Touchstone T'ai Chi Ch'uan
South Ayrshire
Yang Style
Sun Style
                               A Discussion on Diet

After nearly thirty years studying and practising T’ai Chi Ch’uan and Taoist principles, it has come to  
my attention that one area of study contained within the ‘Eight Strands of the Brocade’ although  
crucial to excellent health, has been neglected. This is the area and subject of diet, specifically Ch'ang  
Ming Diet. I suspect the reason for this glaring omission of the teaching of Taoist dietary principles  
within the art of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, (I refer specifically to my own experience as a student of the art as it  
is taught in the UK.) is that teachers of the art, are either unaware of the importance of diet, or that  
they expect the student to find his or her way regarding ‘supplementary’ related matters on their own.   
This in my own opinion is an unacceptable situation. As I consider that if a student spends one hour  
correctly practising chi-gung and one hour practising ‘the form’, morning and night, then that student  
should rightfully expect some serious rewards from their endeavours. However, if the same student  
should spend their eating times consuming foods that are detrimental to their individual well being,  
they will all but have wasted their time and effort in training, as their system will remain confused and  
out of balance.  
This paper then is intended to introduce the importance of the Five Element theory and the Yin and  
Yang theory. With particular attention being paid to the dietary value to the individual once understood  
and integrated into one’s daily dietary routine. I have made use of various extracts from what I  
consider to be excellent writings on the subject and have included a bibliography at the end for further  
Health, happiness and peace of mind must be earned through discipline, organisation, perseverance,  
positive thinking and appreciation for being alive, i.e. the food we eat, the air we breath and the  
people and nature around us.
Food is the primary postnatal source of the True Energy that fuels corporeal life on earth, providing  
the raw material for the essence- to-energy conversion stage of internal alchemy. Nutritional scientists  
are fond of reminding us that ‘you are what you eat’ while chi-gung masters teach us that ‘you are  
Therefore, whatever you eat should provide the sort of energy that creates a healthy body and  
sustains life.
In the Tao of diet, bioenergy rather than biochemistry is the basic barometer of nutritional value in  
food. The principles of Yin and Yang and the Five Elemental Energies that govern energy in Chi-gung  
and regulate the vital organs and their functions in traditional Chinese medicine apply equally to  
establishing harmonious energetics in food and cultivating a ‘balanced diet’. Take for example,  
enzymes. Enzymes are involved in each and every metabolic function and biological activity in the  
body. In order to produce enzymes, the body must invest not only in valuable proteins, vitamins and  
minerals, but also the most precious ‘nutrient’ of all - energy. Therefore, the more enzymes we  
assimilate with our food, the less energy we must expend to produce them in our bodies, and the  
more energy we save for other purposes. Modern diets are notoriously deficient in enzymes, which  
are destroyed when food is over-heated, chemically treated and industrially refined. Moreover,  
enzymes are required in great quantities for digestion, and therefore nature, in its universal wisdom,  
endowed wholefoods with abundant supplies of precisely the sort of enzymes each type of food  
requires to digest properly, after it enters the digestive tract. But when we consume junk food,  
convenience food and other kinds of enzyme-dead food, not only do we fail to assimilate sufficient  
amounts of this essential nutrient to sustain health, we further tax our systems and drain our energy by  
forcing our bodies to produce large quantities of digestive enzymes just to process the nutritionally  
empty things we eat.
This sort of ‘negative nutrition’ depletes the body’s reserves of nutritional essence and robs it of  
energy. Rather than providing the body with the basic building blocks of life and furnishing the energy  
system with the essential ingredients required to generate energy, modern diets strain the internal  
organs and drain our reservoirs of energy, impairing rather than protecting health.
As in chi-gung, the great Principle of Yin and Yang is the main gauge of energy balance in food. All  
foods may be divided into Yin or Yang categories, depending on the sort of energies they release in  
the system when digested. Yang foods tend to warm and stimulate the internal organs, while Yin foods  
have a cooling calming effect. This principle may be used to select foods in such a way that they help  
to achieve optimum energy balance in the human system. For example, for a person with a slow  
metabolism and Yin constitution, a balanced diet would include more warming, stimulating Yang  
foods and fewer Yin items. Whereas a person with too much hot Yang energy would balance his or  
her diet by favouring cooling Yin foods and cutting down on warming Yang items. In Western nutrition,  
a ‘balanced diet’ is regarded as being the same for everyone, based on the biochemical composition  
of the food itself. While in traditional Chinese medicine, diets are balanced according to the  
constitutional energy traits of each individual. This aspect of Yin and Yang balance in food may also  
be used to rebalance the diet throughout the year, according to seasonal changes. In winter, when the  
body requires extra heat, more Yang foods are added to the diet, and in summer, consuming more  
cooling Yin products counterbalances external heat.  
The traditional approach to food energetics, which suggests dietary guidelines that produce effects  
on human energy which are synergistic with chi-gung practice, differ significantly from the Western  
approach. Take, for example, raw vegetable salads, which Western nutritionists extol as an excellent  
choice for everyone every day in every season and which many Western women eat to the exclusion  
of al other food, in order to control their weight. According to Yin/Yang energetics, raw vegetable  
salads are extremely yin, which means that they generate very cold, Yin energy within the human  
system. Excessively cold Yin foods are contraindicated for most women in Chinese medicine, and for  
almost everyone during the cold winter weather. If you're practising chi-gung and do not observe  
Yin/Yang energy balance in your diet, you may end up creating deviations in your energy system which  
conflict directly with you practice and negate some of its benefits.
Another important aspect of Yin/Yang balance in food is alkaline and acid, or pH balance. People  
today consume far too much acid-forming, (Yang) foods, resulting in chronic acidosis of the blood and  
intercellular fluids. This is one of the primary contributing factors to many common degenerative  
conditions, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, immune deficiency, cancer and many  
others. The major culinary culprit in this dietary folly is refined sugar, one of the most acidifying items  
in the world. The worst offender of all being carbonated soft drinks. One 12-ounce (360ml) glass of  
the world’s most popular cola contains about 9 teaspoonfuls of refined sugar, and it’s so acidifying to  
the human bloodstream that it would require thirty-two glasses of alkaline water to neutralise it.  
Obviously no one chugs down thirty-two glasses of alkaline water every time they guzzle a can of cola.  
On the other hand, if the body did not take immediate measures to rebalance the pH of the blood after  
ingesting such an acid bomb, death would occur in less than a minute. So what the body does is  
leach calcium from the bones and teeth and draw it into the bloodstream to counteract the acidity  
caused by the sugar, especially in the form of carbonated soft drinks, as well as other acid-forming  
foods such as meat and dairy products. These constantly drain calcium form the teeth and bones.  
This is why so many Western people lose their teeth and suffer from osteoporosis by the time they  
reach middle age.  
Consequently, calcium has become one of the most essential nutrients that require supplemental  
sources in modern diets. Not only is calcium the most important building block in bones and teeth and  
the bodies’ most effective alkalising agent to counteract acidosis. It is also an absolutely essential  
element for nerve transmission and hormone secretion and therefore plays a vital role in PNI healing *  
(psychoneuroimmunology) response that is triggered by chi-gung. Without sufficient calcium in the  
diet, many of chi-gung’s immunity-enhancing benefits are compromised. Besides consuming foods  
rich in calcium and avoiding foods that drain calcium due to their acidifying properties, it’s a good  
idea to take calcium supplements and drink water rich in ionised calcium. Remember, however, that  
the body cannot assimilate calcium without sufficient supplies of vitamin D, which the body produces  
in response to exposure of the skin to sunlight. pH balance in the blood and other bodily fluids is  
closely connected with energy balance and energy circulation. Which is why it is so important to  
regulate pH balance through diet. Proper pH is maintained mainly by alkaline minerals, particularly  
calcium, and the diet is the sole source of these minerals. These minerals also serve as electrolytes*  
to store and transmit energy in the body’s various vital fluids. Energy does not flow freely through an  
acid medium, and therefore acidosis of the blood and other fluids counteracts the benefits of chi-gung  
practice. Chi-gung practitioners should pay close attention to the pH aspect of Yin/Yang balance in  
their diets, favouring foods that produce an alkalising effect and avoiding excess consumption of  
acid-forming foods. The chart below, which lists a variety of acid and alkaline foods in order of  
strength, may be used as a general guideline for selecting a pH balanced diet.  

Acid-Forming FoodsAlkaline-forming Foods

Sugar                                      Ginger  
Rice                                        Spinach
Egg yoke                                Mushrooms
Oats                                        Cabbage
Tuna                                        Potatoes
Chicken                                  Radish
Pork                                        Squash
Beef                                        Bamboo shoots
Cheese                                  Turnips
Barley                                     Egg white
Shrimp                                   Pears, grapes (Red)
Bread                                     Watermelon
Butter                                     Tofu (bean curd)

The Five Elemental Energies also manifest their activity in foods, in the form of the five flavours. Each  
of which has a ‘natural affinity’ for a particular organ-energy system in the body. Sour Wood foods,  
may thus be consumed to tonify the liver and gall bladder. Sweet Earth foods for the spleen and  
stomach, salty Water products for the kidneys and bladder and so forth. When using chi-gung to heal  
or boost a particular organ or vital function, this aspect of food energetics may be applied to  
supplement the therapeutic benefits of the chi-gung. There are many ways that the precepts of chi-
gung practice may be applied to cultivate dietary habits, which produce nutritional energy effects that  
are synergistic with the benefits of chi-gung. A simple example is the principle of slowness, Which  
governs both breathing and bodily movements in chi-gung. Applied to eating, this implies eating  
slowly, which means chewing food very well before swallowing it. This measure alone greatly  
improves digestion and assimilation, for it allows food to be pre-digested by salivary enzymes in the  
mouth. This saves a lot of enzyme power and other forms of digestive energy in the stomach and  
increases the amount of nutrients released for assimilation. The bottom line here is that you obtain  
more nutritional essence per unit of food consumed, while also conserving a lot of vital enzyme  
essence and energy, when you eat food slowly and chew your food as deliberately at the table as you  
breath and move your body in chi-gung practice.
Another way of regulating the diet and balancing the entire digestive system in Taoist tradition is to  
abstain entirely from all  
food from time to time. This regimen, known as bi-gu (‘abstention from grains). Periodic fasting is  
one of the best ways on earth to cleanse the digestive tract, purify and balance the blood, and detoxify  
the entire body. When practised in conjunction with chi-gung, it greatly enhances the efficiency of the  
internal alchemy of digestion and metabolism, training the system to extract more energy from the  
body’s available reserves of essence. And just as food may be used to cure specific ailments, so  
abstention from food may be used to cure the whole body by triggering a full-scale internal house-
cleaning operation that sweeps out all toxic residues and rejuvenates the entire system.” (1)

Guidelines for a Balanced Diet

As every body is unique, there will always be variations according to individual needs. A few basic  
guidelines, however, are appropriate as we seek a way of eating that creates balance and harmony.  
Frame of mind is of utmost importance at mealtime; relax and slowly chew your food for optimal  
digestion and assimilation. The dinner table is not the place to discuss the day’s problems.  
Remember that your stomach does not have teeth. Digestion, particularly of the starches, begins in  
the mouth. Foods that are difficult to thoroughly masticate, such as sesame seeds, should be ground  
before eating. Fruits digest quickly, while meats and proteins will take more time to digest.
The best ways of preparing foods are steaming, stir-frying in water, stewing (boiling, as in soups) or  
baking. Steaming leaves the food in its most natural state, while baking creates more heat and would  
be the best method for cold conditions. Even the best quality oils become hard to digest when  
heated. So, if oil is desired, put it on after the food is cooked.  
Foods should be eaten in their wholeness, when possible. Only peel fruits and vegetables if the peel  
is hard to digest or contaminated with chemical sprays. Search out organically grown foods to avoid  
the toxic residues of commercial growing processes. To clean foods, thoroughly, one must wash them  
in salt water. Also avoid irradiated foods and microwave ovens. The best utensils for cooking in are  
glass, earthenware, or stainless steel.  
One should avoid cooking in aluminium or copper; these metals can easily leach into the food.
One’s diet should follow the seasons, eating what grows locally. Nature has the perfect plan in  
providing the appropriate foods for the given season. The fruits and vegetables that ripen in the  
summertime tend to be on the cooling side. In wintertime we tend more toward a more warming diet.  
Also, one should eat a wide variety of foods for good balance.
Most vegetables should be at least lightly cooked, as raw vegetables tend to be difficult to digest.  
Foods should never be eaten cold because cold foods put out the digestive fire, so to say. This is  
particularly upsetting to the female menstrual cycle as the stomach sits right beside the liver, which is  
responsible for storing blood. Cooling off the stomach can lead to a stagnant blood condition and a  
difficult menstrual period. Frozen foods, such as ice cream, are a very unhealthy item, as well as iced  
drinks. Neither should we consume foods that are so hot that they burn the mouth or stomach.
It is best to stop eating before the full point. Also, eating just before retiring is not a good idea. One  
should take the last meal at least 3 hours before going to bed. This will not only result in better  
digestion, but also a more restful sleep. Late eating also tends to easily be stored as unwanted  
pounds. One should wake up with a good appetite for breakfast. This is the meal that provides us with  
the fuel or energy for much of the day, so make this a very nutritious meal.
Nuts and seeds contain a large proportion of oil and should be eaten fresh as possible and kept  
refrigerated. Because most people do not chew nuts well, grinding them into powder makes them  
easier to digest.
Dried beans should be soaked prior to cooking for at least a few hours; always discard the soak  
water and cook them in fresh water. The small beans like lentils and peas tend to be easier to digest  
than the large beans like limas or kidney beans. For a person with particularly weak digestion it is  
best to cook grains soupy, with additional water and cooking time. You may use up to 10 parts water  
per 1 part grain.
Always avoid highly processed foods and keep meals as simple as possible. A balanced diet would  
consist of the following on a regular basis:
WHOLE GRAINS including rice, millet, barley, wheat, oats, corn, rye, quinoa, amaranth, etc. This  
group of foods will account for about 40% of the diet.
FRESHLY PREPARED VEGETABLES including dark leafy greens, cabbage, broccoli, celery, root  
vegetables, etc. This group of foods will account for about 40% of the diet.
FRESH FRUITS will be consumed when in season, and generally no more than 10% of the diet>  
Fruits can be a great snack or sweet treat.

LEGUMES/SEEDS/NUTS including peas, beans, tofu, peanuts, lentils, sunflower seeds, almonds,  
walnuts, etc. This will account for about 10 - 20% of the vegetarian diet and a lesser portion of  
the meat inclusive diet.
ANIMAL PRODUCTS including dairy foods, meat, fish, poultry, and eggs. If one chooses to include  
these foods in the diet, they should occupy no more than 10% of the diet. Attempt to locate  
growers that do not use drugs or inhuman practices on the animals.
SEAWEEDS including nori, wakame, dulse, kombu, hiziki, and arame. This is a valuable mineral  
source, consumed in small amounts (a small handful dry), and of particular value to those  
vegetarians who refrain from eating dairy foods.
Avoid as strictly as possible the following: chemical preservatives, additives, colourings,  
and flavourings, fried or greasy foods, coffee, ice cream and excessive sugar consumption.  
If you would like a more information on the Yin-Yang balance and Chi nature/energies of foods please click here and here