Last updated December 19, 2022
The phrase “prevention is better than cure” is often attributed to 16th-century Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus. Yet this expression is also the message behind the ancient Taoist self-care concept of yang sheng.
Dating back to Confucius times, yang sheng is at the core of the Chinese idea of a balanced and harmonious lifestyle.
And despite its centuries-old wisdom, yang sheng is still very much relevant today. As we strive for optimum health, taking a lesson from the past, this Chinese approach to holistic health might really help us to reach our wellness goals.
Keep reading to find out more about yang sheng. What it is and how you can harness its principles for self-care.
What Is Yang Sheng
Yang sheng, or “nurture life” in English, is an ancient Taoist concept prevalent in Chinese medicine. Essentially, yang sheng is the notion that “prevention is better than cure.” It’s about tackling small health problems early on and being consistent with wellness practices to limit the chance of serious illness developing in the body.
Yang sheng, however, isn’t just about the body. It’s about the delicate balance between body, mind and spirit, working in harmony with each other to achieve optimum health.
Moreover, yang sheng is a beautiful combination of traditional knowledge and ancient wisdom balanced with modern, scientific research and our own life experiences. And the key is to focus on overall health throughout the better part of our lives.
To unravel the history of yang sheng, one would need to go back to the origins of Chinese medicine. Written sources dating back to the 4th century refer to ways to extend life and better well-being in a Chinese tradition. The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon, for example, a work dating back to the Han Dynasty and one of the most famous on traditional Chinese medicine, includes forms of herbal medicine, gua sha, acupuncture, cupping and massage.
Over time, these practices have developed and refined themselves. And as a result, yang sheng is a self-care approach based on thousands of years of wisdom and philosophy.
Harnessing Yang Sheng
Chinese medicine believes in Qi, the energy flow that moves through the body. This energy helps in the movement of blood, lymph, toxins, nutrients and cognitive awareness in, around and from the body. The correct function and movement of Qi is fundamental to good health. Qi and yang sheng—although different—work in tandem with each other.
Yang sheng also takes into account fundamental philosophies like yin and yang and how our Qi relates to that of others and the environment around us.
Harnessing yang sheng for ultimate self-care is all about nurturing our Qi. Those with a strong and abundant Qi are generally in good health. Seeking and achieving a strong and healthy body, a relaxed and stress-free mind, and a fulfilled soul all contribute to free flowing Qi. Therefore, good health.
The main challenge, which you may have already guessed, is that modern society has quite the negative impact on our Qi. Stressful jobs, long hours in front of a computer, a sedentary lifestyle, negative stimuli from social media—these all drain and weaken our Qi.
In turn, conditions such as low energy, stress, anxiety, bad digestion, lack of sleep and pain start to present themselves in the body and mind.
So, given that we live in a sensory-overloaded society, what can we do to keep Qi flowing freely? Going back to live as the Chinese did during the Han Dynasty would be impossible and quite impractical these days. But, limiting the negatives of the modern lifestyle can help.
Qi is sustained through maintaining holistic healthcare practices such as eating healthy, non-processed foods, engaging in physical movement, meditation and other healing rituals.
In the past, yang sheng was cultivated through qigong and meditation, adequate sleep and rest, and a healthy, natural diet. Living in harmony with nature and its seasons was also very important. Adapting these approaches and rituals to modern life might be the answer to unlocking the benefits of yang sheng today.
Here are four practices to incorporate into your lifestyle to achieve yang sheng.
1. Healthy and Mindful Eating
A balanced and nutritious diet promotes healthy Qi flow. Focusing on colorful, seasonal and natural ingredients is essential to health and longevity. Fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, organic, pasture-raised meat and poultry and wild and sustainably caught fish are just some of the natural foods to base our diet around. Mindful eating is also key to appreciating our food and where it comes from and for optimal digestion.
2. Mindful Movement
Qigong isn’t the only way to achieve yang sheng. Many forms of exercise that are mindful and encourage connection with the body, mind and environment can also help. Some of the most popular nowadays include yoga, Pilates, stretching and walking.
3. Meditation and Breathing Exercises
Observing our breath and practicing mediation have so many benefits that help us to connect mind and body. Mediation also helps to release tension, relieve stress and cultivate a positive, calm mind.
4. Tapping into the World of Holistic Medicine
Medical herbs are at the core of Chinese medicine. There are many herbal remedies that may be used effectively to promote health and reduce ailments. For example, peppermint is known to help with digestion problems, ginger with nausea, cayenne pepper with congestion and echinacea with the common cold.
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