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Culture Insider: How Ancient People Exercised Their Bodies


Modern people are paying more attention to exercise and many celebrities are leading the trend, while in ancient China there were also many fitness lovers. Let's take a look at some noted figures' fitness stories of the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

Ancient poet Lu You: chosho

As a noted productive poet, Lu You from the Song Dynasty wrote more than 20,000 poems in his lifetime. The reason why Lu You could write so much poetry was because he was talented, but more importantly, he also lived a long life. According to historical records, he lived to be 85 years old, the longest living poet in the Song Dynasty.

However, Lu You was weak and susceptible to diseases when he was a child. When he took part in the keju imperial examinations as a teenager, he was so sick that he had to stop and hand in the paper in advance. Then how could Lu You live such a long life with such a poor constitution?

Lu joined the military as an adviser in his middle ages and started to exercise his body and learn martial arts. After training for two years, Lu could shoot down a flying eagle using a bow and arrow, and he even killed a tiger.

During his later years, Lu You started the body building called chosho, or shouts, a long and loud cry. Chosho was quite popular in ancient times, which was not roaring or whistling, but an elegant, serious and skillful health method. When ancient people did chosho, they opened their body, breathed in deep and then breathed out in rhyme.

Chosho can help increase vital capacity, relax your body and put you in a good mood. For Lu You, chosho helped him get rid of diseases and medicine. When asked about the secret of his longevity, he said, "After reading so many medical books and eating so many medicines, I find chosho is the most effective way for me."

Su Dongpo: long run, five kilometers per day

The great Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo, or Su Shi preferred to take long runs, and he thought that only by moving your body regularly could you have a strong body and adapt to the seasonal changes quickly.

In a letter to his friend Cheng Zhengfu, Su Dongpo talked about his exercising habit, which was to run five kilometers per day. He would slow down when he breathed hard, and sped up when his breath balanced. Su Dongpo would run until he was sweaty, hot, blood circulating and limbs feeling refreshed.

We can see that when Su was running, he stressed "qi", which means "energy" or "the essence of life". Su was a fan of qi gong, a system of deep breathing. He ran in the morning and sat in meditation at night, making qi flow inside his body. In a letter to his friend Zhang An'dao, Su said that after meditating for nearly 20 days, he felt his body was much stronger and could run from the first floor to the fifth without resting in the middle. He believed that by practicing this way, he could be immortal.

Hu Yanzan: cold bath

Ancient scholars liked fitness so much, and so did military officers. There were two general-inherited large families in Northern Song Dynasty, and one of them was the Hu Family. According to historical records, General Hu Yanzan from the Hu Family trained his children in the snowy winter by pouring cold water on them as they stood outside.

There was an annual festival in November during the early Tang Dynasty (618-907) called "Pouring cold", where a batch of strong men, nearly naked, sang and danced in the street while crowds poured cold water on them. The festival, a sacrifice to god, was thought to be helpful for body building.

During the Song Dynasty, Hu Yanzan recovered the tradition by removing the singing and dancing parts and keeping the pouring cold water part, as a way to exercise people's physical bodies.



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