What is Yang Shen? The Ancient Art of Living Well

With relentless stress, burnout, and chronic diseases taking a huge toll on our health and quality of life, it’s no surprise that self-care is finally getting the recognition it deserves. But in many ways, the occasional self-care spa day can be just a “Band-Aid” treatment for the bigger issue at hand: we are living out of balance.

Sometimes modern problems call for ancient solutions. In this case, the ancient Chinese practice of “Yang Shen” (or, nourishing/preserving life) is just what the doctor ordered. Rather than a mix of self-care practices, Yang Shen is a way of life that focuses on living in harmony with ourselves and the universe.

Let’s explore the essence of Yang Shen, and how herbal medicine, food, and wellness practices can guide us toward a healthier, more vibrant life.

What is Yang Shen?

In essence, yang shen means “nourishing life.” While it’s often considered a form of self-care, in reality, yang shen is much more than that – it's a way of life.

If we look more closely at the phrase, we see that “Yang” represents the active, dynamic energy inherent in all living things, while “Shen” is the spirit or essence of life. Together, Yang Shen embodies the values of balance, longevity, and vitality.

Yang Shen practices are inspired by various traditions, including Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, martial arts, and ancient Chinese medical wisdom. Chinese medicine and the practice of Yang Shen were developed thousands of years ago as a way to both heal ailments and prevent them.

At the core of both philosophies is the belief that there exists an inseparable connection between us and the universe, and that only by embracing a symbiotic relationship with the natural world can we live in true harmony. Through a lifestyle driven by yang shen, we can preserve our health with conscious care for our bodies, minds, and environment.

Yang Shen in Winter: Self-Care Rituals

The New Year often brings excitement and motivation for a fresh start. But, January is still in the depths of the Yin (winter) season.

In winter, nature slows down and conserves her energy. This is the perfect time for us, too, to focus on calming Yang Shen practices that align with this season's energy. Here are some simple Yang Shen daily practices that are particularly helpful for preserving health in winter:

  1. Eat Warming Foods and Herbs
    Warming foods are helpful for most people, most times of the year. This is because warm foods match the body’s digestive fire. In winter, however, they are essential for keeping us warm and energized. Incorporate seasonal nourishing, warming foods into your diet, such as soups, stews, and root vegetables. Herbs and spices with warming properties (such as ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom) are also great ways to invigorate the body’s Qi and promote circulation.
  2. Get Moving with Qi Gong and Tai Chi
    Exercise doesn’t have to be intense to do the body good. Qi Gong and Tai Chi are two gentle yet transformative movement practices that build internal warmth, enhance energy circulation, and support your overall well-being.
  3. Sip on Hot Herbal Teas
    Hot herbal teas can offer much more than a moment of relaxation. These teas, especially Chinese herbal teas, have properties that can boost your body’s resilience in winter. Steep teas containing astragalus, ginseng, or cinnamon for warmth and energy. Goji and date tea is a simple blend that boosts qi and blood any time of year to prevent premature aging and stress. Or, brew an Herbal Soup and Broth Mix for Good Health & Immunity to cook with or simply drink as tea.
  4. Enjoy Moisturizing Self-Care Rituals
    Combat the drying effects of winter by prioritizing moisturizing and self-massage as a self-care ritual. Use nourishing oils like almond oil for self-massage to keep the skin hydrated, promoting a healthy and vibrant appearance. Or, use a naturally warming oil, such as Po Sum On , to promote Qi and blood flow. Plus, with each massage, you’ll naturally stimulate acupressure points along the body that encourage Qi flow, detoxification, and natural stress relief.
  5. Mindful Meditation by the Fireplace
    Mindfulness practices give your brain a break and your heart a sense of inner peace. Even a few moments of focused intention can help to reduce stress and promote mental clarity during the winter months. Practice mindfulness meditation in a cozy setting, perhaps by the fireplace or surrounded by warm blankets to balance winter’s cold Yin with invigorating Yang.
  6. Honor Your Rest and Sleep
    While many people think getting quality sleep is all about having a productive waking life, Yang Shen teaches that sleep itself is sacred. Embrace these longer nights of winter and your body’s natural need for more sleep by prioritizing a healthy bedtime schedule. If sleep is a struggle for you, an herbal tincture (like Valerian ) can help you slip into deeper, more restorative sleep.
  7. Connect with Nature
    Despite the chill, spending time outdoors to connect with the winter landscape is one of the best ways to stay in tune with nature and the seasons. Take a brisk walk or nature hike to breathe in fresh air, stimulate Qi flow, and train your body to grow adaptable to change.

Embrace “Yang Shen” for a Flourishing New Year

Yang Shen is an ancient practice, but this way of life is needed more than ever. These self-care practices are just a few ideas of what you can do to weave Yang Shen practices into your winter routine. Tap into your own intuition about what feels nourishing in each season to preserve your mind-body health and live a balanced life.

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