Saturday, November 28, 2020

Macrobiotics: An Introduction


Macrobiotics is commonly regarded as a diet programme, a way to treat cancer and other serious illnesses by making dietary changes.

It is much more than this. It is a whole way of understanding the universe and applying this understanding in our lives.

I sometimes describe macrobiotics as a way of understanding “how everything affects everything” – how food, lifestyle, relationships, the environment, the cosmos. . . affect our health, our thinking, our attitudes, our behaviour, our actions. . . and how these, in turn, affect our food, lifestyle, relationships, the environment, the cosmos. . .

The way to understand so many complex issues is simple – by reducing everything to yin and yang, or expansion and contraction energy. Everything can be viewed as either more expanded / expanding or more contracted / contracting.

Alcohol – expanding

A few examples will make this clear.

Alcohol, for example, has strong smell. We can say its smell expands. It also evaporates easily. It changes from liquid to vapour and vapour is a more expanded state compared with liquid. Alcohol is made by a process of fermentation, during while the original substance – rice, barley, grapes, etc – breaks apart. Again, this is an expanding process.

So overall, we can say that alcohol has strong expanding energy. The effect of drinking alcohol is to make us more “expanded” – for example, more relaxed.

When a person drinks excessive amounts of alcohol, that person becomes expanded in several ways. For example, the mind becomes so expanded that the person is unable to focus and think properly. Speech, too, becomes expanded and people are known to talk more freely after a few drinks. The face and eyes turn red because blood vessels become expanded and blood becomes more clearly visible. And so on.

Salt – contracting

Salt, in contrast, is very contracted. It will not rot, ferment or break apart in other ways even in a million years. When salt is applied to meat, fish or vegetables, these foods become more hard and dry, that is, more contracted.

Salty snacks are therefore often served with alcohol. The more of such snacks a person eats, the more alcohol he or she will drink.

People who large amounts of salt will, over time, become overly contracted. A common problem is hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels, which raises blood pressure and can lead to heart attacks.

In the study of macrobiotics, you will also learn that heavy salt eaters may develop white or grey hair. Their hair follicles contract. This prevents nutrients from reaching the hair and the hair turns white. The mind of such people become contracted as well. On the one hand, they are highly focused. On the other hand, they can also be stubborn.

And so on.


Slow music with long, sustained notes is more expanding and, therefore, more relaxing. Fast music with lots of short notes is more contracting. It can be energising, it can also be stressful.

Stress itself is a contracted condition. A person who is stressed feels tight and tensed, that is contracted. The person may feel the whole world coming down on him, that is, contracting towards him. A person who is stressed automatically reaches out for alcohol, chocolate and sweets, soft music, soft cushion and other things that are expanded / expanding.

It may not always be obvious what is more expanded and what is more contracted. But when you put some thought to it, and when you have enough experience, you will know.

This understanding of expanding and contracting energies, of yin and yang, can be applied to make your life more balanced and steady. It can also lead to recovery from serious illnesses such as cancer.

The application of macrobiotic knowledge and understanding is not always easy, of course. It requires years of practice.

It is, however, a fascinating subject. You can learn more about macrobiotics from these pages and from my book, The Magic Spectacles of Yin and Yang.

George Ohsawa founder of the Macrobiotic diet

It was George Ohsawa who first came up with the phrase, Magic Spectacles of Yin and Yang.

It is such an apt phrase. Learning about yin and yang is, really, like putting on a pair of magic spectacles. You begin to see the world differently; you begin to understand the world differently.

This new way of seeing, this new understanding, applies to just about everything – yourself and your health, your work, activities and lifestyle, your emotions and attitudes, your relationships, your environment, the climate, the cosmos… This book will help you with this understanding.

Before I proceed, I like to say, “Thank You George Ohsawa” – not just for providing such an apt expression, but more for simplifying the concept of yin and yang in a way that modern, western-educated people like me – and you – can easily understand.

If not for the teachings of George Ohsawa, we would still be struggling with abstract, philosophical concepts such as:

Yin is female / Yang is male

Yin is cold / Yang is hot

Yin is the shady side of the mountain / Yang is the sunny side of the mountain

It is hard, really, to apply these concepts to daily life. George Ohsawa has made it so simple that, in less than a minute, you can understand what yin and yang is all about.

Great Life

George Ohsawa called his teachings MACROBIOTICS. The teachings are actually not his. He had learnt from another teacher before him, who had learnt from ancient Chinese and Japanese texts.

What Ohsawa had done, however, was to modify some of the teaching and present them in a way that is easy to understand. And since he coined the term “macrobiotics”, he is often regarded as “the father of modern macrobiotics”.

Macro is a Greek word that means “big” or “great”. Bios is another Greek word that means “life”. Macrobiotics can therefore be taken to mean “The art of living a great life”.

Today, macrobiotics is widely associated with a diet plan to help people recover from cancer and other serious illnesses. It is very much more than this. In fact, Ohsawa – who was most active teaching during and after World War II – was more concerned with world peace than with health.

His approach, however, was that world peace must begin with peace and harmony within the individual. It begins with personal health. If there is a “war” going on inside your body, there is not much you can do to bring about peace in the world at large.

Macrobiotics is the art of health, healing and happiness. It is a lifelong learning. While the basics can be grasped in a minute or two, mastery of this art takes a lifetime.

How to be healthy and happy? By understanding what life in this universe is all about.

How to understand this complex universe? By reducing everything into yin and yang. Doing so gives us a framework, a point of reference.

This can be extremely useful. And fascinating.

May Ling
Macrobiotics & natural health practitioner of Chinese decent. May Ling provides a Yin-Yang perspective to holistic health and natural healing. Contact:

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