The Chinese are amongst those who live the longest, and are the most healthy.
They teach that the five traditional ways to gain this strength and good fortune are: breathing, exercise, good food and water, rest, and study.
Deep belly breathing is good for getting more oxygen into the body, obviously. Not that the breath enters the abdomen but imagining the stomach expanding means that the base of the lungs and the diaphragm get involved, and this does result in more exchange of gases. We inhale the good stuff, and exhale the carbon dioxide; in Chinese Medicine, we also believe that we take in what we need on other levels (emotional, mental and spiritual) and let go of what we don’t.
Go to the top of Arthur’s Seat and take a few lungfuls! Or, if exhausted, lie in bed before you drop off and focus on the cool air entering the nostrils and the warm air leaving.
Mindful exercise is what is recommended – t’ai chi chu’an or chi gung are great because they combine smooth, meditative movement and a physical work-out for the muscles. Swimming, walking, cycling…whatever takes your fancy as long as you enjoy it and can really embrace the activity. Then a little will go a long way.
Good food and water
We try to take in what is good for us, with an awareness of the effect it has. Foods which are eaten in hot climates, for example, cool us down (eg bananas, mangoes). We try to include the 5 tastes in every meal: spicy (chilli, pepper), sweet (think carrots and sweet potatoes), salty (seaweed for example), sour (that’s pickles and lemons), with bitter (green, leafy veg)make for balance.
Adequate water; what suits you, at whatever time of life, season, and type you are, comes into this category too.
Not just sleep, though that is vital for the body to reach a place where the system can renew itself; but also quiet day-time time. So looking out of the window, and listening to music are included here.
Imagine, right now, that you are standing peacefully on the banks of a flowing river, drinking in deep lungfuls of air. You woke feeling renewed this morning, and are warm enough to be able to appreciate the view. You let thoughts flow in and out of your mind, and truly believe that everyone and everything else in your life will be fine while you are taking this restful break. You only need to be ‘here’ for 5 minutes a day, but you will notice the difference.
‘when we normally think of resting we switch on the TV, or go out, or have a drink. But that does not give us real rest. It’s just putting more stuff in. Even sleep is not true rest for the mind. To get genuine relaxation we need to give ourselves some inner space. We need to clear out the junk yard, quieten the inner noise. And the way to do that is to keep the mind in the moment. That’s the most perfect rest for the mind. That’s meditation. Awareness. The mind is relaxed and alert. Five minutes of that and you will feel refreshed and wide awake,’ Tenzin Palmo quoted in A Cave in the Snow by Vicki Mackenzie p. 166
And finally the one which Westerners often don’t guess. It is important to engage with new ideas, to stimulate yourself with fresh thoughts, and to participate in discussion and debate. This is another form of Ki (chi), and is right up there with the other four, as being vital for a long and healthy life.