Lifestyle and behavior are determinant factors for good health.
According to Chinese philosophy, jing (essence) forms the material basis for the whole body. Stored in the kidneys , jing serves as the deposited capital for reproduction, growth, development and maturation. For example, conception is made possible by the power of jing, growth to maturity is the blossoming of jing, and aging reflects the weakening of jing. Every metabolic activity consumes jing, and we can either nourish or else deplete it through our behavior and lifestyle.
When we are young, more jing is generated than consumed and the excess is stored in the kidneys. An abundance of kidney jing promotes our vitality and ensures the body's resistance. As time passes, we no longer produce excess of jing and will consume the reserves in the kidneys. This decline leads to weakness as well as aging.
A regular and harmonious lifestyle helps us to store up jing in the kidneys. Beginning in childhood, the Chinese are taught that negligence of one's body causes illness, while living sensibly and taking good care of both body and mind are essential for well being.
Instead of a strictly defined diet plan, TCM emphasizes the variety of food selections. What we eat should correspond to individual needs, seasonal changes, and the balance of energies and flavors. Unbalanced food intake leads to an over-abundance of energy being accumulated inside the body, just as the Suwen (The Book of Plain Questions) states:
The five zang-organs depend upon the five flavors for their function; excess of these favors brings damage to the organs. Too much sour food causes a hyperactive liver, which in turn overacts on the spleen and damages the absorption and digestive processes. Too much salty food damages the bones, makes the muscles wither and inhibits the functioning of the heart. Too much sweet food disperses the heart-qi, disturbs kidney functioning and causes the complexion to darken. Too much bitter food overloads the digestive system, giving rise to abdominal distention and fullness. Too much pungent food leads to flabby muscles and impaired spirit.
Furthermore, eating light and easily digestible foods, the right amount of food, eating at regular times and in a disciplined manner ensures that the spleen and stomach works efficiently, thus sustains a constant supply of jing.
Sleeping recharges the body, and is important in maintaining a balance of yin and yang within it. The regular succession of daily or seasonal cycles is the primordial expression of the waxing and waning of yin and yang in the universe. In order to promote better sleep, TCM recommends going to bed at the yin predominate time (night) while waking up at the yang predominate time (day).
The daily rhythm
It is said that every night around eleven to one o'clock is the period that yin reaches to its peak and starts to transform into yang, so the flow of blood and qi (vital energy) tends to be disturbed and easily unbalanced. We should fall asleep in these hours to facilitate the body's recovery. Yang reaches to its peak at noon and transforms into yin, so having a 30-minute nap sometime in the afternoon promotes working efficiency.
Regular succcession of Yin and Yang based on daily or seasonal cycles
The seasonal rhythm
Everything is full of life and new growth in spring and summer, so we should wake up early and go to bed late in response to the active force of the season. Things begin to fall and mature in autumn, indicating that yin starts to predominate and yang begins to wane; we should not wake up as early as in spring, and should not go to bed as late as in winter. Winter is the time when yang becomes latent and yin dominates; so it is the season to conserve energy and build strength as a prelude to spring. We should go to bed early and wake up at sunrise to correspond to the pattern of nature.
The ancient sages also suggested that there is a proper way to sleep. In summer, one should sleep facing east (helping to nourish yang), sleeping facing west during autumn and winter (helping to nourish yin). The head is regarded the most yang part of the body, and lying in an eastern direction helps to refresh the mind since it belongs to yang.
Work and rest
Normal physical activities are beneficial to the flow of blood and qi, helping to maintain health and strengthening the body's ability to resist disease. Proper rest can relieve the weariness of the body and mind as well as restore physical strength and mental power. A balance between work and rest is what a normal life needs.
Any excess or insufficiency in either will harm the body and result in disease. Chapter 23 of Suwen (The Book of Plain Questions) suggests that: "Long period of standing impairs the bones; protracted watching injures the blood; lying in bed for a long time injures the qi; excessive walking injures the tendons; sitting for a long time impairs the muscles." It is necessary for us to have regular exercise but only to a moderate degree, as overdoing it can impair the liver and kidneys as tendons and bones are ruled by these organs. Moreover, it is also said that over-using the brain causes damage to the heart and spleen. The heart governs blood circulation and stores the shen (spirit), and the spleen corresponds to emotions and thoughts. Too much concentration and thinking most likely consumes the heart blood and damage spleen function leading to heart palpitations, absent-mindedness, insomnia, dream-disturbed sleep, anorexia, abdominal distention and loose stools. Thus, being temperate in exerting the mind is also important for health maintenance.
Alcohol was regarded as a medicine in ancient China and has been used for more than 4,000 years. There are many types of alcohol such as millet wine, strong white spirits, medicated wines and beers. Li Shizhen described in his book The Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica): "Wine is pure yang in nature, and pungent and sweet in flavor, thus it has the effects of invigorating vital function and dispersing pathogens. Wine is dry and hot in property, and is thus used to expel dampness and cold." Modern TCM uses it to enhance the potency of certain drugs, enliven the spleen, warm the middle burner, expel wind and cold pathogens and promote circulation.
A medicinal wine vessel.
Clinically, wine is effective for problems that are caused by cold-dampness obstruction in the meridians e.g. arthritis, chest pain, abdominal pain, back pain after childbirth and traumatic injuries. It is a Chinese tradition to prepare different herbal wines for patients who are recovering from illness or who suffer from chronic conditions; for example, black-bone chicken wine is used for complications after stroke, while Epimedium wine is used for impotence and infertility.
A proper amount of alcohol is beneficial to health by helping the blood and qi to circulate, increasing mental activity, and promoting warmth and relaxation. While over consumption will surely bring harm, in TCM terms, excessive alcohol induces dampness and heat accumulation that blocks the orifices in the head region causing unconsciousness and speech disorders. Long-term consumption of alcohol damages the mind, impairs the stomach, exhausts the blood and jing and leads to health problems.
According to ancient Chinese texts, sex pertains to a female giving yin and receiving yang and a male giving yang and receiving yin. In principle, it is an equal and harmonious libido exchange with equal benefit for both partners. TCM believes the essence stored in the kidneys which is necessary to support sexual functions can be largely exhausted during coitus, so excessive sexual activity will deplete the substance leading to health problems and possibly even endanger life.
Apart from limiting sexual activities, TCM also suggests sexual taboos to avoid over consumption of the precious essence.
Not having sex under suboptimal health conditions, e.g. when tired, hungry, frail or emotionally unstable;
Not having sex during extreme natural environment changes, e.g. heavy rain, fog, thunder or in extremely cold and hot weather;
Not having sex on festival or special days, e.g. funerals, Buddha's Birthday, Chinese New Year;
Not having sex in inappropriate locations, e.g. temples, kitchens and grave sites;
Not relying on alcohol or sex pills for sexual performance; although they have some effect to enhance performance, they led to exhaustion of kidney essence and can result in premature senility if used over a long period.
Clothing keeps us warm and protects us against external pathogens. The amount of clothing we wear should vary in accordance with the temperature. TCM recommends "muffling the body in spring and freezing the body in autumn," that means we should always keep warm in spring as winter cold may still be there, however, in autumn we should not put on too many clothes in order to let the physique adapt gradually to the cold weather of winter. This is especially important for children, since TCM holds that training them in cold resistance (enabling children to better be able to tolerate cold temperatures) enhances circulation of the blood and qi and makes the skin and subcutaneous tissues firmer and smoother, which is said to ensure children's health and aid their development. On the other hand, elderly people should always wear more than enough, since their relative deficiency in yang-qi and weakness of physique means that they are vulnerable to external invasions like wind, cold and dampness evils .
A proper living environment can also promote health. In TCM, everything matters: locations, buildings and room design are influenced by the energy surrounding them. If the place makes us creative, comfortable and energetic that means it has created an interaction with our own qi; this means there is good "feng shui". If the place makes us depressed and lethargic, then we can take active steps for the existing environment to create favorable surroundings. Generally, TCM advocates that we should choose to live in places with peaceful and secluded surroundings, fresh air, plenty of sunshine, excellent ventilation and moderate humidity.