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Tidbits of Culture: Leisure and Health Unite

BY: Camila Loew

In Chinese culture, four beautiful, traditional practices that date back to the Song dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) and are still popular today. Though you may think of them as overall aesthetic, because of their focus on cultivation of temperance, contemplation, and the spirit, they are also linked to health preservation. These four practices are: tea, incense burning, flower arranging, and calligraphy. In what follows, we offer you a brief overview of each, in the hopes that you may want to try out one of them and cultivate your spirit and health the traditional Chinese way.

  1. Tea: though you may have heard about Japanese tea ceremony, the ceremonial practice of tea actually originates in China. The Chinese tea ceremony is an etiquette of self-cultivation. Called gong fu -which is the same root as the martial art we know as kung fu- which translates to "mastery", it is a lifelong practice. There's much more to it than just drinking tea, as it involves all the senses, as well as a silent form of subtle communication between host and guest. Even a simplified form of the tea ceremony can help calm your mind, by eliminating distractions. Its aesthetic beauty is unparalleled, and its subtle, calming pleasure contribute to wellness.
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  1. Incense burning is present in many traditional religious cultures, such as Buddhisim, Taosim, Shinto and Hinduism. From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, the scents nourish body and spirit. But the power of incense exceeds aroma; like with tea, all the senses are involved when there is true appreciation. The goal is for the heart to be clear and clean, pursuing quietness, elegance, beauty, truth, and harmony.
  2. Flower arranging: again, you may associate this practice with the Japanese form known as Ikebana; the Japanese in fact popularized an originally Chinese expression. In China flower arranging spread at the same time as Buddhism, and it began with offering flowers at altars. Then it extended to become a popular practice, even in people?s homes.  is known as Huadao and Shenghua; dao means way and the way of the flower, and in this practice, beauty, structure, and meaning are equally important. In Chinese flower arranging, emphasis is placed on the linear and the calligraphic, leading us to our fourth practice:
  3. Calligraphy is also considered a dao or way, through which to develop form, technique and inner aesthetic quality. The inner and outer self are cultivated in balance, as the main goal is not to write beautiful characters, but rather to control the rhythm of your mind through writing.

Fortunately, all of these traditional beautiful practices are now easily accessible in the modern-day West. They can be a wonderful way to slow down, be mindful, and connect with yourself and others. Calming the mind is good in itself, but also a way to ensure less stress, a stronger immune system, and greater overall resilience. So which one would you like to try out?

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