Longevity Practices in Chinese Medicine
To touch the breath of another human being, the Chinese doctor, standing between heaven and earth, functions to catalyze the body’s memory of itself prior to a distortion or perversion of blockage in the body’s psychosomatic field. This disharmony, an uprooting of the Spirits, due to either internal or external invasion, is the basis of what Chinese medicine calls premature death. That is, a pathologic loss of one’s life force resulting from the spilling over or inappropriate leakage of ones Qi and Essence. The longevity practices of Chinese medicine are very clearly connected to promoting a sense of balance and harmony in the entire being of an individual in order to nourish the greatest potential of a human life. I would like to propose daily contemplation of some form, based upon the principles of Chinese medicine and natural rhythms, taking the relationships between body and breath, skin and flesh, blood and spirit to provide both an mental and experiential sense of what it means to be “rooted in Spirit.”
For every needling, the method above all is not to miss the rooting in the Spirits (Lingshu, Spiritual Axis, Han Dynasty, 206B.C. -220 A.D.)
Three basic paths to counter illness:
1) To be aware of ones psychological and physical nature.
2) To perceive the impact of our actions and interactions upon those around us. To learn to blend with the forces that surround us with spontaneity and spaciousness.
3) To preserve and cultivate the internal forces and mechanisms of life.
What are the Spirits in Chinese Medicine, how do they interact and impact upon our lives?
The Shen, or mind, housed in the heart.
The Hun, or ethereal soul, housed in the liver.
The Po, or corporeal soul, housed in the lungs.
The Yi, or intellect, housed in the spleen.
The Zhi, or willpower, housed in the kidneys.
The question of premature death, where lies the blame? Is this a condition caused by the person who has allowed it to settle in him or is it a phenomenon of human nature? We have a heart, feelings and passions. All people are not given the same strength of character, robust constitution, spiritual quality, resistance to passions, or fierceness in attaining their goals. Can we really be responsible for the illnesses that spring forth because of the desires and passions that direct our life?
The Response by one of China’s greatest physicians, Qi Bo, Replies:
“Heaven within me is Virtue.
Earth Within me is Breaths.
Virtue flows down, breaths expand, and there is life.
The Breaths of Earth
The Junction of Life
The coming forth of living beings indicates
The embrace of the two Essences indicates the Spirits.
That which follows the Spirits indicates the Hun.
That which associates with the Essences
Indicates the Po.
When something takes charge of the beings
We speak of the Heart
Taking on the Responsibility
Art of the Heart
When the Heart applies itself,
We speak of Intent.
When Intent becomes permanent,
We speak of Will.
When the persevering Will changes,
We speak of Thought.
When Thought extends itself powerfully and far,
We speak of Reflection.
When Reflection can have all beings at its disposal,
We speak of Knowing-How.
Thus, Knowing-How is the maintenance of life.”
Without skill in these areas, discord and discomfort lowers our resistance to illness. Chinese medicine is designed to reorient the entire person onto his/her true path. The basic concept of responsibility in regards to ones health and sense of balance is looked at.
The Relationship between our Emotions and Pathologies
The relationship of the five elemental system to our five basic emotions and the basic psychophysiology of these spirits as discussed in classical Chinese medical literature.
“Ravaged by externals, due to much elation and joy, the Spirits are scared away and neither guarded nor thesaurized. The physical impression is one of ‘spiritual malaise.’ The individual loves excitement, but the Spirits do not find their happiness there.” (Lingshu)
For example, the fast paced American lifestyle of immediate gratification and constant sensorial stimulation, is one characterized by a sense of emptiness within, a yin deficiency, a constant groping for external satiation, and frenzy-like, reckless floating yang energy consuming our lives.
International Longevity Statistics
Currently the world’s three highest life expectancies are in Andorra, San Marino, and Japan. Andorra, a mountainous area of about 180 square miles between France and Spain, maintains a population of approximately 64,000 people. San Marino, with its 24 square miles on Mount Titano in Northern Italy, sustains a population of 25,000. In addition, the longest lived people in the world are the Georgians of the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia, the Vilcabamba Indians of the Ecuadoean Andeas, the Yagodina of Bulgaria and the people of the Hunza Valley in Kashmir.
Surveys of these groups have led to a few basic tips for a longer life:
1) Exercise consistently
2) Don’t eat foods with preservatives or other chemicals
3) Eat a frugal diet of high fiber, low salt, fat and sugar,
rarely fry food
4) Drink water with a high mineral content, from
5) Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
6) Avoid loneliness
7) Use holistic medicine to treat medical conditions
8) Enjoy regular sex
9) Live in community
10) Seldom drink or smoke
11) Live in the mountains
12) Respect for elders and emphasize their being active
into their 100’s
13) Social emphasis on harmonious relationships rather
than success and money
Some Longevity Foods and Herbs
Bee Pollen/Royal Jelly/Honey
Mushrooms, Shiitake – neutral, sweet, immune enhancing, benefits stomach and reduces cholesterol
Kombucha – immune enhancing, heightens energy, improves hair skin and nails, lessens pain, improves digestion, reduces PMS symptoms, and speeds healing
Green Tea – cooling, astringent, diuretic, brightens the eyes and spirit, clears the voice, invigorates the Qi, improves digestion, and reduces gas
Wheat Grass – cooling, quickly cleanses toxins, anti-inflammatory, strengthens bodily tissues
Almonds – slightly warming, sweet, transforms phlegm, stops cough, lubricates intestines, used for lung conditions
Nettles – thickens the hair, enriches the blood, generally improves vitality
Ginger/Garlic – although not traditionally placed in this category by Chinese medicine, fundamental for maintaining the bodies vitality.
Other Kidney Tonics:
Millet, wheat, black sesame seeds, chestnuts, walnuts, black soybeans, mulberries, raspberries, strawberries and salmon, anchovy and trout
Remedial Strategies for Supporting Life, Balance, Harmony
Balance of Spirit
Understanding of ones Body in relation to the Seasons and Moon cycles
How Spirit intersects with Diet as a basis for Longevity
I remember reading once a statement which struck me deeply in regards to diet and health,
“It’s not always what you’re eating but how you’re eating.”
This statement reminds us that the word “diet” when taken in its most expansive definition, not only refers to the actual selection of specific foods to consume, it also refers to how we relate to the food -- where it was grown, how it was grown and how it was transported to where we purchased it. What was our frame of mind when we bought it? Was it wrapped up in styrofoam and/or plastic? Was it wilted and limp? How many days did we wait to cook it? How did we feel when we were cutting it up? Did we place it in a machine to chop it? Is most of what we eat out of a can, jar, or freezer bag? Is it covered in chemicals? Did we zap it in a microwave, in a plastic tray, or heat it in ceramic in the stove, over a fire? Did we eat right out of the pan or on a paper plate or on fine china? Do we have fresh flowers on the table where we eat, or piles of paperwork? Is there space to eat on the table? Did we eat in a rush, in the car, on the phone, reading, or did we eat slowly and quietly? Did we take a walk afterwards, fall asleep, or jump up and run off to the next project? Did we chew more than three times per mouthful? Did the food look pleasing and nourishing or like a lump of fuel to run the body’s engine? Were we thankful for the food? Did we pray before and/or afterward? Do we eat at the same time everyday or at all various times? Are we joyful when we eat?
It seems to me that it is within the gestalt of ones “diet,” and ones life, that we find the fullest experience of life, and that the concept of quality rather than quantity becomes the focus. My point is simply that although I have created a list of what I feel to be some of the most precious and superior foods available for assisting optimal health, it is the attitude with which one lives (our Shen) that truly determines the experience of spaciousness and compassion in life. The duration of a life, give or take a decade, is truly a precious, momentary opportunity to help and connect to other human beings with kindness and generosity. It is from this perspective I have studied the world of food as medicine.
In keeping with the focus of Chinese medicine, the foundation of longevity resides in the maintenance of ones Jing. That is, the balance of holding onto former heaven essence and fully supporting later heaven essence with good food and proper rest so as to protect the excessive depletion of former heaven essence. Jing has a quality of evolution over time, the development of the body and mind from birth to death. It is change over time in contrast to Qi which is associated with any movement or change in the moment. Jing and Qi have an interdependent relationship both needing each other to exist simultaneously. According to the Su Wen, it is ones Jing which resides over the seven year stages of a woman’s development and the eight year stages of a mans. It is responsible for the larger cycles of time in our lives. I have heard that it is in fact, the essence which determines our lives longitudinal destiny.
In addition, Chinese medicine speaks of the “Three Treasures,” that is, Jing, Qi and Shen. Interestingly, Shen can be seen as the “vitality behind Jing and Qi.”13 As Flaws put it in Arisal of the Clear, “Jing essence becomes Qi and when Qi accumulates it becomes Shen.” In attempting to map out the relationships between both Jing and Shen with the digestive process (a function of Qi), enlightenment appears to be in some regard, a by product of physically and metaphysically transforming ones excrement.
Generally, the pathology of deficient Jing will appear as an issue within the functioning of the kidneys and disharmonies of development and/or reproduction. Other imbalances include the five delays: slow physical and/or mental development, late fontanel closure, poor skeletal growth including late fontanel closure and premature aging, dental issues, memory decline, and sexual dysfunction.