Secrets of the Tao: 5 Keys to Longevity

The quest for longevity is a pursuit that has been at the core of Chinese culture throughout their history.

The ancient Taoists considered 150 years to be a normal life, and blamed civilization for shortening this span. Modern pollutants cause the body to use all its resources in a constant attempt to detoxify, leaving nothing left for cultivating longevity. Living in harmony with nature is the cure. Such a lifestyle includes taking life slowly, avoiding extremes (including emotional extremes), and following a daily regimen of exercise and breathing. Dietary guidelines include avoiding overeating; focusing on warm, nourishing foods in winter to boost Qi; and eating a primarily vegetarian diet supplemented by medicinal herbs. The Taoist herbalist Lee Ching-yuen, born in the 17th century, is reported to have lived 256 years by following these guidelines, and died looking no more than 50.

The Japanese are among the longest lived people in modern times, and have a diet based on fresh raw fish (“sushi” actually means “longevity”), and fresh fruits and vegetables. Much like other Blue Zone peoples they buy their food fresh daily, spend lots of time outside getting fresh air and sunshine, energize their indoor air with negative ion generators, and practice daily Tai Qi and Qi Gong both for strength and relaxation.

Daniel Reid’s book The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity summarizes the factors vital to Taoist longevity:

  1. Climate/geography: high altitude, pure air, cool temperatures.
  2. Diet/nutrition: vegetable-based diet with medicinal herbs and moderate daily alcohol.
  3. Daily exercise and deep breathing.
  4. Sex: The Taoists used “bedroom arts” to cultivate Qi.
  5. Supplemental herbs to stimulate vital organs, glands, and enhance circulation (stagnation = death).

According to TCM, a major cause of aging is loss of Yuan Qi or Prenatal Qi which has its root in the kidneys and is the foundation of vitality. Goji berries are considered a Yin tonic and nourish the kidneys, liver, semen, and improve vision, making them especially good for longevity. My husband trained under an old Chinese master who drank goji berry tea daily and was strong as a tiger in his 70’s.

In my own experience, living in harmony with nature is a concept that goes beyond diet and exercise. The best I’ve felt is when my husband and I lived in our Jeep on the California coast, sleeping and rising in rhythm with the sun. The complete darkness at night, the brilliant stars, the fresh ocean air scented with eucalyptus and pine, and the freedom from the stress that comes with a house full of electronics was an experience I will never forget. Despite being in my last trimester of pregnancy, I felt alive and full of vitality as never before or since. Someday I hope to have a home off the grid where I can truly follow “the Way of the Tao” and return to that natural harmony.


Reid, D. (1986). Chinese Herbal Medicine. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
Reid, D. (1989). The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity. New York, NY: Fireside.

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