More attention is being spent in this country on the topic of aging than every before. As more and more Americans enter their fifth, sixth, and seventh decades, they are looking for ways to feel younger, look younger and age healthfully.
Millions of dollars are spent annually on vitamins and food supplements, cosmetics and cosmetic procedures, exercise equipment and gadgets in an effort to ward off, and even deny, the “ravages” of old age.
In our culture, we tend to think of aging as a breakdown or a decline in health, almost as if our bodies are failing us. However, the Chinese have a different perspective. According to Chinese Theory, aging are not considered a breakdown, but rather a normal life transition.
How you age and live in your later years depends on your lifestyle in the preceding years. There are many factors, some you can control and some you can’t, that affect how you will feel and look as you age.
To understand aging from the traditional Chinese framework, we need to understand the concept of Essence. Essence is one of the most important substances in the body, and is responsible for birth, growth, development, and maturation. It is also the foundation for all other substances in the body.
We inherit one kind of Essence at the moment of conception, called Congenital Essence. Congenital Essence is not only responsible for growth and maturation, but also genetic traits and constitution.
As we age, Congenital Essence becomes depleted, and when this Essence is completely used up, according to Chinese theory, we die. While Congenital Essence cannot be replenished, it can be used judiciously through good lifestyle habits, and it can be augmented by another kind of essence, called Acquired Essence.
Acquired Essence is made up of nutrients from the food we eat, and can be built up by eating well. Good health, strength, and high levels of energy manifest an abundance of Acquired Essence. Any excess of Acquired Essence is stored in the Kidney, along with Congenital Essence.
Essence is stored in the Kidney, which in Chinese medicine is a system of functioning, not necessarily the kidney organ. The Kidney, according to the Chinese, is responsible for growth, maturation, sexuality and fertility.
It also governs the bones and teeth, the brain, and is associated with the ear and hearing. Essence is strongly associated with the Kidney, and is often referred to as Kidney Essence.
The gradual depletion of Kidney Essence is the mechanism responsible for aging. It can be seen in weakening and brittle bones, loss of teeth, hearing loss, confusion, and memory problems—all manifestations associated with the Kidney.
Weakness and lack of energy is also a common condition of depleted Kidney Essence, along with lumbar pain, as the Kidney is housed in the lower back.
So how, according to Chinese Medical theory, does one preserve Kidney Essence to age well? While there are many factors, good diet is the most obvious. Chinese dietary therapy is a whole discipline by itself, and many books have been written on the subject.
One focus of Chinese dietary therapy is on eating and preparing foods in a way that they are easily digested. Foods that are difficult to digest use up energy, or Qi, and over a long period of time can deplete Essence.
Some guidelines for eating well include:
- Avoid spicy or greasy foods.
- Avoid very cold foods, such as ice cream or iced drinks.
- Drink fluids that are room temperature or warmer.
- Lightly steam or stew vegetables and fruits, as raw foods can be difficult to digest.
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol.
- Talk to a practitioner of Chinese medicine about what foods are best suited to your specific condition or constitution.
Manage Your Stress and Moderation
Managing stress is another way to protect our health as we age. Unfortunately, many of us find stress an acceptable by-product of the busy, and often overwhelming lives we lead.
Some of us don’t even realize that we are under incredible amounts of unrelenting stress because we are so busy trying to get everything done. In either case, stress exhausts us physically, disrupts relationships between organ systems, creating unhealthy imbalances, and depletes essence.
Equally exhausting to our internal organs, especially the Kidney and the Spleen, (which is responsible for digestion) is overwork. This means long hours spent working or studying without adequate rest.
Damage due to overwork can also be caused by excessive exercise. Therefore, working in moderation and getting adequate rest is essential to preserving Essence.
Moderation is also key with regard to your sex life. Because the Kidney is responsible for reproduction, according to Chinese medicine, sexual practices can also affect Kidney Essence.
Having too many children too close together, or having sex too frequently can deplete the Essence and cause premature aging.
Adhering to the principles of Chinese medicine, by incorporating proper diet, adequate rest and moderation in all things, can go a long way toward aging with energy, vitality and good health.