seniors doing tai chi

One can learn a lot about health by studying the ancient cultures of India and China. In India, one has the Study of Ayurveda – the science of life, and in China – Yang sheng –  the study of right living. Times were different when these philosophies were formulated. The ancients were keen observers of nature and astronomy and developed theories and practicalities based on their findings.

YANG SHENG  – The traditional term Yangsheng comprises two Chinese Characters:Yang ( to nourish or nurture ) and Sheng ( life or vitality ). This terminology goes back over 2000 years ago and is not just related to physical health but also mental health. Yangsheng aims to cultivate health and Harmony through the different stages of life and to slow down the aging process. This wisdom of the ancients is as applicable today as it was long ago and gives a blueprint or map of what activities to pursue to enhance health.


There are three main ways to cultivate health and longevity according to Chinese Yang Shen principles –

  • Avoiding behaviour that ages or causes disease such as smoking, excessive drinking, doing no exercise, making  poor food choices and not dealing with  stresses of  life
  • Cultivating good health practices such as – exercising, eating well of nutritious foods, spending time with family and friends, regular walks in nature and doing work that has meaning has been demonstrated to extend the life and the quality of life.
  • Engaging in specific Traditional Life extension activities such as Meditation, Qigong, Tai Qi or Yoga and partaking of Herbal Tonics aid health and longevity. These activities increase blood circulation to vital organs and nourish them as well. Herbal tonics can be seen as a medicinal extension to the therapeutic use of foods, supplying concentrated nutrients to the human body.

It is central to the theme of Yang Sheng to achieve Balance and Harmony in life and work, and any excess in any one area will bring about a decrease in another. It is great to work hard ( excess) to obtain money to live and purchase worldly goods. However, suppose there is too much time devoted to work. In that case, that encroaches on our leisure, which can nurture us: this creates a deficiency. This imbalance eventually leads to disharmony and disease as we cannot have enough time to recuperate physically and Mentally.

“Do not take good health for granted. Just as one should not forget danger in times of peace, try to prevent the coming of disease beforehand”     – Sun Simiao, 7th Century Chinese physician.

Being proactive in preventative health practices instead of waiting to be reactive when a health crisis occurs.

A classic example of Yang Sheng is the practice of Qigong as seen in the picture. Qi translates as energy and Gong translates as energy work . Qigong consists of doing rhythmic movements with the breath that move the joints in a number of directions -thus moving blood flow and lymph fluid through the body. ” Oiling the joints”, nourishing the tissues by moving blood, and detoxifying the tissues by moving the lymph. The mind becomes more relaxed and in a different state – the sympathetic nervous system(SNS)  moves from one of “fight or flight “to the parasympathetic nervous system, (PNS)  “rest and relax”.

To understand what is going on here one needs to look at the workings of the  SNS versus the PSN . Both Systems are part of the body’s Autonomic nervous system that regulate bodily functions .

  • SNS – flight or flight , increased  adrenal gland hormone secretion and cortisol , increased blood flow to skeletal muscles  – reduction of blood to internal organs .
  • PNS – Rest and relax , Adrenal gland recuperation , increased blood flow to internal organs and reduced blood flow to skeletal muscles

Some studies have shown that posture and mind relaxation are critical factors to long live and living healthy . With posture comes better breathing and internal blood flow and with mind relaxation increased PNS affecting blood flow to internal organs . The concept here is as we age microcirculation decreases internally leading to decreased nourishment of internal organs – liver , kidneys glands, pancreas –  organs of detoxification and absorption of nutrients.

Lets break this down in a typical workday . Sympathetic activity  = SNS , Parasympathetic  Activity = PSN .

  •  check our phones  SNS activity = ten minutes morning
  • Have breakfast PSN = 30 minutes
  • Drive to work SNS = 30minutes with stress
  •  Work SNS = 4 hours with stress
  • Have lunch PSN= 30 minutes
  • Work SNS = 4 hours with stress
  •  Drive home SNS = 30minutes with stress
  • Evening meal PSN = 30minutes
  • Watch TV SNS = 3 hours .
  • Bedtime PSN= 8 hours

Total time for SNS = 12 hours. Total time PNS = 9 hours . 3 hours difference in the negative time of recuperation . In addition, Every time we look at a screen on any device this turns on the SNS.     By now you are seeing a trend. By contrast, the Amish community in the USA  who are mainly farmers who work long hours during the day SNS -10 hours , have approx 12 hours of PSN. This means 2 hours every day in the positive for recuperation .  No TV, no phones, no screens and little driving time and a diet that is perhaps organic but not good. . The Aimish  however live longer and are generally healthier and happier compared with the rest of the USA population . Apart from diet it is thought that this is due to lower levels of mental stress combined with more physical work .

No we cannot live like the Aimish but it to add extreme exercise SNS  to  either before or after work SNS seems to could.  be overloading the systems for the human body.

Compare this to a “body attack” or ” body pump” exercise class where the instructor barks out instructions via a microphone in the background of loud music. Participants move violently in different directions to get the heart rate up and exercise the muscles. The body is moved through a wide range of movements like running on the spot, pushups and squats and lunging and jumping. All this exercise pushes the body to extreme SNS.                                                                                 At first glance, it may seem that the “Body attack” has its rightful place in the scheme of things, and for the young, this may be so. However, are such routines cultivating good health?

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