Chinese anti-aging and longevity expert Bian Zhizhong looks to natural treatments to restore youthfulness and prolong healthy life in ‘Daoist Health Preservation Exercises’ (1996) from China Today Press. He explains why these are more effective than traditional Western methods before setting out in easy-to-understand detail, practical methods and routines with supplementary drawn illustrations for those interested to follow as part of a relatively short text (144 pp) but one jam-packed with sound practical advice.
Never judge a book by its cover,’ they say. However in this case the aforementioned, showing two Cranes walking to and fro with outstretched necks, should not be ignored. The Crane, a Chinese Longevity symbol, has good habits that help make it long-lived, These include Qigong practice. Safe in their mountainous, forested retreats Cranes walk to and fro with necks outstretched calling out ‘He’ forcibly exhaling stale air after a long day’s flying and feeding many miles away– thus the Crane’s is ‘He’ in Chinese. They are also associated, via 5 Elements Theory, with Water and the kidneys, hence the association between the latter and good health and longevity made by Bian Zhizhong at various points in his text.
The author initially laments the fact that exercise and sport are not, by themselves, conducive to longevity, pointing out that even athletes and manual workers may age quickly and die young. “How can we restore youthfulness?” (p.15) he asks,when medicines, drugs, hormone therapy, organ transplants etc may upset the body’s natural balance and cause illnesses to develop as a consequence (p.19). These disturb the immune system’s natural pattern of hormone production essentially associated with the kidney-the resulting imbalance making us more prone to disease and sickness than before.
The body’s internal and external performance and overall health are, he argues, best improved by Qigong practice combining breath control, exercise and external self-massage focusing on the ‘xiadan’ or lower abdominal area of the body (front and rear). The kidneys, intimately associated with internal and external watery secretions are essential to healthy growth, development and aging. Strong kidney vitality means long life and good health and weak kidneys early, fast aging and a short lifespan the author states (p.17) before presenting details of the preventative and remediative exercises of the Huashan Mountain Daoist Qigong School (to which he belongs) which focus on this area in particular.
Exercises fall into three categories: i. Rhythmic Breathing (e.g. Restoring Spring p.19); ii. Exercise Routines (e.g. Dragon Swimming p.32) and iii. External Self-Massage (e.g. Rubbing the Dragon’s Head p.93). Regular combined practice of these for general health and fitness purposes, as part of a regular exercise routine, should cause noticeable improvements to various bodily functions within a relatively short time (my own experiences indicate that this is so).
The author then proceeds to list commonly occurring chronic conditions and/or areas of ill-health and assigns to each a prescription of routines drawn from i) to iii) above. This is interspersed with ‘vignettes’ taken from case-records of such treatments in action to indicate the potential effects of dedicated application of his methods on the conditions concerned.
A final extensive report (relating to the treatment of impotence) from a grateful ex patient testifies to such practices’ efficacy in treating a range of conditions inflicting untold misery upon many. All this may be achieved without surgery or drugs (and the consequent imbalances to internal bodily functions their use occasions) the book makes clear whilst these exercises also help to maintain and restore the body’s natural hormonal balance at the same time.