“The Dao gives birth to One, One gives birth to Two, Two give birth to Three and Three give birth to Ten thousand things. The Ten-thousand things carry yin and embrace yang. They mix these energies to enact harmony” - Lao Zi (Dao De Jing).
Think about your own balance between YinYang being one very long song and dance that lasts your whole life.
During this dance you require times of Yin where we are cooling down, slowing down, accumulating energy and strength for the future, and these times are hauntingly beautiful in their defending energy, and other times the dance requires Yang, fast pace, expression, usage of lots of energy in order to create something of magnitude and of manifestation energy. Tip too far in either direction, and you’ll pull the curtain sooner on this life long performance. Ignore the dark side of Yin, or the brightness of Yang, and your life will become dull and lacking of vibrancy, as it is the friction and union of both that makes our hearts shine.
This dance extends outward to our relationship with tonic herbs, our approach to healing and the steady, consistent practices that both ensure we continue to stay our most vibrant, healthy selves until our final days. These are the two sides of tonic herbalism, the Yin approach, and the Yang approach.
The Yin side of tonic herbalism embodies that process of gentle healing and convalescence, for the strength of Yin comes from knowing when to yield, when to preserve, maintain and regenerate. During times of disease or disharmony within the body that leave us feeling depleted, we draw from our Essence to rebuild. Embodying the Yin allows us to follow a more intuitive approach, one that is more aligned with the seasons and cycles of nature. When following these cycles, we never push ourselves too far in one direction, which can lead to an inevitable burn out.
During the times when you feel that you are exploring your edges, and your nervous system can begin to feel a little frayed, this is when tonic herbalism is able to offer a foundational support. Tonic herbs can help to gently guide you back to a place of harmony. It’s not that you have completely burnt out, but utilising these herbal allies can be the lifeline that brings you back to centre before you have tipped too far.
Draw from your own experiences and think of a time when you were too busy to stop, your body may have been giving you hints that it needs to rest but sometimes the busyness of life leaves us feeling as though we can’t surrender to these requests. This can also manifest after big life events that throw us off our centre, anything from moving house, losing a loved one, experiencing a big transition in your personal life and relationships or undergoing a medical treatment. These are the times we hit a wall, we get so sick that there is no choice in the matter. Although these experiences feel awful in the moment, sometimes they force us to realise that we cannot return to our old habits of burning the candle at both ends. To dig a little deeper into this, it’s also important to exist within that space of convalescence a little longer than we are used to. It’s a socially accepted habit to jump straight back into life as soon as you begin to feel a little bit better, but a lot of the time this isn’t a reflection of a full recovery. That’s the core intention of convalescence, a gentle process of recovery and gradual return to health, one that doesn’t specifically fit into any one formula but can look different to each person's own individual constitution and experience.
Then there is the Yang approach to herbalism, and within this embodiment is the energy of cultivation and transformation. The health and wellness world is generally always existing within the energy of the Wood element, promoting the constant drive to potentiate and optimise ourselves, body, mind and Spirit. Embodying a Yang approach looks like those that are actively focused on prevention. Preventing the loss of our Treasures and slowing down degeneration within the body. Obviously ageing is a natural and welcomed process, but it is still possible to age with grace, to remain vital and buoyant until our final days. This is the cultivation of health we are referring to, the constant transformation of YinYang.
Sometimes we think that cultivating health is simply the accumulation of more Jing or Qi Essence, a slippery concept as we can leak our Jing, and as our foundational Essence, we want to ensure that it remains protected and plentiful. So we will consider this one piece of the puzzle. When we are cultivating and potentiating, we are focusing this energy to the organ systems within the body (through the Taoist lens). Constantly transforming and regulating themselves, a smooth flow of Qi throughout these organs is at the core of this cultivation, a perfectly harmonious dance that allows the destiny of our Treasures to unfold within the body.
That can be where people may go wrong with tonic herbalism, they feel as though they need to stay in this Yang cultivation, but remember that the recovery (Yin) is just as important as the training. The training increases the capacity of all of your organ systems, but the recovery is the nourishment that guides the body back into a place of harmony. To truly optimise, there needs to be a period of integration, of Yin, of consolidation. You cannot continue to optimise if you don’t stop to protect your Kidney Jing energy, for it is when we are constantly pushing and cultivating that we can begin to burn up this potential. Thinking of the future, of constantly bettering ourselves, this is high Liver energy, a space that most of us exist in, as we were not taught how to sit within the softer and darker Yin that requires reflection, integration and gentleness - this space requires more trust.
The times we look to engage in the Yang can look so differently for each individual and their constitution. It can be that extra push we need to help us kick start a new project into action, the period of time before we go through a intentional medical treatment in which we prepare, cultivating our health beforehand to ensure we welcome this experience with resiliency and embodied health, or the extra support required to prepare us before we perform for an event, whether that be physically or mentally. It all comes back to this concept of cultivation, of actively supporting and enhancing what is intrinsically there, but may need that extra foundational layer that keeps us in a state of alignment and harmony to take on our next challenge in life.
If you are feeling a little lost that is more than okay, it’s important that we delve into the philosophical side of YinYang and tonic herbalism so that you can better understand this energetic dance within yourself. There will be times when you have the energy to expand, to grow, to build and to cultivate, whether that is physically, mentally or spiritually. You already feel healthy, but you know that there is the potential for more, this is the Yang.
There will be times when you have experienced what it feels like to explore your edges and that is when disharmony manifests itself into sickness, injury and chronic health conditions. This is a time of rest, recovery and the slow and gentle climb back to health. Understanding this dance allows us to see ourselves a little more clearly, to be able to intuit our needs and choose the herbs that align with the intention we are currently holding. Then there are the times when we have stayed in the same place for too long, physically, emotionally or mentally, and we need to pick up our stuff and move forward into freedom, rather than stay in the stagnation. This means both changing our external environment, but more often is about us transforming internally, which takes a huge amount of energy to do (Yang) and then requires time to integrate and digest (Yin).
The magic is in identifying the space you are currently residing in. Are you in a space that seeks the tools to build upon your steady baseline of health, or are you in a space where you are needing to replenish, to return to your baseline of health. Remember that these recommendations serve as a guidance, but of course always listen to your own body, its needs and work with the herbs that feel the most aligned with you.
There are athletes that take Astragalus and Cordyceps to run faster and perform better, there are the busy mums that consistently take I Am Gaia to stay vital and on top of the huge amount of responsibilities they hold, and the full time student that takes Neural Nectar every day to enhance their memory and focus so they can nail their exams. All of these people are getting on the front foot of their health, and integrating supportive tools that ensure that they can explore those edges without ever going too far. These are the times when tonic herbalism is playful, you can tune in and isolate a specific health intention that you wish to cultivate, an area within yourself that you have the potential to expand.
Just as we see in nature, and as we have explored in this article, duality is present within this approach. The Yin approach to tonic herbs looks more like the busy parent who feels depleted and exhausted and needs something that can lift them out of this space. I Am Gaia is still relevant, but this may be when our JING blend, or herbs such as Ashwagandha or Reishi can gently carry them through a space of convalescence and allow them to rebuild back to baseline. This is also for the person who has experienced a total depletion in their immune system and takes Astragalus consistently, a herb famed for its ability to pull one from the depths of chronic illness.
This is a slippery concept, and one that may look differently to everyone, it's not about choosing one herb over another either. See it like this - the athlete that wishes to enhance their performance may use Cordyceps to enhance their cellular respiration and recovery, that is the Yang approach. This same athlete may experience asthma, and has noticed that it has worsened recently and is affecting his running, he would still use Cordyceps to tonify and nourish his Lungs and their capacity, this is the Yin approach. So you can see that their approach to the herbs, the environment, energy and intention in which they take them that transforms how these herbs work.
Another way to see this duality is in immediate postpartum care. This is truly a time for deep rest and convalescence, and when Blood building, Jing herbs are used to support and rebuild the body. Our I Am Gaia and JING blend are integrated during this time of Yin. Over the following months these herbs, alongside other practices bring the body back to a state of harmony, and as mumma begins to feel vibrant and vital, these blends are still just as potent and supportive to her overall wellbeing and can, with intention be used through the lens of Yang, to continue potentiating this vitality and bringing harmony to the hormonal systems of the body.