Chinese Regimen (yangsheng) means to lengthen one’s life by maintaining and nourishing one’s body and tells us how to maintain our body by following principles of traditional Chinese medicine.
Speaker: Wang Tianfang
Director of the Department of Traditional Chinese Diagnostics at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine
Lecture to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Confucius Institute.
What is Yangsheng or ‘regimen’? Yang means ‘to maintain, keep, nourish’, and sheng ‘life, living, growth’. The meaning of yangsheng is to lengthen one’s life by maintaining and nourishing one’s body. Chinese regimen tells us how to maintain our body by following principles of traditional Chinese medicine.
The concord of man and nature
The concord of man and nature dictates that changes in nature will have a certain influence on our bodies and that we must ensure harmony between man and nature when maintaining and nourishing our body. This philosophy is the basic idea behind Huangdi Nei Jing (the oldest medical classic in China) and is the essence of regimen. First of all, to follow regimen, one should follow the seasonal changes: birth in spring, growth in summer, harvest in autumn and dormancy in winter. Let’s take the present season, autumn, for example. In this season, we should go to bed early and rise early; add layers of clothing gradually; avoid excessive exercise and not perspire too much; and be aware of how our moods are influenced by changes in nature. We should eat more pears and tremella soup for the purpose of nourishing our Yin and alleviating dryness.
The concord of man and nature also means that we should honour the biological rhythm of our bodies. We regard daytime as Yang and night-time as Yin, and going to sleep or waking up is simply the result of changes in Yin and Yang. Traditional Chinese medicine regards a day as consisting of 12 equal time periods, and it is considered better for us if we go to bed between 11p.m. and 1a.m. We also encourage nap taking at noon when Yang is at its peak.
The unity of body and mind
“Body” here refers to our tissues, bones and internal organs, and the “mind” refers to our mood, spirit and World Health Organization has emphasised the importance of maintaining the health of the mind in maintaining overall health. In Huangdi Nei Jing, written some 2,000 years ago, the idea of unity between body and mind had already been recognised and according to the book, the health of one’s psyche plays a significant role in regimen.
Prevention through maintaining healthy qi
The idea of disease prevention means that measures should be taken when one is still healthy. Disease resistance and recovery abilities can be strengthened through regimen. In traditional Chinese medicine, this concept is called zhi wei bing ‘to cure diseases that one does not yet have’. For this reason, lots of people go to parks in the morning for morning exercises. This is just one of the practices in keeping with the ancient Chinese medical concept that diseases can be prevented through many kinds of regimen activities.
The three factors of regimen
The way of regimen varies with three factors: temporal, personal, and geographical. The temporal factor requires that people apply regimen in accordance with seasonal changes; the personal factor means that people take remedial action in accordance with individual differences; and the geographical factor highlights the fact that the climate and food of each place are suitable for the native inhabitants of that place. For example, in Sichuan, native people there have no problem eating lots of chillies, but if they do the same in Beijing, they will develop excessive “internal heat”. This shows the influence of the environment on our diets.
Tips on regimen
Although following a proper diet and using medicine are two seemingly different forms of regimen, foods and medicine are actually considered homologous in traditional Chinese medicine. Many varieties of medicinal stuff are in themselves foodstuff, and they are eaten frequently in regimen diets. For example, jujubes and Chinese wolfberries are good for the body and their regular use in food is encouraged. Eating more bitter melon in summer also helps the body to dissipate internal heat.
Although following a proper diet and using medicine are two seemingly different forms of regimen, foods and medicine are actually considered homologous in traditional Chinese medicine.
Tea is another example of being a regular beverage and having medicinal qualities, and it’s also very healthy. However, tea is not recommended when one runs a fever or is on an empty stomach. Different kinds of tea may appeal to people of different constitutions: black tea may be all right for someone who becomes bloated by drinking green tea – this person is considered to have a “cold body”; green tea is a good choice for spring and summer as it is considered to have a “cooling” effect, and it also has antioxidative properties and contains high levels of caffeine; black tea is particularly appropriate for those who have a weak spleen and stomach; oolong tea, also known as qing tea – a semifermented tea containing properties of both green tea and black tea – is suitable all year round; pu’er tea, a special kind of dark tea produced in Yunnan, is better if taken in the winter and good for those who have a weak spleen and stomach; rose tea is especially good for women. In addition, acupuncture and massage may be used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, and are based on the theory of jingluo or the ‘meridian and collateral channels’. The points scattered along the channels are what we call xue wei ‘acupuncture points’. A doctor will find an acupuncture point by pressing down in a small area and the point that hurts the most will be the acupuncture point. Using massage and acupuncture on those points can help to cure diseases.
Published in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 35. Volume VI. November 2014.