Aging and Life Cycles in Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medical theory, the aging process is controlled by a substance called “Jing” or essence. Jing is said to be stored in the Kidneys and is responsible for development in children and teenagers, and aging in adults.
We are each born with finite amount of Jing. As you go through life, you gradually use up your Jing. As its levels fall you get the classic signs of aging; wrinkles, greying and thinning hair, weak bones and teeth and deafness. Think of Jing as a candle wick slowly burning as we go through life until it finally runs out.
To an extent, the quantity and quality of your Jing comes down to genetics. Your parents’ age and health at the time of your conception determines your “pre-heavenly Jing”. This is written into your DNA from birth and cannot be changed.
There is also “post-heavenly Jing”. This is formed by everything that happens from birth onwards. Diet and lifestyle both affect your post-heavenly Jing for better or worse. And it is here that you can make a positive impact and slow the aging process down.
Aging affects men and women differently. According to the original Chinese medicine text, the Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic, men age in cycles of eight years. Bear in mind that this was written hundreds of years ago when life expectancies were much lower. However, the same aging process exists now but the years might be off.
At 8 years old the Kidneys become strong. The permanent teeth and body hair begin to grow.
At 16 sperm is produced and it is possible to conceive.
At 24 the Kidneys are at their peak. Development stops and the wisdom teeth grow.
At 32 the body is at its physical peak. The bones and muscles are strong and powerful.
At 40 the Kidneys begin to decline. The hair and teeth begin to fall out.
At 48 the upper body begins to decline. The face sags and the hair turns gray.
At 56 the Kidneys decline further as does the Liver. This causes joint problems and a general lack of vitality.
At 64 the hair and teeth may be completely lost.
For women, the aging cycle is even shorter, just seven years
At 7 years old the Kidneys become strong. The permanent teeth and body hair begin to grow.
At 14 menstruation begins and it is possible to conceive.
At 21 the Kidneys are at their peak. Development stops and the wisdom teeth grow.
At 28 the body is at its physical peak. The bones and muscles are strong and the hair is thick and lustrous.
At 35 the Kidneys begin to decline. The complexion becomes dull and wrinkles appear.
At 42 the upper body begins to decline. The face sags and the hair turns white.
At 49 the body deteriorates. Menstruation stops and conception is no longer possible.
This paints a pretty depressing picture, but there are steps you can take to slow things down, keep your Jing levels up and stay healthy well into old age.
The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic goes on to say that Jing can be preserved by “living in accordance with nature”.
This means acting appropriately through the changing seasons. For example, waking up early and going to bed late in the summer, then waking up later and going to bed early in the winter is one way to hang on to your Jing.
Eating a good diet is another effective way to keep aging at bay. Avoid processed foods which lack nutrition and include a variety of foods such as whole grains, organic meat and fresh fruit and vegetables. Some foods that are particularly beneficial are leafy, green vegetables, seaweed, miso and millet.
Avoid smoking, alcohol and recreational drugs and these stimulants all have a depleting effect on Jing in the long run.
Excessive sexual activity is also said to harm your Jing. But what is excessive? There is no set figure, but as a general rule, avoid sex if you’re unwell, tired, hungry or under the influence.
Another major factor is stress. Stress puts a strain on the kidneys and wipes out Jing. Create a good work-life balance, make timje to relax and get enough sleep to stay on top of things. Exercise is another great way to bust stress. Tai Chi and Qi Gong are both especially good at preserving Jing.
Youth, physical fitness and beauty are all prized qualities in our modern world. And if you want to stay young and healthy the message is simple. You gotta look after your Jing!
About these photos… I was fortunate enough to advance my study of Chinese Medicine working, living and studying in a massive hospital and TCM dedicated university in Chengdu. I fell in love with the people. These few photos are just the tip of the iceberg.