Uncomfortably shifting my legs, for the tenth time I contemplated my decision to choose the floor over the chairs lining the sides. The mats surrounding the small table had seemed so inviting, and so exotic. The chairs in comparison had seemed to be placed there for those interested in the event, but not willing to fully immerse themselves. They’d seemed like crutches. They were cultural prisons, like always choosing a fork over a chopstick. In comparison, the mats had no restraints, no enclosures and, I would soon realize, no support.
I’d gleefully set myself down on a mat off to the right, savouring the feeling of freedom after being bound to a chair all morning. An hour in the novelty was gone and I found myself restlessly fidgeting. I had never stayed in a cross-legged position for this long before. My legs were falling asleep and my back was stiff from unfamiliar effort. Occasionally I wistfully eyed the chairs, longing to get over myself and rise to those thrones. Eyeing my fellow observers I noticed one woman, then another, unabashedly unfold their legs and stretch them before themselves. Inwardly relieved I followed suit, sighing in bliss as my legs were released. Content again I could once more take in the fascinating presentation before me.
Victor Jiaxiang Yu floated to the front of the room, towering over the seated audience. He presented Warveni Jap, a member of the marketing and international business faculty at Thompson Rivers University, who stepped forward to share Taoism with everyone present as a prelude to the main presentation on Chinese traditional medicine. The Confucius Club on campus put on the presentation.
Taoism, Jap told her seated guests, is a harmony with nature. It is the only true homegrown Chinese religion, since Buddhism was imported from India, and was formed by a man named Laozi. It should also be noted that Confucianism is a philosophy whereas Taoism is considered a religion.
At the centre of Taoism is Tao: the way or the path. Tao cannot be perceived because it exceeds the senses. If you can perceive it, it is not Tao the small group before Jap was told. Tao is anything that cannot be expressed in words. It is unlimited and unimaginable. It has no feelings and is nameless but the Chinese people call it Tao. It contains everything and is omnipresent. It is the essence of the universe, the law of evolution and the law of change in everything.
Yin-yang and Humors
Yin and yang, or rather more precisely yin-yang since the two are considered complementary rather than opposing forces, are important concepts to Tao and traditional Chinese medicine. Yin, or the black, dark, cool, female principle cannot exist without yang, the white, bright, warm, male and visa versa. If they are out of balance then trouble will arise.
This is similar to the idea of the humors in ancient and medieval science. The balance of the humors in the body was considered very important for good health. If one was ill then the humors were imbalanced.
In many cases ancient and medieval intellects also argued that women were biologically inferior because they were made up of the cold and damp humors, making them weak and emotional.
Unlike the four fluids–fire/yellow bile, earth/black bile, water/phlegm and air/blood– in humorism, there are five elements in traditional Chinese medical theory: fire, wood, earth, water and metal.
These five correspond to five key organs in the body: fire/heart, wood/liver, earth/spleen, water/kidney and metal/lungs.
They also correspond to the five senses.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
This is important when discovering and absolving what is wrong with the body is traditional Chinese medicine. With the oldest medical book Huangdi Neijing or The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon/The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine written 3,000 years ago, Dr. John Ramsay, the second to present during the event I attended, argued that Chinese medicine had much more time to develop then western medicine.
He spoke of the methods used by traditional Chinese doctors: acupuncture, herbs, food, tai chi, massages, and exercise. Honestly, listening to his presentation I saw the merit in a healthy lifestyle and these methods sounded much more friendly to the body than so called “western medicine.” Then again, both forms of medication must have their virtues and downfalls. Ginseng rated highly on Dr. Ramsay’s list of traditional Chinese herbs. It’s edible qi he called it: qi being the “life energy” or “life force” of human beings.
As Dr. Ramsay spoke a woman wandered around the room passing out ginseng tea. When I took my first sip I stared at it in shock. It tasted like potatoes. I had the odd thought I was drinking the essence of French fries.
I had already tasted another tea and a gummy food with red bean inside. The gummy cake was yummy enough for me to take a second. I’ll admit after a long day of my studies and the extra hour or two of discomfort on the floor, the two teas and red bean food made me feel at ease. Was it their medical merit? Or the relaxing act of drinking them, or the idea that they have balancing properties?
My favourite part of the event came at the end. Victor Jiaxiang Yu came in with another individual and set him down as his guest. As the audience watched attentively sipping their own tea, the two men then began enacting two generals performing a tea ceremony 2,000 years ago.
Tea used to be only for the rich. There are five categories of tea that divide the teas into their different medical benefits: white, yellow, green, black and red tea.
For the tea ceremony the act of drinking tea is much more than it sounds. “It is not just drinking to quench our thirst, it is a ceremony for the soul,” said Victor after the ceremony ended.
The steps are executed slowly with concentration on enjoying the process of making tea. Without hurry Victor dipped his ladle into the bowl of warm water by his side and carefully lifted it to a cup. The very picture of patience, Victor started a slow discussion with the other general as they waited for the water. Then Victor reached forward and delicately poured the water into a teapot. From there he poured it into the waiting teacups. But this was only for preparing the cups. They would not drink this.
Gently dipping his ladle into the bowl at his side once more, Victor raised a second batch of water into the first cup. After a long moment Victor poured the tea into the second teapot through a strainer with leaves in it. He and the other general then sat back and settled themselves. After some time passed he poured the tea into the already warm cups.
They each reached down for their cups and sat taking in the sight and smell of the tea before tasting it. Looking on YouTube I found an even more elaborate tea ceremony.
“The tea is for the body and the ceremony for the mind,” said Victor. His favourite tea is called puer tea.
“It’s for keeping people fit,” he said.