The 7 Fundamental Pillars of TCM

The 7 Fundamental Pillars are part of the Chinese medical philosophy that teaches us how to preserve or regain our health. By rethinking our lifestyle and by transforming our habits, everyone is able to regain a much healthier condition.


If you are experiencing an illness, it is even more important to look into your lifestyle and habits. Indeed, it is essential to understand that to improve your strength and health, one has to modify the patterns or conditions that brought him into a state of weakness or sickness. 

TCM philosophy suggests that each single Pillar should be the object of a deep and continuous study for whoever wants to understand who he is and how he can respect himself by taking care of his body and mind. By doing so, we can preserve our health and our strength.

Since knowledge has no limits, each Pillar can be studied and deepened for the entire life. In reality, there is always something that can be improved.

Part of the Chinese philosophy is to continuously seek for more knowledge and hopefully tend to gain wisdom one day.


"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."    (Confucius)

Since we need to start somewhere…… As a beginning, let me introduce the very basic but most important points for each of the Pillar. Keep in mind that this is a very good start, but isn’t sufficient by itself. All of us will need to go deeper.

The 7 Fundamental Pillars of TCM

Learn how to eat

As Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said: “ You are what you eat”. Food is the elementary material needed to build and regenerate the body structures. If you eat low quality food, you build low quality elements. If you have poor eating habits, your body suffers from poor regeneration. If you want to be healthy, eating healthy is therefore mandatory. To put it in another way, keep in mind that it is impossible to expect to be healthy and strong if the food you are eating has poor nutritious value or are unhealthy. Step by step basic habits to adopt:

  • Avoid cold, raw, or ice food as much as possible
  • Avoid eating snacks between the meals
  • Bring a maximum of variety
  • Take the time to chew properly
  • Eat every day at a regular time and in a calm environment
  • Heavily reduce oily food, fries, fried meal, …
  • Heavily reduce the intake of sugar and salt
  • Heavily reduce prepared foods, delicatessen, processed meals. Fresher is better
  • Heavily reduce dairy food (animal) and change to vegetal dairy (nuts, rice, soya, …)
  • Drink warm water. Avoid cold drinks or soda, excessive coffee or tea
  • Eat light in the evening, and take the time to eat a proper breakfast in the morning
  • Avoid eating after 8pm and at least 3 hours before going to bed
  • Avoid eating until full satiety
  • Reduce alcohol consumption

Learn how to move

By studying the anatomy and physiology of the human body, we will quickly understand that everything is about movement. The body and the cells are meant to move, and this movement will create a proper flow and circulation of all internal liquids. Because of the industrial and technological development, the majority of us are spending too much time sitting in front of a computer, behind a desk, or in transportation. This lack of movement will create stagnation and accumulation in the body. Tension will appear and the natural flow will be compromised. When the flow is compromised, the nourishment of the body will decrease and that will allow diseases to appear. The best example is the person’s suffering from the upper-back, neck and shoulders because of long hours of exposure to computer work. The blood is stagnating in the upper part of the body which will create tension and pain in these areas. That is why, a simple massage will release the tension. Massage recreates the movement. A major idea in Chinese medicine is that “if all the essential elements are flowing and circulating properly, the body is well nourished, strong, and the disease cannot appear”. To create proper flow and better circulation, we need to create more movement in our lives. But we need to move properly too. Therefore, understanding your body by growing basic knowledge about anatomy, physiology, healthy sport research, etc., will help you to know how to move properly and how to fight against the stagnation that our daily life brings into us. Some simple step to begin with would be to start stretching 15 to 20 mins before going to bed. Slowly start to do exercises and adapt them to your needs. Qi Gong (氣功), Tai Ji Quan (太極拳), Yoga but also fitness and dancing are good activities to maintain a dynamic lifestyle. As long as there is movement, there will be improvement too. Also keep in mind to adapt a proper training, depending on the moment of the year, day, age, body condition, energy level, etc. It needs to be balanced, too little or too much will never have a positive impact on your body or mind state. Learning how to deal with the internal blockage (emotions, stress, etc.) to not let them accumulate but to push them to move out of ourselves is also part of this Pillar. Being aware of the sensation that our body gives to us as well. Learning how to move, concerns all aspects: physical, mental, spiritual, etc.

Learn how to breathe

As Dr. Chieko Maekawa said, “The fastest way to die is to stop breathing”. Three mins without oxygen, and the body will experience organ failure. Just to say how important is the simple act of breathing. Breathing is the main source of energy for the cells (through the Krebs cycle) which means, it is also the main source of energy for the body. Our mind is so concerned by all matters in our life (adding the stress and the lack of movement), we all tend to breath without consciousness. This means that we are breathing in a very shallow way, diminishing the air intake and the energy that the body could actually produce. Shallow breathing can become a person’s natural way of breathing over time, especially when they become nervous or tense. In order to fight against tiredness and fatigue, learning how to breathe correctly, fully, with consciousness and deepness, will bring our cells into a state of high oxygenation. Allowing the body to naturally produce more energy. This will increase the general homeostasis and help to maintain healthy cells. Both Western and Eastern medical practitioners, consider good breathing habits to be essential components of health. Starting by doing 5 minutes breathing exercise daily, we can actually teach our body how to change the bad habit of shallow breathing into a good and healthy habit of deep breathing. In TCM we especially love the healing benefits of Qi Gong (氣功) and Tai Ji Quan (太極拳) exercises that focus on breathing, combined with movements to stimulate the circulation of liquids and energy through the body. Meditation, yoga, and other breath-centered activities can also help train the unconscious mind to tell the body to breathe more deeply and calmly. No other health practice is capable of producing such drastic and life changing results. When breathing in a deep and calm way becomes a new habit, this will enhance the ability to dissolve and release internal blockages in the mind and body, enhancing your well-being and spiritual awareness. Breathing exercises can be practiced standing, sitting, or lying down. Putting a small note on the computer as a reminder “breathe deeply” can also help to modify our breathing rate and habit. Stop a moment, relax ......... and breathe

Learn how to rest

When we are asleep, and the body inactive, the process of regeneration and detoxification can start. The blood will enter the Liver to be cleaned, the old red blood cells sent to the Spleen, the muscles, organs and cells will be repaired, the immune system will be reinforced, etc. While we are resting, the body can regenerate, detoxify, produce and store energy and blood. Also, it gives us the opportunity to release the tensions and start fresh to face the daily challenges. A proper recovery is, therefore, an essential aspect of health. On the contrary, if the amount of rest and sleep is insufficient, we will accumulate tiredness, the immune system will weaken, the quality of our cells will decrease, internal tension will rise, and toxins accumulate. This will highly influence our physical and mental health. TCM suggests adopting the following habits:

  • Maintain a routine for sleeping hours, and avoid changing the schedule too often
  • Sleep around 8 hours per night
  • Best time to go to bed is between 22:00 and 23:00
  • Go to bed early, wake up early
  • Do not use telephone or device before going to sleep
  • While working, take several breaks to cool down
  • Do a quick nap at lunch if tired or very demanding job
  • Listen to the body and do not force when energy level is low
  • Stop all activities when sick or ill. Take time to recover properly
  • Allow the brain and mind to rest (avoid rumination, constant thinking, etc.)
  • Allow some moment of silence within the day and breathe consciously
  • Cultivate some moment of creation (music, art, self-expression) to get rid of the internal tension
  • Practice meditation as often as possible
  • Avoid as much as possible to work at night time
  • Go for a massage from time to time
  • Take a warm bath when too much tension
  • Listen to calm music as much as possible
  • Go for a walk in the nature or park

Learn how to control your Spirit

The Spirit, or Shen (神) in TCM, is the reflect of our mind, thinking, consciousness, memory, emotions and spirituality. It is linked to the fundamental theory of the Wu Xing (五行) . By understanding the Mental or Spiritual aspect of the Wu Xing (五行), we can learn how to regulate the emotions that life brings to all of us. Life is hard, and will bring us heavy challenges that will definitely impact our Spirit (once again, the impact will be on our: mind, thinking, consciousness, memory, emotions and spirituality). We all need to learn how to properly assimilate, transform and cultivate these lessons. In order to be healthy and to let the liquids (血, 津液) and energy (精, 氣) flow within the body, it is essential to avoid internal stagnation and accumulation. By cultivating the “inner peace”, by learning when to let go, from when to control our Shen, one can live a peaceful life. It is important to understand that we are living in a stressful society. It is impossible to run away from stress, emotional or mental impact. But we can learn how to better deal with them. Learning how to control your Shen will help to obtain internal harmony. Happiness will follow. Here are some recommendations from famous TCM Masters:

  • Slowly create changes of your habits and lifestyle (step by step)
  • Follow the advices given to you by your healthcare provider
  • Adopt a philosophy that focuses on the positive side of everything
  • Strive to be responsible of your choices and actions
  • Develop an altruistic way of life
  • Engage in social activities and connect with others
  • Bring challenges into your life that will nourish your mental strength
  • If you face a conflict, no matter who is right or wrong, if it's fair or unfair, good or bad, if you lose or win, try to find the fastest way possible to solve the problem from your point of view and turn the page to move on with life
  • No need to ruminate the past, move forward
  • Problems consume the vital energy, move forward
  • Live fully your life and be happy with what you have
  • If you make a mistake, correct it and move on
  • Accept yourself as you are, love yourself and respect yourself
  • Learn how to say yes and no
  • Listen to your internal feelings and appreciate them
  • Be in peace with yourself, even more when you are alone
  • To love your “entourage” is an absolute necessity if you want to be able to live in society and that will contribute to maintain health

Learn how to balance your sexuality

Despite being the most natural biological behaviour, sexuality is still taboo for a lot of people. Regarding the importance that sexuality holds in each person's life, instead of being ignored, we should actually increase sexual education and definitely grow our understanding about our sexual desires and sensations. Researches have brought up that having a well balanced sexual life will help to improve our self-confidence, regulate the hormonal levels, release internal stress, help maintain high immune functions, improve the libido, improve women’s bladder control, lowers the blood pressure, lowers heart attack risk, improve sleep and in a general way, make us happier. For the women, this Pillar also includes the study and understanding of the menstrual cycles. For a woman to be healthy, physically and mentally, it is very important that the menstrual cycles are well regulated. Women’s should deeply understand how to take good care of themselves and what is good from what is bad about menstrual habits. Understanding why the use of tampons might be an issue, how to actually have a proper hygiene and food habit before, while, and after each phase of the menstrual cycle is essential for example. For the man, understanding why they have (or not) sexual impulses and how to control them in order to increase the sexual confidence is also important. In TCM, we strongly suggest to maintain an adapted sexual life by learning how to use retention in order to avoid ejaculation at each intercourse. Understanding what semen retention is about and why a man should practice it, is part of the study included in this Pillar. Knowing the problem of excessive ejaculation or excessive retention, is an important aspect of men’s health within TCM. For both genders, it is essential to learn how to express one’s desires, fix boundaries to avoid extremes or trauma, work on our self-acceptance and personal sexual expression, fight against taboo and grow our understanding about sexuality through workshops, reading of classical books (Kamasutra, Secrets of the Jade Chamber, Essentials of the Golden Elixir Method for Women, The Songs of Great Satisfaction, etc.), following sexual education courses, etc. Finally, this Pillar will also include all studies related to pregnancy: how to prepare for pregnancy, what habits are good or bad before, while or after pregnancy. What should be or not be done. Why breastfeeding is so important and how to provide it properly. Both men and women should undergo a deep study of this very particular moment of life. Sexuality is related to the deepest level of our internal energy, and the study of how to balance it, will help you Discover Your True Self.

Learn how to adjust to the Natural cycles of life

Although humanity is evolving in intelligence and technology, we are also creating a bigger gap with our major root: the Nature. Nature creates us and is the major support of our life. Nature gives us air to breathe, water to drink, food to nourish, light to warm up, cold to not overheat, etc. We cannot live without the essential elements that Nature gives to us. Understanding our roots and from where we get our life source, will also remind us that our connection to Nature is essential for our wellbeing and health. Closer we get to Nature, the healthier we are. Everyone knows that eating fresh vegetables harvested from the garden is much healthier than eating an industrially processed food. Reconnecting to our origin, by reconnecting to the Natural cycles of life, will have a huge impact on your health, inner peace, and general wellbeing. Actually, all other 6 Pillars should be influenced by this one (food, sleep, movement, etc.). Eating seasonal fruits and vegetables, moving more in summer and less in winter, adapting our lifestyle to the season as we have already done with our clothing. Gaining interest in astronomy and biology, learning about the influence of the sun, moon, planets, on our body and mind set can be a great source of Spirituality. Different phases of life should also bring different habits. We shouldn’t live in the same way when we are 5, 10, 25, 40, 75 years old for example. Adapting to the different seasons, to the different moment of the day, week, month, year and life is being responsible for your health. Learning how to conform to the Natural cycles of life is about alignment with the external world, the climatic factors, the seasonal factors, the stars and cosmos. It is about you, as a human being, living within and with the Nature.

The traditional texts of Chinese medicine insist on the importance of these 7 Pillars to maintain a healthy body and mind. It requires time, curiosity, study and patience. Focusing on the changing of your habits step by step. It is a way of becoming aware of what is essential for anyone who wishes to find harmony and inner peace.

Keep in mind that it is the little habits that are important. Your daily rituals are key. You are your habits. It is therefore important to take the time to get rid of the bad ones and improve the correct ones.

Regarding the current situation and state of our planet, I personally believe that nowadays, we could add a new Pillar: "Learn how to recycle and protect our environment". Protecting our planet and the Nature, is protecting our Origin of life. Today, this is a main concern for health and well-being.

"Change your attitude, and that will change your life"

Written by Cedric Mallants / Acupunctuur en Traditionele Chinese Geneeskunde therapist


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