Viewing Fitness Through the Lens of Chinese MedicineSep 30, 2013 10:37PM ● By By Nick Dower
Classic Chinese medical texts, manifested over many centuries, were used as a tool to assist ancient doctors in diagnosing and treating a wide variety of diseases. Not only could ancient Chinese medical doctors treat ailments of the mind and the body, but they also focused on preventing disease or slowing its progress by emphasizing seasonal fitness, appropriate nutrition with freshly prepared meals, time for spiritual practice and ample sleep, all of which created a loving community of healthy people. The approach posits that negating any one of these factors slowly deteriorates the vitality of individuals and everyone around them.
One of the most important texts in Chinese medicine, the Huang Ti Nei Ching Su Wen, has been translated as the modern English text The Yellow Emperor’s Classic on Internal Medicine. The collection of knowledge gathered over thousands of years is presented as a dialogue between the Yellow Emperor, who is inquiring about the nature of human health and Ch’i Po, the emperor’s long-winded royal medical advisor. The ancient wisdom of these texts, combined with an understanding of modern fitness, yields an application of fitness as a means of disease prevention.
Ch’i Po says the people that understand the way of self-cultivation pattern themselves upon the yin and the yang (the two principles of nature) and live in harmony. This statement is the foundation and pinnacle of Chinese medicine. Yin is translated as “the shady side of a hill” and yang is translated as “the sunny side of the hill.” Yin is classically associated with the moon, Earth, night, water, cold, dampness, darkness, contraction and downward movement. Yang is classically associated with sun, heaven, day, fire, heat, dryness, light, expansion and upward and outward movement.
While yin and yang are in opposition of each other, they are also completely interdependent and infinitely divisible. In general, any style of fitness activity or movement can be considered a yang phenomenon. However, the energetic expression of fitness has a large spectrum. Yang relates to space, speed, kinetic energy, awareness, action potentials, muscle relaxation and lumens; examples include running, dancing, boxing and upper-body exercises. Yin is associated with form, slow movement, potential energy, restful practices, muscle contraction and membranes; examples include passive stretching, yin yoga, t’ai chi, qigong, lower-body strengthening and meditation.
In Chinese medicine, the concept of yin and yang is used as a tool to help diagnose and treat many types of disease, but it can also be used to help someone improve physical fitness. Each person requires a very specific balance of yin and yang energy in order to reach individualized physical goals. For example, some runners excel when running, a yang activity, is their only form of fitness, while it is essential for others to incorporate a passive stretching routine and self-massage, both yin activities, a few hours after running to avoid injury. It all depends on the individual, their goals and the speed at which they wish to achieve their goal.
Modern humans in the developed world are exposed to a variety of healthy fitness options. This is wonderful news, because there is currently an alarming rise in chronic illness due to lack of proper physical fitness. The only trouble comes in finding the right kind of exercise to support an individual’s unique needs. Keeping in mind the philosophies of yin and yang helps guide one toward a healthier fitness regimen so that difficult transitions in life become graceful, while reducing or eliminating the chance of chronic illness.
Ch’i Po emphasizes the importance of the balanced fitness routine as a method of disease prevention when he states, “To administer medicines to diseases which have already developed… is comparable to the behavior of those persons who begin to dig a well after they have become thirsty.”
Nick Dower is a licensed acupuncturist, affiliated with Susquehanna Acupuncture and Associates, located at Susquehanna Acupuncture and Healing Arts Center, 44 W. Market St., in Marietta, His focus is on Eastern medicine, combined with modern exercise and nutrition.