The preservation of health and prevention of disease is one of the most important guiding principles of traditional Chinese medicine.
Health preservation is a branch of Chinese medicine that teaches practical ways of preventing illness and maintaining good health throughout one’s life.
This pursuit of health and longevity has especially influenced the lifestyles of traditional Chinese and Asian cultures for over 2,000 years.
“In the old days the sages treated disease by preventing illness before it began, just as a good government or emperor was able to take the necessary steps to avert war. Treating an illness after it has begun is like suppressing revolt after it has broken out. If someone digs a well only when thirsty, or forges weapons only after becoming engaged in battle, one cannot help but ask: Aren’t these actions too late?”
– Huang Di Nei Jing (475-221 BC)
Here are three simple but indispensable principles of traditional Chinese medicine health preservation that we would like to share with you:
1. Being in harmony with nature and our environment
“Holism” in Chinese medicine regards that humans belong to and are a part of nature. It recognises that our health is closely influenced by changes in our natural environment. We are influenced by the changing seasons, the cycle of day and night, and all of the nature that surrounds us.
When a person can recognise and adjust their lifestyle to the daily changes in their environment, then they can maintain harmony with nature and avoid many common causes of illness. This includes regulating our mental and physical activities, wake and sleep times, clothing and diet to be harmonious with seasonal changes.
Sometimes, we may need to adjust our homes, offices and the built environment we live in too when they are not in harmony with nature or supportive of our health.
Remember also to spend time in nature: the warmth of sunshine, the smell of fresh air, the sound of the ocean and the incredible beauty we can find everywhere in nature are naturally good for our health.
2. Preservation of the body and spirit
Preservation of the body means the protection and nourishment of the physical body. In Chinese medicine, this includes the health of the internal organs, the body’s essence, Qi and blood, the muscles and tendons, the mind and senses.
The physical body is the residence of our spirit (our Shen), only if the body is healthy can the spirit also be healthy. Proper diet, work and rest balance, moderate living, avoidance of extreme environments (hot and cold), physical activity and training all contribute to the preservation of the body.
In particular, we should pay attention to the preservation of the Heart, which houses our spirit and governs the health of all the organs.
“Imagine the Heart as a pool of water. When the surface is calm it clearly reflects perceptions from the outside world. When the surface is stirred by the wind-like movement of the seven emotions, then the reflection becomes muddled and a person will have difficulty perceiving the real nature of a situation.”
– Dr Wang Ju-Yi
Preservation of the spirit means achieving a balance among our many emotions. If our spirit or emotions are excessive or remain imbalanced for too long, then the smooth flow of Qi in our body may become affected.
We should not let ourselves become very angry, sad, afraid or even happy for too long. Nor should we hold a grudge or keep our feelings bottled up inside.
Surround yourself with positive people in your life and avoid certain people who put you down. Likewise, be aware that our behaviour towards others can greatly affect their emotions and their health. This is why bullying and emotional abuse causes many physical health problems.
From the point of view of Chinese medicine, our emotions are an important cause of many physical diseases. Likewise, certain internal organ diseases can greatly affect our personality, mood and experience of daily life.
Health preservation therefore emphasises that in order to avoid injuring the body, it is also necessary to keep the mind calm, reduce emotional stress and avoid extreme excesses of emotions as much as possible.
Looking after the body can help the spirit when it is injured, and preserving the clarity and calmness of the spirit can safeguard the body from harm. Like Yin and Yang, the body and spirit complement each other and should never be regarded as separate things.
3. Balancing activity and quiescence
As nature has its seasons, and there is day and night, the body also needs to be active and calm. As the Chinese saying goes, “one’s body needs to be active and one’s spirit needs to be calm”. Only when activity and quiescence is appropriately balanced can the goal of preserving health and preventing illness be achieved.
Activity includes a person’s work and physical exercise. If the body (which also includes the mind) is not active, the Qi and blood will stagnate and lead to illness. Persevering with regular exercises such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong, can strengthen the body’s resistance to illness and prevent premature ageing.
Quiescence is the opposite of activity. It includes serenity of the mind and quietness of the body. To preserve health, we should also keep a serene mind, be free from stress and restrain from strong emotions and desires.
Both activity and quiescence must be carried out in moderation. An imbalance in either over the long term will harm one’s health and lead to illness.
Everyone should exercise regularly, but not to the point of physical fatigue. Every person should use their mind diligently, but not to the point of mental fatigue. The goal is to be active without exhaustion and quiescent without fatigue.
Tai Chi and Qi Gong practice are great examples of physical training that don’t require extreme movements, while cultivating good postures, breathing techniques and meditation to train oneself in the preservation of the body and spirit. Of course, you can choose your own favourite sport or physical activity too.
“In the past, people practiced the Tao, the Way of Life. They understood the principle of balance as represented by the transformations of the energies of the universe. They formulated exercises to promote energy flow to harmonize themselves with the universe. They ate a balanced diet at regular times, arose and retired at regular hours, avoided overstressing their bodies and minds, and refrained from overindulgence of all kinds. They maintained well-being of body and mind; thus, it is not surprising that they lived over one hundred years.”
– Huang Di Nei Jing
We hope this article can give you many ideas to improve and maintain your health. Please share and discuss it with your family and friends!
Translation of the Huang Di Nei Jing by Maoshing Ni, from The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine.