The Dao Does… The Art of Yang Sheng ~ Part Two
Following on from my earlier post that introduced you to the practice of ‘Yang Sheng” meaning “Nourish Life”, part two of this blog post series will introduce you to the fundamental components involved in the practice of “Yang Sheng” and how to modify your daily habits to take charge of your health and wellbeing. These simple changes to your daily habits take a ‘preventative medicine’ approach to healthcare in order to prevent illness from arising and work on the subtitle imbalances that may arise between the fundamental pillars of health; including digestion, movement, sleep, breath work/meditation, and mental health.
Your digestive system is a complex and intricate system that literally has a mind of its own, known as the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system has more than 100 million nerve cells in the lining of the gut; that’s more than the entire spinal cord! It also houses a diverse number of species of microflora that live within the intestinal tract and their delicate balance is pivotal for optimal health. The gut-brain axis (GBA) is a bi-directional communication link between the enteric nervous system, microflora, and the central nervous system, which all influence the emotional, cognitive, and intestinal functions of the entire digestive system (1).
Over 90% of the body’s serotonin (our happy hormone) is made in the gut and extensive research has demonstrated the strong link between our mental and cognitive health and our gastrointestinal health; this includes recent investigations into the impact of dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut-microflora) and anxiety-depressive disorders and autism). (1).
Chinese medicine has long understood the interactions between the health of our digestive, the interaction of yin, yang, qi, and blood, and our emotional state. The Stomach and Spleen are our main digestive organs in Chinese Medicine, they are the primary source of our “post-natal Qi” production (the Qi created after we are born) and their optimal health ensures balanced emotions (in particular the regulation of feelings of overwhelm and anxiety).
Whilst the practice of ‘Yang Sheng’ looks at what foods and beverages are being consumed, it goes a further step to observe the temperature qualities of the foods consumed, when those foods are being consumed, and how one is digesting their meals;
1. Appreciating Nourishment
A wise spiritual leader: Thich Nhat Hanh said that before consuming any meal
“enjoy breathing in nourishment and healing. Be grateful that you will soon have lovely food and turn waiting into joy’
2. Sitting Down To Eat & Open Your Senses
Sit down, move away from your desk, turn the TV off, put your phone away, put your book down and be fully present and relaxed to digest your meal optimally. We first eat with our eyes, so look at your food, the colours and textures, and most importantly, the smells; as our digestive system is first prepared and stimulated with saliva production in the mouth which becomes stimulated through our senses.
3. Chew Your Food
Eating on the run or eating too quickly are one of the prime causes of indigestion and lower intestinal issues such as bloating loose stools and constipation. In Chinese Medicine, chewing your food allows the proper breakdown of nutrients which can then be readily absorbed and transformed into Qi and Blood by the Stomach and Spleen. It takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to register that you are full; thus chewing your food properly slows down the eating process.
4. Portion Sizes
Let’s remove our thoughts from the heavily controlled fitness and diet industry when discussing portion sizes, Yang Sheng philosophy is rooted in the notion of being in tune with your body’s subtle rhythms and signals to ensure you fuel yourself with enough nourishment; So find the right amount for you. A Taoist script called the Neiyeh says ‘Overfilling yourself with food will impair your vital energy…over restricting your consumption will cause the bones to wither and blood to congeal’
5. Do not Drink During Mealtimes
Fluids dilute your digestive fluids and lead to improper digestion, this can also lead to your Stomach’s inability to break down the contents of your food leading to poor nutrient absorption.
6. Timing & Regularity
Chinese Medicine says that the digestive system needs regular eating schedules and moderation. The general recommendation is to leave 4-5 hours between mealtimes to allow the body to allow the digestive system to process, transform and utilise the nutrients from your previous meal. Find an eating schedule that works with your body, your exertional needs, and your work schedule. The Chinese medicine organ clock says that the Qi of the Stomach and Spleen is the strongest between 7 am-11 am and is an optimal time to consume your biggest meal of the day. The age-old saying applies in Yang Sheng philosophy; to eat like a king at breakfast, like a prince at lunch, and dinner like a pauper.
7. Hot and Cold
The most important principle in Chinese medicine to ensure the health of your digestive system is the intake of warm or previously cooked food and drink. You may have noticed that people brought up in traditional cultures will not consume ice beverages or foods such as ice cream, and at certain restaurants, tea is offered instead of table water; this is due to a long-standing knowledge that a diet consisting of too much cold food and drink will disrupt optimal digestion and introduce ‘Cold-Pathogens’ into the internal body. We often describe the digestive system as our digestive fire or a bubbling cauldron, and this fire can be weakened by too much consumption of cold foods and beverages.
Do not consume food straight out of the fridge, wait for the food to become closer to room temperature, do not add ice into your beverages, and try to avoid drinking cold water. You may wish to go a further mile by drinking warm water or herbal teas but this is not necessary.
8. The Five Flavours & Taste
Chinese medicine attributes different flavour qualities to every food imaginable; being a vegetable, herb, meat, poultry, legumes, fruit or grain) these are called the five flavours; Sweet, Salty, Spicy, Sour and Bitter. We don’t have time to break down the complexities of this perspective but in the whole; Yang Sheng promotes eating a balance of the Five Flavours and utilising different flavours to correct disharmony in the body. For example; the flavour of sweet has a propensity to the Spleen and Stomach; thus if you are feeling anxious, consume a moderate amount of something naturally sweet in nature; such as sweet potato, to calm your nerves.
1. Carabotti M, Scirocco A, Maselli M, Severi C. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems [Internet]. PubMed Central (PMC). 2022 [cited 6 October 2022]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/
By Clarice Berry