Nourishing Life: The Concept of Yang Sheng

Yang Sheng may be the most important concept in Chinese Medicine and Chinese health culture. The Chinese word Yang means to nurture, take care of, and nourish; Sheng means life, birth, and vitality. Together Yang Sheng means to nurture or nourish life fostering health and well being by nurturing body, mind and spirit in harmony with the natural rhythms, and with universal laws. Sometimes Yang Sheng is also translated as health preservation, life cultivation, or life nourishment.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (1997) defines Yang-Sheng as Daoist practices, especially through breathing and directing the breath to prolong life and attain immortality. This definition reflects the fact that many books about and techniques of Yang Sheng have roots in Daoist philosophy or practice. However, Yang Sheng is not just practiced by Daoism, but by many different schools of health, such as Confucianism, Buddhism and martial-arts traditions. More importantly, some of the oldest classic works on Yang Sheng, such as Yellow Emperor's Internal Classic, appeared before Daoism was formed, representing the general wisdom of Chinese health. So Yang Sheng can not be simply labeled as Daoist practice.

Yang Sheng as a health discipline is taught in most Chinese Medicine schools in China. According to the definition in a recent textbook of Life-nurturing Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yang Sheng is the type of subjective and objective behaviors with which people take care of their life consciously through various means and methods, which is the reappearance or application of their deep understanding of the laws of entire life developments. It is also a mind-body health activity achieved through material and spiritual unification.

Life is about balance and harmony. Yang Sheng is a common accessible practice for ordinary people to cultivate health and harmony through daily activities. Rather than treating disease, the focus is on maintaining balance through an awareness of our connection to nature, to our own bodies, and to the spirit.

Health preservation (instead of disease treatment) is a central feature of Chinese Medicine practice, and is significantly different from western medicine, which focuses on disease, illness, and dysfunction.

Yang Sheng is a way of life for all people at all times. It is a powerful practice that can preserve and improve health when engaged in daily.

Kevin W Chen, MPH, PH.D.