Causes of Empty Yin, ie of Yin Deficiency

Woman tired on bed
Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash

Key Learning Points

  • Why you burnout – what are the causes of Empty Yin? (‘Empty Yin’ is the same as ‘Yin Deficiency’)
  • How to understand causes of Empty Yin
  • Too much work?
  • Even too much play!

There are various Causes of Yin Deficiency (ie of Empty Yin). When you understand them you’ll think of other examples.

1. ‘Excessive Consumption of Yin Fluids’


Car Engine
Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash


The overall idea is this. When you’re driving your car and you notice your fuel reserves are getting low, your behaviour changes.

Wherever you were going gets to be less important. Finding somewhere to fill up becomes imperative.

If in addition you realise oil levels are low, there’s a danger the engine may stop.

Suppose the battery fluid levels are low too. That means you can’t re-start the car so easily. Nor will the engine recharge itself properly.

And the clutch fluid, the brake fluid and the oil in the wheel hubs?

Now the screen-washer liquid reserve is empty, the roads are dusty and you can’t see where you’re going.

Besides, you’ve drunk all your water and you’re thirsty. You’re tired, anxious, fed up, impatient, becoming erratic.

This could be trouble! Drying out; over-heating; not being able to start; not being able to get home to rest (that’s you, the driver!).

In your body, in Chinese medicine these Yin body fluids are what are called your Blood and your Essence.

  • You may not be aware of it at the time, but you use them up by the bodily equivalent of driving too far in alien, dry territory 
  • in a badly maintained car, 
  • with no reserves and 
  • no get-home-safe get-out clause.

2. Overwork is one of the causes of Empty Yin


One of the causes of Empty Yin is not enough sleep at night.
Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash


Overwork is one of the main causes of Empty Yin.

Of course, it depends on your training, upbringing, genetic makeup, experience, age, energy, strength, prior health level and so on: in effect, your susceptibility.

Overwork takes many forms:

  • Concentrating too hard for too long
  • Working for too long
  • Having more than one job, so that although each is a change from the other, it’s still work. Perhaps you have a daytime job plus an evening job? Or one on weekdays and one at weekends. Or you get up early to write a book before going to your daytime job. The point is you’re …
  • … Not getting enough rest 
  • … Not getting enough sleep
  • … Worrying all the time (not just about work)
  • … Taking work home to do late into the night
  • … Eating while working, and not eating enough – these are definite causes of empty yin!
  • Frequent travelling with the waiting, standing, carrying, walking, disturbed time zones, upset sleep patterns … All these factors upset the natural rhythm of life
  • Playing sports that use up energy fast (and in themselves may ease Qi Stagnation) but aren’t restful
  • If you have young children, then the effects on YOUR health of takinthem to different after-school classes or activities every day of the week. Here, although your own work patterns may not be excessive, you’re not resting enough, adding to your own yin deficiency causes. (Of course, there’s an effect on your children’s health too, which may lead to Yin deficiency in them. Still, most healthy children have good supplies of Yin but run out of Qi fast, so overworking them makes them sleepy instead. Sleep quickly restores them.)


The problem is that you won’t notice signs of Empty Yin as it develops: yin deficiency causes weakness slowly and insidiously.

A few days off work might be all you need. Well, it MIGHT.

When you’re healthy but overworked, a few days off to rest, perhaps even just a weekend, may be enough to put you right.

This is because all you’ve used up are fuel supplies that can be quickly replaced by rest and diet. (Proper rest and sleep replaces Qi. A good diet replaces the Blood.)

Taking the car analogy, you can quickly replace the fuel ie the petrol, the gas. But to replace the other fluids – for the brakes, the clutch, the power-steering, the battery – you’ve get to get under the bonnet!

So gradually you find you need to stay in bed for a few hours every weekend to recover.

Or you find that your ability to concentrate weakens, though you won’t admit this to begin with.

Instead, you’ll start to day-dream more – blue skies! – to surf the internet when you should be working. You’ll find long sentences and paragraphs more taxing to comprehend.

You’ll find you forget the names of protagonists in books or TV series, or that you don’t grasp their significance.

This builds up over a period of years.

It doesn’t usually happen overnight (though there are occasions when this happens, see below.)

That car analogy again…

Taking the car analogy, what’s happening here is that you’ve started using up not just the fuel, but the oil and the coolant.

In a car, of course, you can replace them, so the analogy breaks down, but many drivers still take the car to the garage for this and get it done when the car is serviced. That servicing is a bit like getting treatment for the causes of Yin deficiency.

You’ll notice that by ‘overwork’ as one of the yin deficiency causes I mean mental work more than physical work.

Overworking physically (such as too much jogging, walking, dancing, heavy lifting, or repetitive actions such as in tennis or hair-dressing) will usually affect Yin reserves only after a longer period of time.

Initially they deplete Qi and Blood, and cause Qi Stagnation and Blood Stagnation.

Jogging, dancing or running too far, also walking too far, can deplete the Kidneys, and over-lifting weakens the Spleen and Liver Blood.

3. Growing too Fast!


Woman working in a coffee shop: multitasking is frequently one of the causes of empty yin
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash


Growing too fast isn’t usually listed as being a cause of Empty Yin, but I’ve noticed it occurring, usually in the form of Blood deficiency, in many adolescents.

Adolescence is when your body’s genes demand growth at the same time as you are challenged to develop –

  • socially> You learn new ways to relate to your peers and seniors, to deal with all the vicissitudes of the school playground, to accommodate the demands of your growing sexuality and to adapt to the demands of fashion and peer group culture
  • mentally: school and your future career require that you take examinations, learn new stuff and often work late at night
  • physically: sport and fashion, self-consciousness and awareness of what others think, force you into new patterns of behaviour. In those who want to compete in sport, the hours can be long and the rest insufficient. For the fashion or weight conscious, diets and body image can control life. At this critical time, adolescents often don’t eat enough, compounding their problems!
  • spiritually: for some, spiritual and religious beliefs and systems can require intense mental and physical effort


All these amount to overwork! Fortunately, our genes seem programmed to cope. Perhaps this adolescent ‘stretching’ is what our genes need to fulfil their potential.

However, it’s still overwork, and when treating adolescents I’ve found an awareness of the likely effect on yin deficiency often conducive to good treatment.

4. Pre-Heaven and Post-Heaven Qi

Bit of technical stuff here. Pre-Heaven reserves are those you were born with, that you can increase only over years of living in a way conducive to good health, and that you use up as you age.

Post-Heaven Qi comes from your diet and is created mainly by your Spleen and Stomach. This you can replace at every meal if your Stomach Qi is in good condition and you eat good food sensibly.

The trouble is that as you continue overworking and not giving your body time properly to replace Post-Heaven Qi, it starts dipping into Pre-Heaven reserves. These are your Yin reserves, your body fluids. Yin deficiency causes include over-use of these deep reserves.

Or, to use an analogy I heard the other day, 

  • your Jing reserves are like your inheritance from your parents. This is your Pre-Heaven reserve.
  • Then you also have a deposit account, from savings. This is called your ‘Source’ or Yuan reserve: post-Heaven.
  • you have a current account, which is up and down from day to day, depending on daily activity. In Chinese medicine this is your Zhong Qi, made from food, drink and air: also post-Heaven.


So when you overwork for a few days you go into overdraft on your current account.


Accounting, balance sheet and calculator - overwork, one of the causes of empty yin
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay


No problem, a few days rest and you’re back in balance!

What about if you keep overworking?

However, when you overwork and keep overworking for much longer than usual, you have to dip into your deposit account. This needs longer rest, or a period of recuperation, and perhaps some treatment, to get into balance. In other words to replace your savings from your current account. But you can still get back to normal.

However, if you always overwork, or massively drain your energy, then you dip into your Jing reserves, your inheritance. Now you could be in trouble! This is not so easy to mend. In fact, your body will probably produce symptoms of Yin deficiency and you may be stuck with them unless you get early help, and possibly not even then. But good treatment may stop them worsening.

Jonathan Brand colours

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5. When Rest is not enough


Lack of Sleep is one of the causes of empty yin
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When Yin reserves are really low, rest alone won’t be enough to replace them.

Well … if your condition isn’t too far gone, and you can live for a while on a desert island with all your needs catered for – and not too much sex, men, I’m afraid, see below – perhaps you can recover.

But even then it takes time.

To replace Empty Yin, you’ll need a long period of rest, reduced work-load (preferably none), better living habits, plenty of good food, mild exercise. And you’ll also need not to be too old, because as you age you use up your supplies of Yin and your ability to replace it.

In fact, beyond a certain stage, admitting that what you do might be one of your yin deficiency causes will be very difficult. Someone else may have to point it out to you.

If you’re in the habit of taking stimulating drugs or caffeine in quantities that make you over-alert, that over-alertness itself can drain your yin reserves becoming another yin deficiency cause.

You’ll know when you develop yin deficiency symptoms.

6. Severe Heat, one of the causes of empty yin


Image by congerdesign from Pixabay


Severe heat, as in a fever, depletes your Yin reserves and can be a major example of cause of Empty Yin.

All the more so if you have a series of fevers, or a continuing feverish disease, such as malaria, where you sweat again and again.

Even one very strong fever can quickly weaken someone with low Yin reserves. You sometimes see this in children who having had a very depleting fever take years to get back their strength. For them, severe heat is definitely one of the main yin deficiency causes.

The same can happen to old people, of course or indeed to anyone – but it’s very noticeable in small children who may have tremendous vitality (Yang) but still have bodies (Yin) sometimes too small or frail to compensate for the power of their Yang energy.

For more on this, click Dryness and on Heat.

7. Too much Sex ♀ + ♂


Photo by Michael Prewett on Unsplash


Sorry about this one: causes of empty yin definitely include too much of what we’d nearly all like more of – sex!


Q. What is too much?

A. When you find the next day that

  • your energy levels are depleted,
  • concentrating for long gets difficult
  • you feel a little dizzy
  • possibly you’re more susceptible to light glare or your eyes blur
  • you get noises in your ears that you don’t usually get (tinnitus)
  • your knees feel weak or ache
  • backache
  • you need to keep urinating, or find yourself urinating involuntarily.


These are signs of Kidney deficiency, and if you continue having too much sex, you’ll also get Yin deficiency.

Sex for men here means ejaculation.

For women it means loss of body fluids related to the genital system. For example, it could mean major loss of blood at or between menses or at childbirth.

For women it could also mean having too many children close together, but only if this is depleting. Some women are blessed with rugged constitutions which seem to grow stronger through and after every pregnancy.

Does it mean loss of sexual fluids in women? Well, it might, in extreme circumstances – perhaps in some sex workers. But this would probably be accompanied by over-work, lack of sleep, exhaustion and so on, which themselves might lead to Empty Yin.

As most people know, sex is a good way to clear Qi Stagnation! But too much sex leads to Yin deficiency and Yin Deficiency causes Qi stagnation in certain circumstances.

It seems you can’t win …

8. Too much Yang is one of the causes of Empty Yin

Just as over-use of them depletes your resources – your Yin resources – excess Yang conditions can drain your Yin reserve’s capacity to bring you back to balance.

Here are a few examples, the first being an example of overwork or, in this case, constant exposure to Yang conditions:


During the 2nd World War, warships escorted flotillas of merchant vessels bringing supplies from the USA to Britain. Enemy U-boats and sometimes battleships sank as many of these supply vessels as they could. The escort flotillas had the job of stopping them.

A typical flotilla might be many miles in length and breadth and bad weather could destroy the formation. This meant that escort vessels had to chase off to where they thought the ‘lost’ ships might be.

Radar was rudimentary in the early stages of the war and a large part of the Atlantic lay beyond the reach of air cover, making such chases often hazardous and futile.

Sometimes these escort crews worked under extreme conditions in states of constant anxiety for extended periods of time without proper rest.

One ship Commander did this for probably longer than anyone else – five years with hardly a break.

When he became senior officer for a whole escort group of destroyers he continued to do his job but eventually realised he couldn’t continue. He had enjoyed the challenge of his job in the early years but, as he wrote:

“already I was beginning to look backwards to a time when I imagined that things had  been better. We had all been living at such a pace, burning ourselves up, that perhaps we were already developing some of the characteristics of the elderly.” (My italics.) [‘Escort – The Battle of the Atlantic’ by Commander D.A.Rayner, D.S.C. and Bar, V.R.D, R.N.V.R. Pub by William Kimber, London 1955: page 219]

“Burnt out, feeling elderly” are often sensations of those who have exhausted their Yin resources.


‘Over-excitement’ and conditions approaching ‘hysteria’ are other forms of Yang excess and are frequent Empty yin causes.

At the time they can be enormously pleasurable!

Indeed you may crave more. Think of those addicted to extreme forms of pleasure such as from sex or watching terrifying movies or the thrill of anticipation.

Each of these takes you to a high state of excitement – very Yang.

Of course, depending on the nature of the activity, it may or may not involve movement. If it does involve movement, preferably full physical movement (eg sport) that moves Qi around, allowing Yang to expend itself naturally and turn properly into Yin, then it promotes health – although even here, continued for too long it can exhaust Qi followed by Blood followed by Yin.

But if movement is denied, the tension build-up exhausts Yin. Then these kinds of Yin deficiency cause lead to symptoms of Heart Yin deficiency.

Understanding the Causes of Empty Yin

Yin deficiency causes take many forms and the above is really only a summary. You may be able to think of additional manifestations of these yin deficiency causes when you look at people’s lives.

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