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JOURNAL OF CHINESE MEDICINE NUMBER 43 SEPTEMBER 1993

Health Preservation by Mental Means


by Yuan Liren and Liu Xiaoming Beijing College of Traditional Chinese Medicine
In traditional Chinese medicine, such concepts as conof the harmful effect of excessive egoism and desires so sciousness, feeling and thought are referred to as Shen that the Shen may be rationally controlled in a tranquil (meaning mind), which is considered to be stored in the state; second, one should take a correct attitude towards Heart and to govern all the activities of the organism. personal gain and loss. An ancient book entitled Heath Regulation by the Shen is essential to all metabolic procPreserving Skills Developed by Taishang Laojun points out: esses and physiological functions. In fact the so-called Those who are expert at health preservation will althree treasures are Shen, Jing (essence) which constitutes ways first try to eliminate the six harmful elements, the material basis of the human body, and Qi, which is namely: fame and profit, the desire for which should be the motive force of all life activities. A sound Shen is suppressed; the desire for sex, to which one should not considered to be the basis of abandon oneself; wealth, for Health preservation first and foremost health and longevity, whilst which one should not be scarcity of Jing, deficiency of requires that one should cherish hopes, love greedy; rich food, which one Qi and weakness of Shen are should not eat with abandon; life, and maintain a lofty goal, noble ideals the main causes of illness unrealistic fantasies, which and sound morality, all of which are and aging. Since the Shen should be got rid of, for they important guarantees for a sound Shen plays the role of governing distract ones thoughts from life and commanding all the physiological functions of reality and are harmful to ones mind; and jealousy, which the five zang and six fu organs and of the body as a whole, should also be eliminated. Eradication of the aboveit is easily depleted or impaired. Hence taking good care mentioned six harmful factors has since ancient times of the Shen is particularly important. been considered essential for health preservation and is The activities of the Shen can be classified into two therefore worthy of our attention. kinds: emotional and mental. Emotional activities refers ii. Be broadminded in conducting oneself in society to changes of mood, known in traditional Chinese mediWhen faced with undesirable things and situations, one cine as the seven emotions, i.e. joy, anger, melancholy, should be broadminded and try to look on the bright anxiety, grief, fear and terror; while mental activities reside. In handling the various complications and abrupt fers to consciousness and thinking. The activities of the changes in ones daily life, a stable state of mind and an Shen are the general responses of all the zangfu organs to optimistic attitude toward ones life is very helpful for the external environment, under the guidance of the preserving a sound mind. This includes the following Heart, and maintaining a healthy Shen is therefore bound two aspects: a. Set a lofty goal in life; health preservation to involve many aspects. These broadly include the folfirst and foremost requires that one should cherish hopes, lowing: preserving a tranquil mind, easing the mind, love life, and maintain a lofty goal, noble ideals and sound and regulating emotions. A brief account of these methmorality, all of which are important guarantees for a ods is given below. sound Shen. b. Be content and happy. Being content can 1. Preserving A Tranquil Shen make one feel happy, for it keeps one satisfied with what Tranquil here refers to the state of the Shen being peaceone has, caring little about temporary setbacks and failful, tranquil, free from excessive desires and distracting ures, and this in turn will bring about both physical and thoughts, and unaffected by external changes. Such a mental health. condition of the Shen will harmonize the zangfu organs 2. Easing the Mind and maintain the smooth circulation of Qi and blood, Changes in mood are the responses of people to their benefiting health. Preserving a tranquil Shen consists of surroundings, and everyone experiences the seven emothe following aspects: tions and six desires. If not properly regulated, they will i. Minimize egoism and personal desires: excessive cause stagnation of Qi and blood, and disharmony beegoism and unbounded desires tend to deplete the Shen, tween the zang and fu organs, leading to illness and even causing disharmony between Qi and blood and between to early death. Those who lived a long life, according to the zang and fu, thus inviting disease. Reducing egoism historical records, were almost always people who were and desires helps remove unnecessary mental burdens, adept at regulating their moods, the essence of which is enabling one to take a calm and nonchalant attitude toto cultivate the mind with virtuous and elevated ideas ward fame, wealth and other desires. Thus the Shen Qi and mould the temperament. Various methods have been will be preserved and health protected. Here it is essendeveloped and described by people in the past, which tial to take note of two points. First, one should be aware can be generalised as creating a happy mood by engag-

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JOURNAL OF CHINESE MEDICINE NUMBER 43 SEPTEMBER 1993

ing in a great variety of carefree, light and lively activihappy and at peace. This is a good method of eliminatties. By these means, the spirits are raised, intelligence is ing detrimental emotions. increased, muscles and tendons are exercised, and circuiii. Diverting ones attention. This is also known as lation of Qi and blood is activated. Thus health preservadiverting ones emotion, i.e., changing the focus of excition is achieved in the midst of amusement and sports, tation. The principle is to free a person from entangling achieving the aim of nurturing the mind, strengthening emotions by taking certain measures to separate them the body and prolonging life. Some traditional methods from harmful stimulating factors. An ancient Chinese employed for this purpose include taking up hobbies psychotherapy method based on this principle is treatsuch as playing the piano and chess, raising flowers, ment by diverting the patients attention so as to reguplants, birds or fish, sightseeing, and chatting with friends. late the functional activities of Qi and maintain a sound 3. Adjusting Emotions mind. For instance, when in great distress or depression, In the course of ones daily life, complicated situations one may listen to a favourite piece of music; or when one are bound to influence ones moods and give rise to is in great sorrow following some misfortune, one may emotions such as anger, grief, etc. When one is in a bad stay with relatives or good friends for a period of time. or abnormal mood, one should try to adjust and control The change of surroundings and atmosphere may divert it lest it becomes extreme. This consists mainly of the bitter emotions and restore normal life after the mind has following methods: been calmed. Or, when afflicted by troubling thoughts, i. Exercising self-control. TCM theory holds that extremone may take a walk so that the surroundings of nature ity of the seven emotions, i.e., joy, anger, melancholy, may relax and refresh the mind, and thinking ability will anxiety, grief, fear and terror, is one of the main causes of be restored. illness. Therefore, timely adjustment of ones emotions iv. Suppressing One Emotion with Another. As one of with a view to preventing them from becoming excesthe traditional emotion-adjusting methods, this is emsive is an effective method of health preservation. Since ployed to combat excessive emotions when other methancient times, experts in health preservation have beods have proved ineffective. The essence of this method lieved that anger is the chief lies in the use of a contrary When faced with something exasperating, pathogenic factor, for great emotion to replace an excesone should calmly consider which is more anger may impair the Liver sive one. Zhu Dan Xi, a faimportant, anger or health. This comparison mous doctor of the Jin and and also affect the Heart, Stomach and brain. Hence, will enable one to gradually eliminate Yuan Dynasties (1115-1368 control of anger is an imporA.D.), developed a method ones anger. tant method of adjusting the of psychotherapy based on emotions. The essence is to control emotions by rational the theory of mutual effect of the seven emotions as reasoning, i.e. to cultivate morality, train ones will, described in the Nei Jing. When a person is afflicted with consciously control ones mood and overcome emoanger, his emotion should be diverted with sorrow and tional impulses with reason. As the ancients put it mitigated with fear; if his mind is injured by ecstasy, it When faced with something exasperating, one should should be restricted by horror and alleviated by anger; if calmly consider which is more important, anger or health. he is afflicted with sorrow and anxiety, his emotion This comparison will enable one to gradually eliminate should be restricted by joy and alleviated by anger; if ones anger. afflicted with sorrow, it should be restricted by contemii. Providing Outlets for Anger. This is to help regain plation and alleviated by anxiety; and in case of mindones psychological balance by finding proper outlets injury due to fright, it should be curbed by anxiety and for detrimental emotions that have accumulated. This relieved by horror. The literature presents many cases of method can be explained as follows: the successful use of this method in adjusting the emoa. Direct release. When in great sorrow, one should have tions, which are worthy of our attention. a good cry so that one may feel comfortable after the This article was first published in The Journal of Traditional sorrow has been fully given vent to. This helps regulate Chinese Medicine, Beijing. the circulation of Qi and blood and consequently prevent depression. Other measures are a loud cry when in great pain; a thorough pouring out of ones heart when in great anger; a deep sigh or moan when worried; or hearty singing when in great joy. Different forms of expression are used for different emotions, all to restore the mind to a peaceful and tranquil state. b. Controlled release. In contrast to direct release this measure stresses a controlled and gradual release of the pent-up negative emotion. For instance, one may confide in relatives or good friends the bitterness or grievance one feels, or express feeling by reciting poems or writing articles. The advice and consolation of ones relatives and friends and the consequent release of emotion will enable one to acquire psychological comfort and support, broaden the mind and finally become

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