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How to Be Content: The Balance of Yin-Yang in Our Everyday Lives

Dr. Arlene Unger is a clinical psychologist, wellness coach, author of How to Be Content. In her busy practice, The Empowerment Center, she emphasizes the need to find life balance



In Harmony

The yin-yang symbol indicates much more than happiness; the intertwined light and dark halves of a circle are a beautiful evocation of perfect balance. Rooted in Chinese mythology from at least the third century BCE, this deceptively simple symbol embodies a complex view of the world. It is a visual expression of the idea that the universe is made up of opposing forces: energies that are in a constant state of flux as one gives way to the other. And yet, since each contains the other at its centre, they are interdependent, inseparable, in a dynamic state of equilibrium. Chinese thought holds that the universe and everything in it contains both yin and yang energy, and one cannot exist without the other.

The Birth of Yin Yang

Yin represents the earth, feminine energy, receptiveness, passivity and darkness, while yang stands for the heavens, masculine energy, activity and light. They are traditionally thought of in terms of sunlight moving across a mountain – one side of the mountain is bathed in brightness and is warm and dry (this is yang, which can be translated as ‘sunny side’), while the other is in shade, so is damp and cold (yin, meaning ‘shady side’). As the sun moves across the sky, the light progresses from one side to the other, always in motion, until the dark side becomes light and the light becomes dark.

‘All things carry yin and embrace yang. They reach harmony by blending with the vital breath.’—Lao Tzu


‘The interplay of opposite principles constitutes the universe.’—Confucius

The concept of yin yang lies at the heart of Chinese medicine and of healing practices such as t’ai chi and qigong, which aim to keep yin and yang energy flowing through the body to promote good health. Many studies have found that t’ai chi and qigong engender feelings of wellbeing, as well as bringing significant health benefits.

Try this well-known qigong exercise for a quick happiness boost when you are feeling low.

1. Stand with your feet flat on the floor and roughly hip width apart, toes pointing forwards. Your spine should be upright and your chin roughly parallel to the floor. Bend your knees slightly as if about to sit on a tall bar stool.

2. Take a few deep breaths in this position, allowing your body to relax.

3. Bring your hands in front of your belly, with your palms facing downwards and your fingertips of each hand pointing towards the other. Keep your hands relaxed rather than rigidly straight; there should be a little space in between each finger.

4. Looking down at your hands, raise them in an arc in front of the body and then above the head as you take a long slow breath in. Follow the movement of the hands with your eyes, bringing your head up to facilitate this – only lift the head as far as feels comfortable; don’t compress the neck.

5. At the end of this upward arc, when your palms are facing the sky, raise them straight up a little – as if ‘pressing the sky’. Keep the action very soft and gentle.

6. Breathe out through the mouth as you separate the hands and bring them out to the sides and down – in the position you started in. Let your head resume its forward position at the same time.

7. Repeat this a few times, breathing in through the nose as you raise the arms in front of you and breathing out through the mouth as you bring them out and down. Make the movement soft, gentle and flowing.

Stand Tall

This exercise is great for your posture, and a study by the University of Auckland has found that good posture helps to alleviate the symptoms of depression.

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