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Lessons in longevity from ancient China

21/06/2011

Last weekend I took a break from my usual routine of hiking training to attend a seminar discussion with Chinese Medicine historian, Marta Hanson PhD. Marta took us on a Traditional Chinese Medicine journey beginning with ancient spiritual healing practices up until modern-day medicine in which Chinese herbal medicine was used in SARS prevention and treatment.  Some ideas have lasted the ages, some were dropped and some have evolved into new ideas to bring us the medicine we now know.

At times in Chinese history, immortality (and longevity) were greatly sought after.  And due to this, medicine placed great importance on preservation of health.  In fact, a line from a poem from the 3rd century attributed to Lao Tzu in the Taoist classic, the Tao te ching, states:

 “The best physicians always treat disease when it is not [yet] a disease

And so [their patients] are not ill.”

Many classical medical texts from around this time describe the role of the medical practitioner in a similar way.  So what was required to maintain this ideal state of glowing vitality?  A good physician/acupuncturist/herbalist would guide their patient with individualised advice on the following (and we still do this today):

  • Balance.  The concept of Yin & Yang represent a type of balance that we see in nature.  Yin and Yang are two polar forces and yet are part of each other and evolve to become one another. They are relative terms.  The Yin Yang diagram (which appeared in the current form we know now much later in time) demonstrates Yin and Yang.  Yin is dark, quiet, cold, substantial and feminine.  Yang is light, loud, hot, energetic and masculine.  Yin and Yang can be applied to anything in life to understand balance.  For instance, a bright office room full of activity is yang in comparison to a bedroom, that is dark and quiet, yin qualities.  People and diseases can be described as more yin or yang.  Even your lifestyle or career can be described as yin or yang.  Running a marathon (yang)  versus lying on the couch (yin).  What is important here, is that we need to work towards balance of yin and yang to preserve good health.  So, if you are a busy career woman, perhaps it’s ok to incorporate a yoga class or even some couch time.  And if you have a desk bound job maybe getting outside for a walk at lunchtime would benefit you well.
  • Exercise – these were described as gymnastics but resemble something more like what we know as tai chi or yoga.  These exercises, when done regularly, were designed to encourage good circulation, movement of the body, strength, flexibility and breathing well to improve the function of the organs and body.
  • Meditation – the Taoists incorporated meditation techniques specifically involving  thoughts of improving the way their bodies functioned.  This is something that some of my patients employ during their acupuncture treatment but can be used at anytime.
  • Diet – given that the second most important medical position within the imperial court was the Dietician (the first being the Master Physician who oversaw the entire medical official team), we can surmise the great significance of good food to maintain good health.  The Dietician was responsible for providing menus that were well-balanced and reflected the seasons.  Most of us now, manage what we put into our own mouths (sometimes not as well as we’d like).   As a general rule, choose produce grown locally, in season (eating with the seasons is still relevant) and combine good quality proteins, carbohydrates and fats.  Also consider warming up your diet in colder weather in both temperature and spice.  A good acupuncturist can help you put together a diet to suit you if you struggle in this area.

There are many ancient medical ideas from China that we do not currently employ.  One in particular that I liked was ‘The Master of Crickets’.  This official was in charge of removing anything that makes a ‘disagreeable sound’.  Back then, they were thinking of crickets and cicadas, but we could now apply this position to noisy neighbours and leaf blowers.

So, who’s up for giving the quest for immortality (or at the very least preserving good health) a go?

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health at her Broadbeach clinic and is the Chinese Medicine Senior Lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Gold Coast campus.

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