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The Science of Yin and Yang

An Ancient Symbol of Harmony that Seemingly Holds Measurable Answers

I have spent most of my career focused on the cold, hard sciences that explain and define pain—some might say it’s an obsession of mine. There are answers out there. There are amazing humans who do diligent research and discover patterns that have answered a lot of questions. And I read their findings. Like a child with a video game, I will spend hours reading and digging and learning and concluding until my eyes are bloodshot and my fingers are calloused.

But there are some fundamental truths out there that go beyond science. The time-honored capacity to intuit was the gold standard long before the age of reason snowplowed its way into human consciousness. And many massage therapists rely on that ancient wisdom to drop in and connect with a client.

So when do we rely on intuition? And when do we lean on the research? It is, indeed, spectacular when the two meet; when science explains what we already know or when intuition coincides with the research. Take, for example, yin and yang. This intangible idea that has been handed down for thousands of years, born of observation and gut instincts, has revealed itself to be a basic principle that science has quite inadvertently proven as a truth.


As you know, the yin yang symbol represents balance. Remember that yin is the dark half of the symbol and holds in it quiet, stillness, softness, and vulnerability. Yang is on the other side. In here lives light, strength, hardness, and protection. We seek harmony between yin and yang, but are there really measurable answers there?

Long before we were able to cut open a corpse and dissect the inner workings of the human body, those who practiced medicine believed in channels of energy—called meridians—that run through us and essentially dictate all the aspects of who we are. I don’t know about you, but when I first studied Eastern theory in school, I was skeptical. Curious and intrigued, but skeptical.

Of course, there are no meridians a forensic pathologist can hold. And, as far as I was concerned, that was enough for me. With grit and determination, I hung a sign on my office door that read “Allison Denney, Neuromuscular Therapist.” I practiced bodywork with the most scientific approach. Balance was great and all—but only when it came to exercise versus rest or carbs versus protein. Yin and yang was for the energy worker two doors down.

I don’t remember who first pointed it out to me, but there was a distinct moment when I learned that trigger-point referral patterns mimicked the same maps as meridians. This was my first foray into what was about to unfold. I remember looking at trigger-point charts, and then staring at meridian charts, and then back to trigger-point charts, and then back again. It was like I was watching a tennis match between a robot and a jellyfish. My scientific mind was beginning to crack.

Little did I know, the dam was about to burst. Once I let myself see that game, there was a whole new world of tennis matches just waiting for me to spectate. This didn’t just apply to me, though. I was suddenly keenly aware of the presence of too much yin with my friends or too much yang with my kids. I could feel the five elements breathing life into the way I talked about dysfunction with my clients. I felt like Neo in The Matrix when he sees that grid plain as day. It was cool.


One of the most acute eye openers came soon after. I was working with a client who was dealing with a groin strain. She sat in my office and we went through the usual health history, the question-and-kind-of-but-not-really-answer conversation. She was not totally clear on what happened and was having a hard time discerning why her pain was so chronic. Yes, there was a groin strain a couple of years ago. But why was it not resolving?

It turns out that the adductors—the major players when it comes to groin strains—are located in a very yin part of the body: protected, hidden, and dark. The upper inner thigh is all things yin. With this new light shining on an already hyper-analyzed area, I was able to see a whole new layer of what was going on for her. The lack of activity, the need to protect what was already too protected—we needed a different approach.

Needless to say, the shift in mindset was a major game changer for her. She was 80 percent pain free after three sessions, and she had a new homework plan. Before that moment, I had inklings of feelings that were pulling me in this direction—little blips I shooed away like a mosquito. When I finally turned to look, though, there was certainly no mosquito. There was a world of knowledge I was only beginning to discover. I was starting to really believe in this whole Eastern perspective thing.

Intuition is not something we work toward. It is something we are gifted at birth, thanks to the millions of humans who have lived before us and pondered why and how things work. Our own journey requires that we ask the same questions. They look different and sound different in the context of an ever-changing world. But they are, in essence, the same.

Getting to a place where we start to understand the answers is the moment we drop in; drop into the deeper truths that have existed for thousands of years. And see, for the first time, a new perspective shedding light on what may have seemed impossibly dark.

The funny thing is, I don’t believe the cultural shift of the scientific mind necessarily killed intuition. I believe we have a new understanding of an ancient tool. The importance of being able to back up my work with research is not one I will ever dismiss. But the extra dimension of thousands of years of intuition has been similar to getting a new pair of glasses I never knew I needed.


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