Asian countries must be doing something right when it comes to living longer. According to estimates from the 2009 CIA World Factbook, the country with the highest overall life expectancy at birth is Macau, one of two administrative regions in the People's Republic of China. The other, Hong Kong, ranks sixth. Also notable in the top five are Japan and Singapore. Where is the U.S.? Fiftieth.
Integrating eastern practices into a western lifestyle could have health benefits for Americans. Brain McDaid is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine at Pharmaca in Santa Fe who has practiced for 19 years. Dov Shoneman, a Licensed Acupuncturist and Herbalist at Pharmaca's Los Gatos store, studied Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. They share a few ways to live a more integrated lifestyle below.
1. Rethink What You Eat
"Understanding that food is medicine is very much ingrained in the Chinese mind," says Dov. This culture equates herbs with food, so they incorporate the medicinal properties of herbs into what they eat, like soups. A local Traditional Chinese Medicinespecialist can probably recommend dietary herbs to help keep you in balance.
2. Take the Time to Breathe
"Meditation is better known as an eastern practice, but breathing and visualization are all over the place now," says Brian. He recommends breathing into a loose belly, slowly filling the lungs from the body up, raising your shoulders slightly, then gradually exhaling. This works any time for relaxation, or can be used over time in a more dedicated practice.
3. Limber up Your Limbs
Stretching the body, as is done in yoga or tai chi, helps keep circulation going and prevent stagnation. Brian explains that the focus on movement is important in the eastern philosophy since it is thought to prevent patterns of illness that result from stagnation of Qi, or the animation force.
4. Put the Pedal to the Pavement
"Most people in China ride bikes around the city," says Dov. This slower, more intentional approach is often taken toward exercise in general. "Here where we go from 0 to 100 with things like lifting weights," Dov notes. "There you operate in a more parasympathetic place where the nervous system slows down, and you rest and digest."
Despite some obvious differences in health and lifestyle philosophies from east to west, Brian actually sees a lot in common. Talk to one of Pharmaca's practitioners that specializes in TCM, acupuncture or herbal studies to learn about more ways you can incorporate eastern practices into a western lifestyle.