Meaning ‘nurturing life’ – yăng refers to nourishing or nurturing and shēng means life, vitality and health, it can also be translated as ‘health preservation’ or ‘life cultivation’.
It’s the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) equivalent of self-care and is all about creating sustainable health and happiness.
Dating back to ancient times, and referenced as part of Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, yăng shēng is the foundation of human health and may just be the antidote to the stresses of our modern world.
A modern antidote to stress
At the core of yăng shēng are the concepts of balance, consistency, and flexibility. It’s the opposite of crash diets, quick fixes, magic pills, following fads or doing things to the extreme.
It’s about eating well, getting lots of rest, moving your body, doing mind-body exercises such as meditation and breath work, and getting in touch with inner feelings to create overall personal health, wellbeing and longevity.
According to Chinese Medicine, we inherit our ‘jing’ or our ‘essence’ from our parents and this substance is finite. Our qi or ‘life force’ on the other hand is sustained by the air we breathe and the food and drink we consume. The quality of our qi and blood declines with age and is greatly affected by our emotions, diet, environment, traumas, physical exertion, and many other factors.
With a proactive approach to health rather than a reactive approach to disease, the purpose of yăng shēng is to preserve our essence, nourish our qi and mitigate the impact of external factors which deplete our qi or interfere with its flow, thus causing illness.
You can’t pour from an empty cup, so yăng shēng aims to keep you full and nourished through every cycle of life. It is also an expression of gratitude for our health and our lives, with deep roots in the principle of connectedness and living in tune with nature and the seasons.
People pursue this elusive balance through various self-cultivation practices aimed at personal health, wellbeing and longevity.
5 ways to incorporate yăng shēng principles
Here are five ways to boost yăng shēng principles and live a nourishing life in 2023:
1. Get physical – in order to get qi flowing, it’s important to move the body so incorporating daily exercise is the first step towards yăng shēng. Intentional, precise and flowing movements, such as in qi gong or tai chi, gentle stretching, and yoga, can help restore balance to the body
2. Just breathe – Mind-body exercises such as meditation and breath work can help qi circulate. Circulating qi is the driving force behind longevity practices because if you have good energy flow, you can achieve mind-body-spirit harmony. In Daoism, these techniques are called “life-nurturing arts”. It is also important to breathe clean, quality air so spend more time in pristine nature such as the beach, country or head out for a hike in the mountains
3. Get lots of rest – Lack of sleep depletes our qi so sleep is crucial to yăng sheng. Nights are when we ‘rest and digest’ and when our parasympathetic nervous system is activated
4. Go with the flow – learn to identify and accept your emotions, understand their impact on health and wellness, and work on personal development and spiritual self. Qi can also flow between emotions so being able to transition smoothly and appropriately between emotions without getting stuck on one default emotion or experiencing emotions to extremes is part of yăng sheng
5. Eat well – for mind, body and soul to work in harmony they need to be nourished and nutrition is key to this. In Chinese medicine, this is about quality as well as quantity. We need to consider what we eat, when we eat, and how we eat; just as much as we consider how much we eat. When we are in balance, our body knows what it needs and we can adjust our diet or fast naturally based on this. In Chinese medicine, dietetics focuses on a balance of flavours, colours, textures, temperatures, cooking methods and eating locally sourced and seasonal produce, as well as using food as medicine. It’s also about eating mindfully, slowly and with gratitude, with good company, instead of rushing a meal.
Armit helped design a short online course on holistic health for Endeavour Short Courses. Learn more here.