Wisdom of Chinese Medicine Masters
Eight Secrets to Illness-free Living
Usher in the Year of the Tiger with a mighty constitution and a light heart. Five of Taiwan's most experienced, and long-lived, traditional physicians share the keys to a healthy tomorrow.
Eight Secrets to Illness-free LivingBy Chen-tsen Lin
A middle-aged man with chronic liver disease, fearful for his life, sought treatment from a 90-plus year-old traditional Chinese medicine doctor. The doctor told him that, in addition to taking medicine, adding lotus roots to his diet for its haemostatic and blood-cooling properties could help improve his liver.
"What happens when lotus roots go out of season?" the worried man asked.
"By then your illness will be gone," answered the doctor with a chuckle.
From diet therapy to acupuncture and qigong, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) emphasizes equilibrium of body and mind, and self-regulating practices to promote health and peace of mind. This ancient art is now sweeping the world.
Hollywood starlets, always ahead of the fashion curve, are also crazy for TCM. Popular action film star Sandra Bullock makes sure an acupuncturist accompanies her on the set at all times. She says acupuncture helps keep her young, soothes her, and makes her feel happy.
And the appeal of this ancient Chinese wisdom reaches well beyond Hollywood. The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, the ancient Chinese medical compendium, has been reinterpreted and annotated over and over again in more recent times, even making it to the list of best-selling Chinese language books on health and lifestyle.
The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine states: "The best doctors cure ills before they occur." In other words, skilled physicians know how to prevent illnesses from manifesting and becoming problematic through adjustments of diet and lifestyle, to keep the mind and body in balance and prevent the invasion of illnesses.
The concept of preventative medicine through self-regulation accords with the pursuit of healthful living that is achieving popularity in our time.
But is this millennia-old knowledge applicable in the modern world? And is its practice restricted to certain geographical regions or bodily constitutions?
To shed some light on the age-old pursuit of wellbeing, CommonHealth Magazine sought wisdom from five veteran doctors of TCM – Chiang Ton (age 101), Ma Kuang-ya (92), Yi Chuan-heng (88), Yen-ling Tong (76), Wu Shui Sheng (76) – each of whom brings rich clinical experience from nearly half a century of practice in Taiwan.
We compiled the answers provided by these veritable national treasures in healing into eight key approaches traditional Chinese medicine employs to prevent illness and disease.
When asked the ironclad rules that afforded them healthy living over their long careers, all five seasoned TCM doctors cited simple living, and regular waking and sleeping times.
The doctors rise between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. for morning exercise, followed by office hours, reading, calligraphy practice, and bed before 11:00 p.m.
The 88 year-old Yi Chuan-heng writes and uses a computer daily. He breaks each day into eight-hour periods, namely "eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep, and eight hours of appropriate exercise" to maintain a high energy level.
Irregular habits throw the biological clock out of kilter, greatly harming health. Plenty of sleep is especially vital. None of our master-level TCM doctors ever stays up into the wee hours of the morning. Each gets seven to eight hours of sleep each night, as sleep is the foundation of replenishing vital essence (qi) and promoting good health.
The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine states: "Blood returns to the liver when man lies prone." According to the precepts of traditional Chinese medicine, blood flows through the liver and pancreatic system between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. Therefore, if the body achieves total rest during this time period, then liver functions are restored, energy is replenished, and mental acuity is recovered.
Dr. Yen-ling Tong reminds people to avoid engaging in vigorous exercise or taxing the mind heavily before bed. If sleep does not come easily, do not force it; rather, have a seat in a nice chair and let your breath settle down. After 10 minutes of meditation and deep breathing, the brain should be free of clutter, and you can go back to bed when that sleepy feeling returns.
Alternatively, prepare a basin of hot water for a foot bath, says Dr. Yi Chuan-heng. "It's easier to fall asleep when the feet are toasty warm." After a foot bath or massaging the eternal spring acupressure point in the middle of the foot, which warms the feet, Dreamland shouldn't be far away.
2. Power Naps
Taking a noontime nap to relax a moment and restore energy not only raises work efficiency but can lower blood pressure and reduce incidence of vascular illnesses.
Dr. Wu Shui Sheng, a serious-looking man with a thick brow, is well past 70 years old yet still keeps regular clinic hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. Many younger doctors marvel at his energy and stamina.
After a simple oatmeal lunch, Dr. Wu stops everything and takes a short nap to charge up for the second half of the day.
It is not advisable to nap too long; a maximum of 30 minutes is suggested so as not to disturb sleep conditions at night.
3. Mild Exercise + Massage
Eight-stage Brilliance, a martial arts routine, activates the body's cells; massage can clear the meridian passageways and boost blood circulation.
"Look at me. Even at my age I've got muscles," exclaims 75 year-old Dr. Yen-ling Tong, proudly rolling up his sleeves to reveal a firm set of biceps honed by 50 years of exercise.
Combining several existing martial arts exercise methods into his own cocktail, he came up with the Yen-ling Method, which involves tapping the muscles and rotating all the joints and connective tissue in the body. In addition, he massages the acupressure points in the calves to promote lower extremity circulation, believing that aging starts with the feet.
Professor Ma Kuang-ya, who lived to the ripe old age of 92, never suffered from any chronic afflictions and had excellent eye sight his entire life, being able to read the smallest characters on a calendar. He also had a full set of teeth, a ruddy complexion, and never looked his age.
He once revealed that the secret to staying young was massaging the meridians each day.
After getting up each morning, he rubbed his palms together to produce heat, and then massaged his face with them, taking care to massage the meridians of the eyes and ears. He also applied pressure to the Eternal Spring meridian at the middle of the bottom of the feet to revitalize the kidney's pathways.
4. More Veggies, Less Meat
Our master TCM doctors eat lightly and generally adhere to the guiding principle of more fruit and vegetables, and less meat.
The meal that most frequently appears on Dr. Yi's dining table consists of two dishes of green vegetables, accompanied by a small piece of pork, chicken or steamed fish. "Polish off a bowl of rice, and that'll do," he concludes. A simple meal of rice and greens is the source of Dr. Yi's balanced physical state.
He notes that throughout the years holistic doctors have advocated a vegetarian diet high in vegetables, and that modern medicine has demonstrated that due to their rich vitamins and high fiber content, eating large quantities of vegetables is very beneficial to the body.
With a history of hereditary high blood pressure in his family, Dr. Wu Shui Sheng takes extra care to ensure a large intake of fruits and vegetables. A glass of freshly made mixed fruit and vegetable juice is a part of his daily routine at four or five every afternoon to supplement his intake.
The only time he makes an exception and eats a little meat is when out at a restaurant, "but usually I go a whole month without eating meat," he says.
However, Dr. Wu also reminds us that in TCM parlance mixed fruit and vegetable juice is on the "cool" side of the spectrum and should not be drunk before bed, as it could interfere with digestive functions and delay or prevent falling asleep.
Yen-ling Tong, an expert cook, suffers from slightly impaired digestive tract functions as a result of starvation while fleeing from the ravages of war during his youth. Due to this condition he usually selects balanced or mild leafy greens or beans, such as cabbage and string beans.
He also prepares his own Toona sinensis Roem (Meliaceae) sauce. Toona sinensis can detoxify the body, strengthen the stomach and clarify qi, and is beneficial to people with stomach issues.
5. Unquenchable Thirst for Knowledge
A wide variety of interests helps keep this group of living national treasure TCM practitioners' minds active and upbeat. For them, every day lived is enriching and full of wonder.
Studies have also found that people who keep learning new things as they age can even continue to get smarter.
Extensive reading is a habit shared by all our doctors, who seem to always have a book in hand.
Centegenarian Dr. Chiang Ton, also qualified in Western medicine, speaks fluent English and Japanese. In addition to reading the obligatory domestic papers and magazines each day, he also browses through various foreign journals and publications to get fresh information from the medical profession.
His favorite activity is sitting in the corner of an old coffee shop in Ximending, sipping coffee, writing, reading, and enjoying a relaxing afternoon undisturbed.
"Ah, that place makes its own cakes. They're especially good," Chiang exclaims with the satisfied smile of a child when the subject turns to sweets.
Always the inquisitive type, Chiang Ton's other interest is dancing, which he kept up well into his eighties. Even after turning 100, he still walks with a light step, and moves with grace and alacrity not for nothing.
Chiang started dancing at university, cutting a rug three or four times a week. He later got his wife into it, the couple getting lost in the bliss of dance movements.
The cultured and genteel Professor Ma Kuang-ya, habitually dressed in a long gown with an ink brush in hand, was a closet singer. He frequently practiced at home with his Karaoke setup, singing both Mandarin and Taiwanese songs and looking like a real pro.
Daughter Ma Yu-tai recalls how her father's best number was "Picking Betel Nuts," and that during the funeral service they played a recording of him singing that really touched those gathered to pay their respects.
Writing calligraphy, diary entries, or creating poetry and paintings are all excellent ways to relax and settle the mind and maintain equanimity.
Research conducted in the U.S. found that keeping a diary can help ease mental anguish, boost the immune system, and improve one's physical condition, even preventing or mitigating depression.
The quiet and unassuming Ma Kuang-ya was known as a "worry-free old man." He believed that the most important element to promoting health is relaxing, avoiding anxiety, and taking it slowly. Practicing calligraphy was the ideal way for him to cultivate his mind.
In his youth Ma Kuang-ya serendipitously scrawled some calligraphy on a wooden board. It won the admiration of his elder brother, who then guided his interest, which blossomed into such a passion for calligraphy that he made out his prescriptions with a writing brush and chronicled his daily life and observations in poetic form.
He later also fell in love with painting with ink brushes, depicting a variety of themes – bucolic fields, bamboo, flowers and birds, pigeons – with a simple, appealing style.
A devoted husband, Dr. Wu Shui Sheng has kept a diary non-stop for 30 years, writing with a calligraphy brush, and filling nearly 200 volumes to date.
When Dr. Wu was an apprentice, his master, Hsueh Wei-chen, had him use a calligraphy brush, both to help settle him down and to practice the steady wrist actions necessary for pulse-taking.
7. Tranquil Mind
Faith is the calming force behind our group of TCM masters.
One study conducted in the U.S. of 100 centegenarians found that faith outweighed diet and exercise as the key factor in longevity.
Entering Dr. Ma Kuang-ya's home, a life-sized image of a Guanyin Bodhisattva prominent in the living room was his anchor of tranquility.
Dr. Ma was a devout follower of Guanyin Bodhisattva, the Buddhist goddess of mercy that helps deliver sentient beings from suffering into salvation. Each morning he made offerings and read sutras, once confiding to his daughter, "The goddess helps me."
Wu Shui Sheng, on the other hand, is a devout Christian who attends church services every Sunday. Whenever he encounters difficulty in his medical practice or feels distressed, he clasps his hands together and prays.
Oddly perhaps, sometimes after praying he feels totally relieved and upbeat. When that happens, the right prescriptions for his patients just seem to come to him naturally.
8. Drink More Tea
A strong cup of Longjing tea first thing in the morning is centegenarian Dr. Chiang Ton's secret to waking up body and mind.
"It's the kind of tea that's so bitter it makes you cringe," says Chiang's daughter, who prepares his tea for him.
However, as his diet has become lighter with reduced oil in recent years, Chiang Ton takes his Longjing tea a bit weaker so as to prevent harming the digestive tract.
Rich with numerous antioxidants, tea has long been known for its healthful properties. From a Chinese medicine standpoint, tea is a diuretic, not only detoxifying, but can engender liquid and is thirst quenching. Furthermore, it is heat-clearing and can awaken and steady the mind, making it ideal for people who habitually strain their minds and eyes.
However, care must be taken as follows:
♦ Water temperature 80˚C: Water that is too hot will destroy the active ingredients in the tea.
♦ Control steeping time: The tea leaves should be scooped out after steeping and must not be left for longer than eight hours, after which time they produce excessive tannin, which can harm the intestinal walls.
♦ Avoid strong tea after a meal: The digestive action (peristalsis) of the stomach is slowed by the interaction of the tannin contained in tea and the protein contained in food, thus impeding proper digestion.
♦ Caffeine caution: Tea contains low amounts of caffeine, and is therefore not recommended for pregnant women or those with nervous conditions, insomnia or ulcers.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman