How TCM Food Therapy Is Important Part of Yang Sheng

[TCM Food Therapy]

How Traditional Chinese Food Therapy

Is An Important Part of Yang Sheng

by Helen Hu, OMD

What is Yang Sheng?

Yang sheng is a lifelong activity of various integrated practices both physical and nonphysical into one’s lifestyle in order to sustain optimum health, obtain a maximum life span (longevity), and establish physical and emotional well being without disease of any kind; in short, nourishing life.

The practice of Yang sheng has been developed, guided and integrated with Traditional Chinese Medicine, Martial Arts, Qi practice, spiritual practices and a positive view of life and universe such as found in Daoism, Buddhism and other life philosophies.

The principle of the whole system of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) itself gives birth to Yang Sheng in a broad definition.  TCM teaches how to practice a healthy diet that follows the cycle of five elements to chose the right kinds of diet, activities and natural therapies  to suit for a person’s constitution, health condition, the stage of life and seasonal changes ( refer to the book “Body Without Mystique”) in order to maximize nourishing life.  Another part of Yang Sheng is its universal spirituality and Qi (energy) exercises, especially under the Daoist, Buddhist (or others) and its related kind of spiritual practices such as how one chose to live harmony with environment, dutifully resume social responsibilities, with the view of life and the world in a positive attitude and truly reach a status of inner peace, happiness and satisfaction along with physical wellbeing and longevity.

photo courtesy of TCM World Foundation

However, in reality, Yang Sheng is defined as a narrative meaning and practices in our society that is to promote health and wellbeing through non-drug related supplements, healthy diets, exercises and stress reduction by any measures.

However, one of the most accepted measures as understood in the West is immediately results of “anti-aging”, “keep youth” and Wellbeing approaches.  Because of the mentality of immediately results of “anti aging”, it sparks widespread of commercialized plastic procedures, supplements and detoxification to satisfy our belief that we are going to live and look young forever.

We have to face reality and understand that aging is a natural and so far irreversible process for all living organisms. The Chinese saying; “if there is a sun rise, there must be a sun set”. Meaning, this is the law of nature. It is unrealistic to believe that there is one solution, one magic elixir for anti aging.

Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that a more realistic approach is such that an anti-aging process should focus on the detection, prevention and treatment of aging related diseases. This in turn will not only promote a sense of well being but will naturally slow down the human aging process.  In addition, spirituality with strong faith and inner peace play an important role in longevity and well being. So that Yang Sheng is not a program, it is a life style practice. Literally Yang Sheng means to nourish life.

TCM food therapy as a part of Yang Sheng teaches us that the most vital components for life are jing (physical body), qi (energy), and shen (spirit), also known as the “Three Treasures.” A good diet not only nourishes our physical body and our organs, giving us vital energy, but it also nourishes our spirit. When Chinese medicine speaks of organs, it refers more to the energetic function of each organ than to anatomy only, as in Western medicine. If a person has weakness in a certain organ and an imbalance between organs, as part of the treatment, the diet can be modified to reestablish balance and strength.

Food has different tastes, which can be classified as sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, salty, and bland. Each taste corresponds to the promotion and nourishment of a particular organ function. For example, sour foods and herbs tend to correspond to the Liver, bitter foods to the Heart, pungent to the Lungs, sweet to the Spleen, and salt to the Kidneys. As with different tastes, food also has different colors, each with corresponding tendencies to nourish different organs. For example, black-colored foods tend to nourish the Kidneys, yellow foods tend to nourish the Spleen, red foods correspond to the Heart, green foods to the Liver and white foods to the Lungs. In fact, the principle of Yang Sheng as in Chinese medicine teaches that the Kidneys are related to well-being, longevity, hair, bones, marrow, and hearing. So in order to nourish Kidney function and promote well-being and longevity, it is beneficial to eat more black-colored foods, such as black beans, black sesame seeds, black rice, and other dark-colored foods.

Modern-day research studies have shown that many black-colored foods promote health and prevent many diseases.  As we understand our natural food function, and we have to understand each individual physical condition such as, our different body constitution, seasonal changes that impact on our body energy, and our body condition changes according to age, then put appropriate food therapy for each individual to fit our body condition as a whole in order to practice Yang Sheng.

What is the function of Food therapy for Yang Sheng?

  • Strengthen and nourish the body constitution Food provides fundamental nutrition to all living things through the Three Treasures, jing (essence), qi (energy), and shen (spirit). According to the different flavors of food, the nutrients of each flavor will nourish different organs.
  • Nourish the body essence, nourish qi, and support shen – The design of TCM food therapy is based upon the classification of each kind of food’s properties of nourishing, sedating, and balancing the condition of the body. Therefore, TCM food therapy can be used for the following:
  • Nourish the essence (jing)- Some of us were born with certain organ deficiencies or different body constitutions; that is why one person may have had childhood asthma (kidney deficiency that is not in harmony with the lungs), while another may have been a child with many gastrointestinal complaints and hyperactivity due to spleen deficiency that does not properly nourish the heart. Food therapy to strengthen the organs, beginning in childhood, is one of most common prevention treatments for childhood problems in TCM. It not only treats the childhood disease, but more importantly, it prevents health problems in adulthood that are related to the weak organ later in life.
  • Treat, prevent disease and balance organs – TCM food therapy can help strengthen the deficient organ and balance the body’s energy, nourish the blood, and normalize metabolism. Historically, TCM used fresh vegetables to treat scurvy, animal liver to treat night blindness, and kelp to treat thyroid problems. At the same time, the same food was used to prevent those diseases, and maintain balanced organ health according to Yang Sheng principles.
  • Promote anti-aging and wellbeing (longevity) We should understand the word “longevity.” It means that while can do many things to delay the process of aging, in reality no one can stop the aging process, because aging is one of the laws of nature. But what we can do is to live healthier lives and enjoy life more; not suffering much disease or pain or becoming dependent as we age, this whole process is Yang Sheng.

Natural health and wellness is a way of life available to everyone. It is about promoting personal health and fitness through the natural therapies of a healthy diet, appropriate nutritional supplementation, beneficial exercise, and a healthy attitude and positive spiritual life. Healthy living and patience promote personal health and fitness.


Helen Hu, OMD

Dr. Hu, originally from Beijing China, has studied Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) since the age of 12. A Cardiologist and Practitioner of integrated medicine for 9 years. She immigrated to the United States in 1991. In 1997 Dr. Hu passed the “United States Licensing Medical Exam” while simultaneously obtaining her Oriental Medical Degree (OMD). Dr. Hu is a specialist in Herbal medicine, nationally licensed in Acupuncture and has a Philosophy of life structured around Oriental traditions. She utilizes her expertise in these treatments along with a passion and wisdom for Longevity to treat a variety of health conditions.  You can find more information.  To find more information about her, go to





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