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Nourishing life – yangsheng

There exist no miraculous methods in the world, only plain ones, and the perfection of the plain is miraculous” ~ Fei Boxiong, 1863

The art of nourishing life, or yangsheng dates back two and a half thousand years in Chinese writings. As Peter Deadman says in the fabulous book Live Well Live Long:

“The aim is not just physical health. It aspires to harmony, the seamless integration of mind and body, physical and mental balance, serenity, detachment from excessive emotions, health and fitness into old age, wisdom, and ultimately identification with the Dao”.

According to Deadman there are 3 main ways to nourish life:

  • avoiding harmful behaviours and situations such as smoking, excessive alcohol, poor quality food, damaging emotions

  • actively adopting beneficial behaviours such as trying to tame our more harmful emotions and cultivate more positive ones, eating well, appropriate exercise and sleep, spending time in nature and with loved ones, music and dance

  • cultivating wellbeing a little deeper with practices such as meditation, breathing slowly and deeply down in to the ‘cinnabar field’ in the lower abdomen, tai chi, qi gong or yoga

A nourished life will look slightly different for everyone, there is no one formula, just as we are all unique reflections of the Dao.

By addressing all aspects of wellbeing (and not just the ones we like and ignoring the rest!) our balance and harmony are strengthened, our feet are steady on the ground, our minds are open, curious and creative. We function better, including our fertility, immunity, digestion and nervous system balance.

Emotions can be felt, experienced and let go a bit easier; and stress, anxiety and depression are more like clouds passing over the sun, knowing that clouds bring rain, then the sky will clear.

Let it be

7am: Wake with fear for the rolling devastation around the world. Sort your new morning chaos of work, kids, school. Or go back to sleep feeling a bit useless.

10am: Love for the world for acting together, however we can, to minimise the loss and protect our vulnerable

10.10am: Upset and angry at your loss of role, change of role, the amount of f-ing mess in the house, world leaders

10.11am: Verge of tears / tears / crashing stuff

12.30pm: Unexpected chat with a neighbour reminds you we are lucky here in so many ways

12.45 Try and work

1.30 Lunch dessert

2pm Awkward / lovely / both zoom chat

2.30 Borderline ‘essential’ trip to the shops

3.00 Hear ‘Let It Be’ on the radio

We all know what we should be doing to stay safe and well and positive to get through this. Eat well and cleanly, exercise, connect with loved ones, use the time to upskill. But sometimes it’s messy. Trauma experts say this stuff doesn’t get processed until we are in a safe space, and in the meantime we all have our ways of getting through, and that’s as it should be.

I’d like to add music. Anything you like. Old tunes you’ve loved and neglected, explore new ones. Significant songs, or choose shuffle and see what comes up. Sometimes we resist getting out of our own heads. I find car radio is great for this. It’s not deliberately choosing something to play, when making a choice beyond large or small Easter egg seems impossible. It’s being open, you can sing in private, and Let It Be is such a great song.

We all have our own version of Mother Mary. Or we can speak our own words of wisdom – Let it be. We can’t fix this. We can do our bit, day in, day out, until things change. And - eventually - they will.


There is a lot of it at the moment, we are in uncharted waters as a scary side of nature asserts itself and we know we are fragile. Yet every day is the same if you’re housebound. It’s a disturbing combination of too much and too little change. But the very intensity of it offers scope for changing the way we do things; from work, home life, relationships, and knowing what’s important.

Holding on tight to the things we suddenly know we need and value, and finding a way to connect and to be, that’s right for us.

Change is at the heart of traditional Asian thought through Daoist philosophy – the world is created and continuously renewed through the flux and flow of yin and yang.

The original characters for yin and yang were pictographs showing the sunny side of a mountain (yang) and the shady side (yin). The brilliant part of this is that as the sun travels across the sky, the shady side receives the sun and warmth, and the sunny side cools down. Yin becomes yang, yang becomes yin, every day is a new day, and change is life, in all its messy glory.

Chinese medicine recognises times in women’s lives where change is so dramatic and intense that it offers an opportunity to heal the past and realign for a stronger future. These are puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.

Within the current chaos this window of time offers us a chance to do things differently. It can be a major or a small readjustment invisible to others, but within this highly regulated world is a little bit of freedom to shift things.

Change can be hard, really hard; ask for help, offer it, and be gentle with yourself and others. It will be messy and distressing, but we might also emerge a bit different, maybe truer.

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