What is the Culture of a Healthy Lifestyle?
The culture of a healthy lifestyle has been an inseparable aspect of Chinese life for thousands of years. This culture finds it roots in the experience and profound levels of understanding that exist in Chinese philosophy and Chinese medical ideals surrounding the human body.
The basis of Chinese Health is seen as a systematic approach to the study of the relationship between humanity and nature, stressing the different systems that exist in the body and the balance necessary to maintain healthy bodily functions.
In Chinese thought there is also the important aspect of recognizing disease or discomfort through the balance or imbalance of “Qi” (pr. Chee), which can be understood as “Life Energy”. There are two kinds of Qi, healthy Qi or Zheng (pr. jung) Qi, and harmful Qi or Xie (pr. she-ay) Qi; Zheng Qi can be related to a healthy immune system and is something that exists within; Xie Qi can be related to the causes of illness and discomfort and exists without. With this, comes the important idea of preventive medicine or “stopping illness before its onset”.
In Chinese Health Culture one important aspect to preserving health is through the balance and connectivity of the mind, spirit, and body. This idea, when taken one step further, opens us up to recognize the rich relationship between the universe and humankind.
Thousands of years ago, in ancient China, people had already begun to notice the effects and reactions brought about on the human body from outside influences; this was the beginning of a holistic viewpoint to health. At this time, the ancients of China had commenced on the long road of gathering the secrets to a healthy life whereby developing the basis of the Culture of a Healthy Lifestyle. The Chinese had already begun moving toward a structured holistic view of the relationship between human life and the universe.
The Yellow Emperor, or “Huang Di”, is the one man in Ancient China who is renowned as a man of many inventions and the father of health culture. He was a humble and studious man and invented many useful tools which were very advanced for his day and age. Legend has it that Huang Di invented a compass driven cart which played a large role in the unity of two indigenous tribes, which were to later become the ancestors of the Chinese people. After many years and with the help of numerous scholars, Huang Di completed the first work in Chinese health culture.
This work is based on the ideals of the relationship between humankind and the universe as a whole. It is presented from the point-of-view of “Yin Yang” (pr. Yeen Yahng), the all encompassing Chinese theory of universal balance, and Wu Xing (pr. Woo Shing), the interaction between five natural elements to create balance, these two ideals constitute the tools used in the achievement of good health in Chinese thought. By mapping out the different organs in the human body and drawing up the channels of Qi, Huang Di created a work of health concepts that has been used and improved on for thousands of years.
In order to best understand the notions behind Chinese health culture we must first begin by understanding the effects of nature on human health. The best place to start is by understanding the concepts of Yin Yang and Wu Xing.
The World According to Yin Yang
Yin Yang describes how the Ancient Chinese viewed the world as containing a perfect balance of opposing forces. They believed that the unification of opposites was the law of change in all things. Chinese traditional health culture sees Yin Yang as a basic aspect of life energy movement, when Yin Yang is in balance the body is healthy.
It is worthy to point out here the idea of balance in Chinese thought. Balance, in this context, should not be confused with the idea of balance in the West. The balance that is expressed here is sometimes achieved through contradiction and not through harmony. This achievement of balance in nature, and even in human health, is through opposing forces, which may be in a state of repose.
In today’s world, and because of the onslaught of poor habits and environmental hazards, we are being bombarded with the causes of illness and discomfort, our health is being incessantly challenged. The Chinese Culture of a Healthy Lifestyle can lead us to a resource of knowledge that can teach us how to maintain health of spirit, mind, and body.
The Idea of Yin Yang
The earliest concept of Yin Yang held a balance between abstract and concrete, take for example the sun; areas that receive sunlight would be considered as “Yang”; areas which received no sunlight, or shady areas, would be considered as “Yin”. Later, over time, other phenomena were recognized such as; Summer versus winter, up versus down, left versus right, inside versus outside, and action versus rest.
When the classic philosophers contemplated natural phenomenon they would explain it from the concept of Yin Yang. They perceived all aspects of nature as existing within opposing forces, positive and negative, life and death.
The Divisions of Yin Yang
Scholars of Yin Yang believed that the world is a material whole resulting from the unification of the opposing forces of Yin Yang. Yin Yang represents the interaction and unification of opposing properties. At the same time, the properties of Yin Yang in physical phenomena are also divisible, for instance; daytime as Yang, and nighttime as Yin. When speaking of the divisions of day and night, morning is considered to be ‘Yang within Yang’, afternoon is ‘Yin within Yang’, from midnight to three in the morning is ‘Yin within Yin’, and from three to six in the morning is ‘Yang within Yin’.
It is important to realize that there are divisions of Yin and Yang within Yin Yang that go on endlessly. Thus, we can see that all phenomena, physical and non-physical, within the universe can be categorized within Yin Yang. In addition, just as we saw the divisions of time, all things within one category of Yin or Yang can be sub-categorized into finer divisions of Yin and Yang. This occurrence is widely visible in all of nature.
The Properties of Yin Yang
In most instances, outward or upward motion or action, warmth and heat, light and illumination are all features of Yang, whereas inward or downward motion or action, chill or cold, and darkness are all features of Yin.
When speaking from the point of view of a healthy lifestyle, if the human body exhibits the properties of action or motion, warmth, excitement, or anything similar, it is considered to belong to the category of Yang. However, if the properties of restriction, moisture, or restraint are present they belong to the category of Yin. (Note: these properties should be understood abstractly.)
It is important to note that the ideals of Yin Yang can only be applied to things with common properties, things that have a common connection, or one object which has two aspects. If the things in consideration do not have a common connection or cannot be viewed as a pair then the ideals of Yin Yang cannot apply.
Applications of Yin Yang
The physical functions of the human body
In the realm of Yin Yang, it is considered that the result of balance, or harmony, between the two opposing forces is achieved through normal daily life activity. When speaking of physical versus energy forces, physical would be categorized as Yin and energy as Yang, in the aspect of Yin Yang these two are considered as opposing forces.
Normal human life activity is considered to be the foundation of physical matter, without physical activity there would be no resulting energy, therefore no resulting physical material which promotes a continuous metabolic process. If there is a division of Yin Yang or if Yin Yang cannot maintain unification, it must result in the termination of life.
In the Chinese classic “Su Wen” it is written, “If a human being is able to achieve balance in Yin Yang, the body will be strong and healthy, the mind will be calm and peaceful, however if there is a separation of Yin Yang the person will die.”
The Body and Illness
Within the human body and its surroundings, physical and physical, energy and energy, and physical and energy must all maintain balance; they must all maintain a Yin Yang balance. This is the basis of health and the way to maintaining healthy physical activity.
The forces of Yin Yang are interdependent; they sustain and restrict, increase and decrease. Consequently, when Yin Yang is out of balance illness is present.
The occurrence of illness is related to the aspects of healthy and harmful Qi. Healthy Qi refers to the whole structure and functions of the body, including the defenses that the body has against illness; the immune system. Harmful Qi, or Xie Qi, refers to any factor which causes illness. The properties of healthy Qi and harmful Qi can also be categorized by Yin Yang. Healthy Qi is divided into Yin Qi and Yang Qi; harmful Qi is divided into Yin Xie and Yang Xie.
The process of illness is the struggle between Zheng Qi and Xie Qi, or healthy and harmful Qi. The result is an imbalance of Yin Yang where either Yin or Yang may be in excess or deficient. No matter how complex the illness, the complexity does not go beyond the excess or deficiency of Yin or Yang. Therefore, if one desires to avoid illness and remain in good health, they must use all possible ways to maintain balance of Yin Yang, whereby reaching the highest level of a Healthy Lifestyle.
What is Yin Yang Balance?
All phenomena in nature are a result of the unity and balance of Yin Yang. The human body not only needs to maintain a balance of Yin Yang within, it must also adapt to the Yin Yang of the environment it finds its self in. The physical realm, just like the human body, is in constant motion and change. The physical body is constantly adjusting and adapting to its surroundings. The vital movements within the body must sense the supporting and restraining effects of its surroundings; weather, altitude, and seasonal changes, which will have direct influence on the bodily organ movements and functions. If the body is able to make the correct adjustments to its surroundings and adapt correctly, it will remain in good health. However, if the changes in the surroundings overpower the body’s ability to adapt, or if the body is too feeble or weak, the ability to adjust correctly is lost and there will exist an imbalance in Yin Yang which will lead to illness. It is important to gain a good grasp of the laws of natural change to achieve the needed overall unity and balance that will lead to overall health.
The Law of Balance between Heaven and Man
“Heaven” refers to the natural environment; “Man” refers to the human body. The idea behind the Balance between Heaven and Man expresses the strong connection that exists between nature and humanity. All changes and movements of nature will have some effect, direct or indirect, on the human body.
If, during the movements of the seasons, there occurs uncommon weather phenomenon; cold during spring, warmth during winter, a long drought, or heavy rains, they will all have some effect on the human body. The only way for the body to maintain good health is by adapting to the changes in its natural surroundings.
Thus, the ancients used the supportive and restrictive, or positive and negative, principles of Yin Yang to represent and explain natural surroundings and climate changes. Whereby, pointing out the changes of Yin Yang and the changes of the seasons as being the basic principle in the adaptation process; if a person desires health and longevity it is important to adhere to these principles of nature.
The World According to Wu Xing
The Wu Xing, or Five Elements, are; metal, wood, water, fire, and soil.
The ideals embodied in Wu Xing, or the Five Elements, explain the structure of the world. In China, Wu Xing, much like its counterpart Yin Yang, has made a large contribution in the study of a Healthy Lifestyle.
The main idea behind Wu Xing is not so simple as to say that all things can be divided into five separate categories. Rather, the Five Elements exist within the laws of mutual support, and restraint, and are used to explain the relations between complex systems and material objects. It is on this basis that the idea of completeness and a unified self adjustment is expressed. Through the adjustment of Wu Xing the functions of the body are strengthened, allowing individual functions to maintain or recover normal conditions, the result is the healthy lifestyle goal of well-being and longevity.
The Idea of Wu Xing
Wu Xing is a concept of the motion of five specific basic elements and seen as an extension of Yin Yang. The ancients conceptualized the Wu Xing of life motion as “metal, wood, water, fire, and soil”, five basic elements. Within the natural world, these five elements have different kinds of unions, which after close observation they discovered the mutual associations of “support and restriction”, which they continued to develop and expand on. They noticed how the elements were interrelated through continual support and restriction causing them to achieve and maintain balance.
The Properties of the Five Elements
Wood: The ancients saw the growth pattern of trees as upward and outward with branches growing curved and straight. They recognized them as displaying the usage and properties of growth and upward expansion.
Fire: The ancients saw fire as having the characteristics of heat and rising motion. They recognized this as the usage and properties of heat and ascension.
Soil: The ancients saw soil as having the usages of sowing, cultivating and harvesting. Therefore they recognized it as being an element of growth, able to bear weight, and able to receive. As in the sayings; “All things return to the earth”, and “the earth is the mother of all things”.
Metal: The ancients recognized metal as having the properties and usages of purity, and restraint.
Water: The ancients recognized water as having the properties and usages of moisture, cold, and downward motion.