Yang Sheng: The art of Chinese self-healing
About this deal
The Taoists sometimes use medicines [服食藥物] with a view to rendering their bodies more supple and their vital force stronger, hoping thus to prolong their years and to enter a new existence. This is a deception likewise. There are many examples that by the use of medicines the body grew more supple and the vital force stronger, but the world affords no instance of the prolongation of life and a new existence following. … The different physics cure all sorts of diseases. When they have been cured, the vital force is restored, and then the body becomes supple again. According to man’s original nature his body is supple of itself, and his vital force lasts long of its own accord. … Therefore, when by medicines the various diseases are dispelled, the body made supple, and the vital force prolonged, they merely return to their original state, but it is impossible to add to the number of years, let alone the transition into another existence. (tr. Forke 1907: 349). The famous physician Sun Simiao devoted two chapters (26 "Dietetics" and 27 "Longevity Techniques") of his 652 Qianjin fang (千金方, "Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold [Pieces]", see above) to life-nourishing methods. The Qianjin fang is a huge compendium of all medical knowledge in the Tang period, the oldest source on Chinese therapeutics that has survived in its entirety, and is still being used to train traditional physicians today (Engelhardt 2000: 93). Sun also wrote the Sheyang zhenzhong fang (攝養枕中方, "Pillow Book of Methods for Nourishing Life") is divided into five parts: prudence, prohibitions, daoyin gymnastics, guiding the qi, and guarding the One ( shouyi 守一). The text identifies overindulgence of any sort as the main reason for illness. (Engelhardt 1989: 280, 294). Some shorter texts are also attributed to Sun Simiao, including the Yangxing yanming lu (養性延命錄, "On Nourishing Inner Nature and Extending Life"), the Fushou lun (福壽論, "Essay on Happiness and Longevity"), and the Baosheng ming (保生銘, "Inscription on Protecting Life") (Despeux 2008: 1150).
Yang Sheng is a philosophical approach to life and good health rather than a prescriptive ‘therapy’.The taking of medicines [服藥] may be the first requirement for enjoying Fullness of Life [長生], but the concomitant practice of breath circulation [行氣] greatly enhances speedy attainment of the goal. Even if medicines [神藥] are not attainable and only breath circulation is practiced, a few hundred years will be attained provided the scheme is carried out fuIly, but one must also know the art of sexual intercourse [房中之術] to achieve such extra years. If ignorance of the sexual art causes frequent losses of sperm to occur, it will be difficult to have sufficient energy to circulate the breaths. (5, tr. Ware 1966, 105). Yang Sheng is about taking proactive self-responsibility for your own self-care and self-nurturing regime. It is a very self-empowering concept as it teaches us not to rely or become dependent upon other people or things for our health and wellbeing. Most Yang Sheng practices can be done for yourself and cost very little or nothing at all.
However, the latest studies suggest that one should think twice before buying into the fairy tales of the guilt-free sweetness propagated by beverage companies. A study, published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences last month, discovered for the first time the pathogenic effects of saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame – the three most widely used artificial sweeteners found in most candies and soft drinks.The concept is amazing, the book is sooo beautiful. But I felt it is more coffee table book, rather than an actual learning material (as it was advertised in my country). I am from Balkan so eating and living with the nature and the seasons is nothing new to me. Ho, Peng-Yoke, 2007, Explorations in Daoism: Medicine and Alchemy in Literature, J. P. C. Moffett and Cho Sungwu (eds.), with a foreword by T. H. Barrett, London: RoutledgeCurzon. The "Taoist Untruths" chapter describes Daoist grain-free diets in terms of bigu (辟穀, "avoiding grains") and shiqi (食氣, "eat/ingest breath"). It says that Wangzi Qiao (王子喬), a son of King Ling of Zhou (571-545 BCE), practiced bigu, as did Li Shaojun (fl. 133 BCE).
Engelhardt, Ute (2000), "Longevity Techniques and Chinese Medicine," in Kohn Daoism Handbook, E. J. Brill, 74-108.
simple Yang Sheng rituals to try at home
The circa first century BCE Huangdi Neijing ("Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor") discusses varied healing therapies, including medical acupuncture, moxibustion, and drugs as well as life-nourishing gymnastics, massages, and dietary regulation. The basic premise of longevity practices, which permeates the entire text "like a red thread", is to avoid diseases by maintaining the vital forces for as long as possible (Engelhardt 2000: 89). The Suwen (素問, "Basic Questions"), section echoes the early immortality cult, and says the ancient sages who regulated life in accordance with the Dao could easily live for a hundred years, yet complained that "these good times are over now, and people today do not know how to cultivate their life". (Engelhardt 2000: 90). Fairly clear look at things to do (or not do) to help one's body tend toward optimal condition. Key thoughts include gentle movement in a natural environment and moving meditations. The Yellow Emperor rose into the sky and became a genie after taking this elixir. It adds that by merely doing the breathing exercises and calisthenics and taking herbal medicines one may extend one's years but cannot prevent ultimate death. Taking the divine elixir, however, will produce an interminable longevity and make one coeval with sky and earth; it lets one travel up and down in Paradise, riding clouds or driving dragons. (4, tr Ware 1966: 75)