much like the image of fire flaring out that heart, the organ which causes the flow, is named ‘the organ of fire. In the same aspect, the kidney is ‘the organ of water’ for it filters and cleanses the body, liver is ‘the organ of tree for it keeps our body firm and strong, stomach is ‘the organ of soil’ for it absorbs and takes in outside nutrients into our body, and lung is ‘the organ of gold’ for it blocks the external waste from coming into our body.
The ‘Endocrine Theory’ of Modern Medicine is Another Expression of ‘the Theory of Five Lines’ of Oriental Medicine
Looking into the Yin and Yang and the functions of organs, it’s clinically proven that decreased performance of the kidney has a greater probability of causing heart-related diseases. This kind of phenomenon is explained as weakening of ‘water-energy’ which makes it difficult to control ‘the fire energy’ in the concept of the Five Elements. It describes relationships of these energies to be compatible(상생) and incompatible(상극) to express more complicated functions of the human body. This concept of the Five Elements is very similar to the Endocrine system of Modern medicine. The endocrine system explains the constant cycle of excreted hormones by offsetting each other’s power, creating a balance. This organic structure of organs explained through the Endocrine system is synonymous to the concept of the Five Elements.
Though the jargons and ways of explaining the concepts are different, the Yin and Yang and the Five Elements of the Oriental Medicine can be said to be identical to the concepts widely accepted and used in the Modern Medicine. Or, considering that the idea of sympathetic nerves and parasympathetic nerves are found only recently (less than 100 years ago), the Oriental Medicine, which studied and confirmed through practice these concepts thousands of years ago, can be said to be more ‘accurate’ and ‘practical’.