The Huang Di Nei Jing (“Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor”) is one of the foundational texts of Chinese medicine and outlines many of its central concepts. Written somewhere between 475 BC and 220 AD, the Huang Di Nei Jing describes the origin of disease as the natural effects of diet, emotions, environment and lifestyle. This is in sharp contrast to the beliefs in most parts of the world at this time where disease was believe to be caused by evil spirits or supernatural influences.
The Huang Di Nei Jing also contains the concept that balance is central to maintaining good health. It states, for example, that too much sitting damages the bones, too much sitting damages the muscles, too much walking damages the tendons and too much lying down damages the lungs. So what exactly are we supposed to do? Some of each, but not too much of any one thing.
In the modern world many people have jobs that require them to either be seated or stand for long periods of time. Often people will sit at work, sit in the break room at lunch and then go home and sit in front of the TV or computer. Conversely, others may have to stand for long periods of time only to go home and have to stay on their feet running errands or attending to chores.
Similarly, the Huang Di Nei Jing notes that too much sweet food damages the Spleen (usually translated now as pancreas), too much sour food damages the liver, too much salty food damages the kidneys, too much spicy food damages the lungs and too much bitter food damages the heart. Again, the message is to eat a variety of foods rather than overindulging in any one thing.
Again, modern living can make it difficult to adhere to this principle. Most processed food contains at least some added sugar and salt and some food ingredients like corn and soy are used in such a wide range of products that it’s easy to eat much more of them than you expect.
A big part of TCM is learning to look at life through the lens of balance. Am I too busy and not giving myself the time I need to rest and heal? Or am I too sedentary and need to move more? Does my diet contain a variety of different foods or is there a preponderance of one type? A natural tendency is to run the other way. If I’m too busy I need to take a month off of work and lay on the couch! If I’m too sedentary I need to start training for the marathon. I’m cutting sugar and salt out of my diet! These extreme, sudden course adjustments rarely pay off in the long run. It’s a little bit like trying to stay on the road by swerving wildly from one side to the other. You can do it, but it’s stressful, takes a lot of energy and could have catastrophic consequences. Gentle course corrections let you stay on the road without spinning out of control.