Health v. Fitness

A great volume of debate and research on health and fitness has been produced in the Western world in recent decades and longer. In China the Taoists developed a similar volume centuries ago, which today is nearly forgotten but slowly being revived. These two approaches may be characterized as Fitness in the West vs. Health in the East.

Fitness today is definable as strength of the musculature, leanness of body mass, a certain amount of flexibility, the ability to bring the heart and breathing rates up to a certain level for a certain amount of time, and perhaps a low blood pressure. Left out of this equation are all the other internal organs, the nervous system, the condition of the joints, spine, tendons, fascia and ligaments, and more esoterically, the underlying energy grid. All these elements are addressed in the Taoist health system through the arts of Tai Chi and Qi Gung. These forms are sometimes called the Internal Arts in contrast to the largely external elements of Fitness.

The energy grid is not as elusive as one might think. In fact the “gungs” (exercise forms) that trace and clear meridian lines are considered entry level, and most people can get a feel for the major lines and/or the benefits without too much effort. Acupressure is an example of the energy line practices that can be done on oneself as exercise.

The condition of the joints and spinal discs is considered crucial in the Taoist system. These are the first places energy gets locked up and hence the first places to unlock it. As we age it is the shrinking and tightening of the joints that shortens our height and makes us brittle, stiff and achey. Conversely, pliability of the joints is associated with vitality of the whole body. Getting a feel for the joints is not so elusive either. With proper instruction most of us can get the basic idea in a matter of minutes.

Flexibility of the connective tissues (fascia, tendons, ligaments) is nearly as important as the joints for keeping the body young and vital, but the approach is more complex than simply stretching. For example, stretching too far too soon will create tension and lead to diminishing returns or injury.

As one progresses deeper into the body, the organs and energy centers can be more elusive. What is called for is a focused attention like that needed for meditation. Indeed a disciplined mind is your best asset for embarking on this path of health. Contrast this with the current fad of machine workouts accompanied by several media sources confronting the brain, and we have the epitome of the East/West differences.