J. Heaverlo M.S., L.Ac.
As we move into the 21st century we are faced with new global health concerns. Our world’s population continues to increase. Technology is creating sedentariness. Processed foods are replacing natural foods. Because of our movement away from the natural world, diseases of excess type conditions are appearing at quickening rates. Disease such as diabetes and obesity are becoming increasingly troublesome for large numbers of the world population. The World Health Organization reported in 2016, the number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014.1 The global prevalence of diabetes among adults over 18 years of age has also risen from 4.7% in 1980 to 8.5% in 2014.1 Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.
Researchers found more than 2 billion people worldwide are now overweight or obese. “The U.S. has about 13 percent of the world’s fat population. China and India combined have about 15 percent” reports Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who led the study. He and his colleagues reviewed more than 1,700 studies covering 188 countries from 1980 to 2013. “When we realized that not a single country has had a significant decline in obesity, that tells you how hard a challenge this is”.2
With globalization, technology, and the increase of serious diseases, our world community needs to come together to address these potential hazards. It is imperative we find systems that will help us maintain a healthy relationship within ourselves, our communities, and with nature. As we move into the future, we must not forget the wisdom of the past. The wisdom of the Chinese study of life cultivation offers a guide map to a harmonious life with nature through proper lifestyle, diet, exercise, and mindfulness. It is applicable to all people throughout the global community. The study of life cultivation originates from a holistic view that heaven and man are mutually interactive, and the body and the spirit are the unity of opposites. The basic principles of life cultivation are to keep life’s activities balanced, coordinated, and in an interdependent state of movement and stillness. It suggests that people apply the life cultivation knowledge and methods persistently, consciously, and correctly, to improve their constitution and ability to defy debilitation and prevent disease, thus prolonging life.
Birth, growth, maturity, decline, and death is the natural law of life. Therefore, it is vitally important for Chinese Medicine to explore these topics. According to the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon), “the materials of life evolved from inert matter within the universe, under the interactions of the heavens, the earth, the sun, the moon, the water, the fire, etc. The origins of all the immeasurable and diversified species between heaven and earth are attributed to the movements and evolution of the materials themselves. Through the course of time they have evolved into their current state”.3 Furthermore, Plain Questions: Treatise on Treasuring [Heaven’s] Mandate to Preserve the Body says, “Human beings come into existence by receiving the qì between heaven and earth, and mature by following the laws of the four seasons.”4 It is clearly stated, for humans to continue to exist they must follow the laws of nature.
Human beings exist between heaven and earth, all movements and changes of the natural world will inevitably influence the inner environment of the human body, directly or indirectly. Therefore, we can view the human body from the holistic unity of its inner and outer environment. If human activities go against the laws of natural change or the natural environment, the relative balance of the inner and outer environment of the body will be destroyed and disease will ensue. In the classic Zhuang Zĭ: ZhĪ Běi Yóu, it is put forth, “Human life is the gathering of qì. Once qì gathers together, people live; once qì scatters and disappears, people die.”5 This is to say, all life and death result from the gathering and separation of qì. Plain Questions, Great Treatise on the Subtleties of Six further points out that the basic movement of substance is “upbearing, downbearing, inward and outward movement. If the inward and outward movement stops, the spirit mechanism will die out; if upbearing and downbearing stops, the established qì is in peril. Therefore, without inward and outward movement, there will be no birth, growth, maturity, decline, and death; without upbearing and downbearing, there will be no birth, growth, transformation, receiving, and storage.”6 To prolong life, we must aim to ensure the movement of our qì follows the movements of the natural world.
Upbearing, downbearing, inward and outward movement is also the basic process of movement for the viscera, channels and network vessels, yīn, yáng, qì and blood. All the physiological activities rely on these four movements of qì. For instance, the diffusion and downbearing of the lungs, the upbearing of the clear by the spleen, the downbearing of the turbid by the stomach, the mutual assistance between the water and fire of the heart and the kidneys. Only by maintaining the normal movement of qì can the human body resist the onset of disease.
Plain Questions, Treatise on Vital QÌ Connecting with Heaven says, “Life is rooted in yīn and yáng.”7 This is to say, the root of life is yīn and yáng because “yáng transforms into qì, yīn becomes form.”7 The transformation of qì and formation of form are the two opposites within the nature of life. Opposing and interdependent. Yáng qì transforms into yīn essence and the yīn essence transforms into yáng qì. Life exists with qì. Excess or deficiency of the original qì will dictate whether life is stronger, weaker, longer or shorter. Qì is the motive force of life. Huīzōng zhào wrote in Sages’ Salvation Records of the Sòng Dynasty, “The maturity and death of the ten thousand things all depends on the excess and deficiency of qì,”8 and believes that “The human shape becomes healthy or ill because of qì.”8 He says, “Where there is qì there is life, where there is no qì there is no life.”8 Similarly, essence, blood, and body fluids are considered the essential matter of the human body. Plain Questions, Treatise of the True Doctrine of the Golden Coffer says, “essence is the root of human body.”9 If the yīn essence is abundant, life activities will be vigorous, the body will be strong and healthy; if the yīn essence is feeble and weak, the life activities will decline, and the body will decay early with poor health.
Health is the surplus of a physiological balance between the qì, yīn and yáng, and essence. According to Zhōngyī Yǎngshēng Xué (Chinese Medicine Study of Life Cultivation), “a healthy individual should have the following physiological characteristics:
- The eyes will have Jīngshén (spirit).
- The breath is slightly unhurried. Neither fast nor slow.
- The bowels and urination are normal.
- The pulse is moderate and even.
- The body is robust. Neither too fat nor too thin.
- The facial complexion is rosy.
- The teeth are strong and firm.
- The hearing is acute.
- The lumbar and legs are agile.
- The voice is resonant.
- The hair is moist and glowing
- The appetite is normal.10
Ageing is the decline of physiological balance between the qì, yīn and yáng, and essence and can be divided into two types: physiological and pathological. Physiological aging refers to the physiological decline that takes place after the maturity of the body with age. This is common to all living creatures. Pathological aging refers to the pathological changes of the human body due to internal or external elements, which causes premature aging. Zhōngyī Yǎngshēng Xué (Chinese Medicine Study of Life Cultivation) ascribes seven pathological patterns with ageing: kidney vacuity, spleen and stomach vacuity, heart vacuity, liver debilitation and exhaustion, lung vacuity and weakness, exhausted qì and essence, and yin and yang disharmony.10 In order to prevent premature ageing and realize our goal of prolonging long, we need to address the pathological possibilities that lead to an early onset of decline.
There are other factors that may play a role in our ageing. Plain Questions: Treatise Explaining the Five Errors illustrates how social stress can affect our health, “When high-ranking officials lose their power, even without contraction of evil, their spirits will be internally damaged and their bodies are bound to be destroyed.”11 According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. Untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity.19
Furthermore, the natural environment also has a tremendous influence on the physiological balance between the qì, yīn and yáng, and essence in the body. Present-day urban air pollution comprises hundreds of substances, including sulphur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, rubber dust, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and many different volatile organic compounds.13 The world population is increasing at an alarming rate. In a 2009 study of human population growth, author John Bongaarts states, “As a result, world population more than doubled to 6.5 billion in 2005. This population expansion is expected to continue for several more decades before peaking near 10 billion later in the twenty-first century. Around 2070, the world’s population will be 10 times larger than in 1800.”14 With the current population increase, pollution of the natural world, and technology, our world community seems to be on a course that is moving further away from harmony with nature. This shift can create great problems for humanity and the environment. If we wish to prolong life and health for all species on the planet, we must live within the laws of nature. To do this we must keep learning from the sages that have come before us by studying and practicing life cultivation techniques. The Chinese medicine study of life cultivation has great potential to be a guiding light towards a more harmonious future for all of us who inhabit this great earth, now and to come.
- Dr. Margaret Chan. 2016. Global Report on Diabetes. World Health Organization, Geneva.
- Mathers CD, Loncar D. 2006. Projections of Global Mortality and Burden of Disease From 2002 to 2030. PLoS Med, 3(11): e442.
- Wang Bing. 762 CE. Wu LianSheng and Wu Qi (Translators). The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon. China Science and Technology Press 2002
- Wang Bing. 762 CE. Plain Questions: Treatise on Treasuring Heaven’ Mandate to Preserve the Body. People ‘s Health Publishing House (China), Second Ed. 2009. pp. 281.
- Zhuāng Zĭ. Han Dynasty. ZhĪ Běi Yóu. (as cited in Chinese Medicine Study of Life Cultivation. China Traditional Chinese Medicine Publishing House. 2012). pp. 24.
- Wang Bing. 762 CE. Plain Questions: Great Treatise on the Subtleties of Six. People ‘s Health Publishing House (China), Second Ed. 2009. pp. 719.
- Wang Bing. 762 CE. Plain Questions: Treatise on Vital QÌ Connecting with Heaven. People ‘s Health Publishing House (China), Second Ed. 2009. pp.23.
- Huīzōng zhào. 1111-1117CE. Sages’ Salvation Records of the Sòng Dynasty. (as cited in Chinese Medicine Study of Life Cultivation. China Traditional Chinese Medicine Publishing House. 2012). pp. 25.
- Wang Bing. 762 CE. Plain Questions: Treatise of the True Doctrine of the Golden Coffer. People ‘s Health Publishing House (China), Second Ed. 2009. pp. 40.
- Mǎ Lièguāng. 2012. Chinese Medicine Study of Life Cultivation. China Traditional Chinese Medicine Publishing House.pp. 26-27.
- Wang Bing. 762 CE. Plain Questions: Treatise Explaining the Five Errors. People ‘s Health Publishing House (China), Second Ed. 2009. pp. 1004.
- Baum, A. & Polsusnzy, D. 1999. Health Psychology: Mapping Biobehavioral Contributions to Health and Illness. Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 50, pp. 137-163.
- Christiani D, Woodin M. Urban and Transboundary Air Pollution. Life Support: the environment and human health. Cambridge: The MIT Press; 2002. pp. 15–37.
- Bongaarts, J. (2009). Human population growth and the demographic transition. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1532), 2985–2990. http://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2009.0137