Deirdre Courtney is an acupuncturist and herbalist with a specialism in yang sheng and facial diagnosis. In a previous life she was a chef, training others on how to use the healing power of diet to help people recovering from drug and alcohol dependency and those suffering from obesity. She even had a stint as personal chef to a rock star! It’s a great CV for somebody putting together a book on yang sheng.
Nourishing Life the Yang Sheng Way is a courageous attempt at bringing this ancient principle into the modern world through lifestyle and dietary advice. Yang sheng is a crucial part of the canon of Chinese medicine and one that I think we all grapple with in trying to help our patients live a happy and balanced life.
The book covers four aspects of yang sheng: cultivation of mind and spirit; living in harmony with natural laws; cultivation of the body with work, rest and exercise; and regulation of diet. She looks at all of these from the perspective of different stages of life and there is information here that could easily be adapted to give out to patients who are seeking to live more harmoniously. The section on toxins and food production issues is also helpful and there are practical tips for limiting exposure – for instance she explains why it’s good to avoid storing fats in plastic containers.
It makes sense given Deirdre’s background that her real passion lies with food and this is by far the most substantial section of the book. There is a big chapter on ‘Food and Herbs as Medicine’ which goes systematically through taste, temperature, organs and ‘nutritional information’ – vitamins and minerals – for a wide variety of foods and herbs. This is supplemented with a set of ‘recipes for healing’ – a basic congee recipe with guidance on how to adapt for different patterns and then a further set for nourishing each element. I haven’t yet tried any of these but I look forward to experimenting.
I take slight issue with Deirdre’s keenness on cold and raw foods in some sections of the book – there seems not to be consistent acknowledgement of the basic principles of eating to support the Spleen from a Chinese medicine perspective. And whilst the book is extensively referenced there are some sweeping statements such as ‘this superfood contains everything you need to survive’ and ‘young coconut water… has even been used in many countries for blood transfusions’, which having followed the reference, comes from an online article that acknowledges its main source as Wikipedia.
Deirdre writes accessibly (though there are some proofreading issues at Singing Dragon’s end) and one thing that comes through very clearly is that she brings her own experience as a practitioner. It’s also a nice touch to draw on her knowledge of face reading which again gives practitioners a simple tool with which to engage their patients.
All in all this is a worthwhile book to have in clinic. Most practitioners will not find anything especially new here but the information is put together in an engaging way and with a little guidance it could be given out to interested patients.
(Reviewed by Greg Lampert, EJOM Vol.9 No.4)
Greg Lampert is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbal medicine practitioner and a member of the faculty at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine, Reading. He has a keen interest in nutrition and is co-author of the book Chinese Dietary Wisdom.