East Meets West

Yin Yang Touch

By Samuel Wong

Yin and yang are key concepts in Chinese medicine and bodywork.1 Their effects on health have been much discussed, as far back as the 2,200-year-old The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, the foundational text of Chinese medicine. Throughout my experience doing therapeutic massage, I came to understand the power of yin and yang as it applies to both client and therapist. As a result, I developed Yin Yang Touch as a way to effectively utilize the interaction of yin and yang energies in a therapeutic massage setting.

Yin and Yang Defined
Yin and yang are often described in terms of the contrasting concepts they represent:2 yin is quiet, shady, feminine, midnight, cold, interior, lethargic, and winter; yang is loud, bright, masculine, midday, hot, exterior, energetic, and summer. But yin and yang are more than contrasts. They are also complements, and each is present within the other, as seen in the yin-yang symbol (image below). Yin and yang are two ends of a continuum; opposites blending gradually into one another. The concept of yin is essentially “more yin than yang,” and the concept of yang is essentially “more yang than yin.”

The expression yin yang is actually a simplification. In Chinese medicine, it is more accurate to speak of yin qi and yang qi, two aspects of the vital energy qi (pronounced chee) that permeates the human body and is crucial to health. When qi does not flow freely, due to imbalance of yin qi and yang qi or blockage of the channels through which it flows, ill health is the result. The dynamic tension between yin qi and yang qi is needed to maintain qi balance—without the pull of yin qi, yang qi would not flow, and without the reciprocal pull of yang qi, yin qi would lose the force to continue pulling. The correct balance is continually aligning and realigning itself according to the needs of the body.

Qi flows in the human body through a web of meridians (image on page 93): 12 pairs of regular meridians, which are divided into two groups according to whether they are linked to yin or yang organs, and are connected in two identical series of continuous, ascending, and descending loops of varying length, on the left and right halves of the body. There are also eight extraordinary meridians and a number of secondary and tertiary meridians.

Regular Meridians
Yin meridians are linked to and named after the yin organs: the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pericardium, and spleen. Yang meridians are linked to and named after the yang organs: the bladder, gall bladder, large intestine, sanjiao (triple burners),3 small intestine, and stomach. Along each meridian are qi points that propel the ascending or descending movement of yin qi and yang qi.

The Chinese textbook Tuina4 depicts the flow of qi through the regular meridians in the following order: lung, large intestine, stomach, spleen, heart, small intestine, bladder, kidney, pericardium, sanjiao, gall bladder, liver, and back to lung. At each transfer point, the qi is transformed to yin qi or yang qi, according to whether the meridian it is passing through is a yin or yang meridian.

Extraordinary Meridians
Among the extraordinary meridians, Du (Governing) and Ren (Conception) have distinctive, significant qi points. The other six extraordinary meridians generally share the qi points of regular meridians, but some of them also have extra qi points, of which Yintang and Taiyang are most prominent. The secondary and tertiary meridians do not have qi points.
The Du meridian begins in the pelvic cavity. An internal branch descends to emerge at the perineum, passes across the anus to the tip of the coccyx, ascends over the spinal processes, crosses the top of the head (midway between the ears—at the qi point Baihui) and penetrates into the brain. The main branch continues over the top of the head and descends across the forehead and nose to terminate inside the mouth at the junction of the gum and upper lip—the last qi point, Yinjiao. The first qi point of the Du meridian, Changqiang, is midway between the anus and the tip of the coccyx.  

The Ren meridian also begins in the pelvic cavity. It emerges at the perineum, runs anteriorly across the pubic region, ascends along the midline of the anterior trunk, crosses the navel, the xiphoid process, and the throat to the lower jaw, where it penetrates internally to encircle the lips and send a branch to the eyes.5  The first qi point of the Ren meridian is Huiyin, located at the perineum. The last qi point is Chengjiang, midline below the lower lip.

Yin and Yang Focal Points
The Du and Ren meridians moderate qi flow through all of the body’s yang and yin meridians respectively. On the Du meridian, the qi point Baihui is the focal point toward which all yang qi surges. Baihui is the most yang area of the body and serves as an escape valve for excess yang qi. On the Ren meridian, the qi point Huiyin is the focal point toward which all yin qi converges. Huiyin is the most yin area of the body and serves as an escape valve for excess yin qi.  

A New Massage Method: Yin Yang Touch
Yin Yang Touch is a massage method that applies the principle of yin and yang to enhance traditional Western massage techniques.

To use Yin Yang Touch, it is necessary to know which areas of the body are yin and which are yang. In a massage setting, two sets of qi are interacting: those within the therapist and the client. The essence of the Yin Yang Touch modality is making informed use of these interactions.

Yin and Yang Body Regions
The meridians can be seen as an electromagnetic field through which the electrical energy of the qi flows. As the electropositive (yang) and electronegative (yin) energies move through the meridians, a positive charge accumulates in the body’s posterior-superior aspects, and a negative charge accumulates in the anterior-inferior aspects.6  Therefore, we can assign yin and yang aspects to different regions of the body—an important concept in the Yin Yang Touch massage method.

Yin: Anterior trunk, anterior sacrum, posterior and medial thigh, posterior leg, plantar side of the foot, anterior and medial arm and forearm, and palmar side of the hand. Movement toward the hip is yin.

Yang: Head, face, posterior and lateral trunk, posterior sacrum, anterior and lateral thigh and leg, dorsal side of the foot, posterior and lateral arm and forearm, and dorsal side of the hand. Movement toward the head is yang.

Opposites Attract, Likes Repel
When yang aspects of the therapist come into contact with yang aspects of the client, or yin aspects of the therapist come into contact with yin aspects of the client, the result is stimulation of the muscles at the point of contact, as qi forces at the deep level move away from each other. An example would be the therapist using the back of her hand (a yang area) to massage the client’s posterior trunk (a yang area).

In contrast, when yang aspects of the therapist come into contact with yin aspects of the client or vice versa, the result is relaxation, as the forces at the deep level are joined and move in harmony with each other. An example would be the therapist using her palm (a yin area) to massage the client’s posterior trunk (a yang area).  
Yin Yang Touch fits perfectly with the primary function of Western massage, which is to relax or stimulate soft tissues. If addressing a condition requires stimulation (such as treating hypotonic muscles in scoliosis) or if a client wants an invigorating massage, the therapist should opt for the yang-on-yang touch or the yin-on-yin touch.

However, if a condition requires muscle relaxation (such as treatment of hypertonic muscles in anterior pelvic tilt) or if a client wants a relaxing massage, the therapist should opt for the yang-on-yin touch or yin-on-yang touch.  
As with any modality, individual clients may react differently than expected, so the choice of touch should always be tailored to the individual. 
Adapting Western Techniques
Of the various categories of Western massage techniques, effleurage, petrissage, friction, tapotement, and vibration are most adaptable to Yin Yang Touch.

Effleurage (sliding or gliding) is the cardinal stroke in Western massage. In traditional effleurage, therapists are likely to use their palms. However, therapists using Yin Yang Touch with effleurage would use the palm over yang areas of the client’s body and the back of the hand over yin areas, if the session’s objective were relaxation. This would be reversed if the session’s objective were stimulation.
Petrissage normally involves using the fingers to lift, wring, or squeeze soft tissues in a kneading motion. It primarily uses the yin aspects of the hand. Applying Yin Yang Touch to petrissage, therapists can first stimulate the tissues with yang-on-yang or yin-on-yin touch. After the tissues are warmed up, the therapist can relax them with yang-on-yin or yin-on-yang touch.  

In yang-on-yang touch, the therapist kneads with the back of her hand (yang) in a rolling motion over the client’s posterior trunk, anterior thigh, and leg. In yin-on-yin touch, she kneads with her palms and fingers (yin) over the client’s anterior trunk, posterior thigh, and leg. In yin-on-yang touch, the therapist kneads with the palm and fingers (yin) over the client’s posterior trunk, anterior thigh, and leg. In yang-on-yin touch, she uses the back of the hand or posterior forearm (yang) over the client’s anterior trunk, posterior thigh, and leg.  

Friction, in Western massage, is usually accomplished with palmar action. Applying Yin Yang Touch with friction, the therapist can follow the same routine as that outlined for petrissage: first stimulate the soft tissues and then relax them, using yang-on-yang or yin-on-yin touch initially, and finishing with yang-on-yin or yin-on-yang.

Tapotement, which includes hacking, rapping, cupping, clapping, slapping, tapping, and pinchment, is essentially made up of yang touches. However, within each of these percussive movements one can introduce the yin-yang gradation. Hacking can be either light or heavy, rapping can be either soft or hard, and cupping can be full or empty. Some of these movements cannot be done with the back of the hand or forearm, but other back-of-the-hand movements (such as pummeling or double cupping) can be devised or refined for percussion work.

Vibration, which involves oscillating, quivering, or trembling motions, moves a body area gently back and forth or up and down. It is yin touch, but can be performed with yang vigor. The back of the hand is as effective in creating vibration as the palm. Moreover, Yin Yang Touch can be integrated into vibration through variation in pressure and amplitude.  

The therapist can increase the desired effect by performing her strokes/techniques either toward the head or hip. She might use her palm (yin) to glide over the client’s trapezius or latissimus dorsi (yang) toward the head for relaxation strokes and toward the hip for stimulation strokes. (The author has found alternate strokes of relaxation and stimulation are effective in addressing scoliosis.)  

The therapist might also increase the strength of qi by combining multiple examples of the type of qi required. For example, using the palm (yin) to massage loosely (yin) and move inferiorly (yin) aligns three different dimensions of the yin aspect, while using the back of the hand (yang) to massage firmly (yang) and move superiorly (yang) aligns three different dimensions of the yang aspect. The variations are practically limitless.

The Benefits
Yin Yang Touch is safe and simple to use and it does not require therapists to make an extra investment, other than greater awareness of the primary purpose of a massage session and a conscious use of their hands and forearms. Other benefits of using Yin Yang Touch include:

1. The therapist reduces the risk of repetitive strain, as all sides of her hands and forearms are used.  
2. The client feels more secure and the strokes are less invasive when the therapist uses the back of her hand or posterior forearm over sensitive areas such as the anterior neck, pectoral region, abdomen, medial thigh, and inguinal region.
3. The therapist recovers faster from the rigor of manual work because she is actually engaged in internal massage of her own qi while treating her client.
4. The client can also practice Yin Yang Touch for self-care in between sessions.    

1. The discussions of yin and yang, meridians, and electromagnetic energy are based on the works of M. Mercati, J. A. Johnson, T. J. Kaptchuk, and J. Yan et al. cited in the following notes.   
2. M. Mercati, The Handbook of Chinese Massage:  Tui Na Techniques to Awaken Body and Mind (Vermont: The Healing Art Press, 1997): 15.
3. Sanjiao, also referred to as “triple burners,” may best be understood as the functional relationship between the lungs, spleen, kidneys, small intestine, and bladder—organs that regulate the water element of the body.  
4. J. Yan, D. Wang, M. Fang, eds., Tuina (Beijing: China Press of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 2009): 15.
5. T. J. Kaptchuk, The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000): 130–1.
6. J. A. Johnson, Chinese Medical Qigong Therapy, Volume 1: Energetic Anatomy and Physiology (California: The International Institute of Medical Qigong, 2005): 167.

Samuel Wong is a research massage therapist based in Northern Virginia. Trained in Western massage, Wong is also a practitioner of tuina and trained in China. His research focus is using massage to treat fibromyalgia. This article is a synthesis of his study of Chinese bodywork and Western massage. Reach him at vasolace@gmail.com.

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