Dr. Jason Liu, who is a medical doctor, professor, and founder of the Mind-Body Institute in California, understands why people have again become afraid to venture out to large gatherings as news about COVID-19 seems to be around every corner. But while we so closely try to safeguard our physical health in fear, we end up forgetting about our mental and spiritual health, he says.
As a doctor of holistic medicine, Liu looks at the whole person when it comes to health. Right now, people’s immune systems are being attacked by the virus on three fronts.
“Right now, people have fear: That’s the key,” he said.
This fear is an assault on our psychological state, our spirits, and our physical bodies.
It’s been widely reported that the pandemic has led to plummeting mental health and that rates of depression and anxiety have risen sharply. We’ve also long been aware that mental health affects physical health and immunity, as experts have reminded us of that fact since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
At the most basic level, fear triggers our fight-or-flight response and the cascade of hormones and physiological changes that come with it. While this state is good for reacting to an immediate threat, it takes a significant toll on our well-being.
“Meaningful spiritual entertainment is able to empower your mind, body, spirit—your whole being—to be able to protect yourself,” Liu said. “Through the arts, through performance, we help people overcome fear and depression and anxiety.”
When an experience changes our mental state, especially if it does so in a profound and significant way, the results are physiological. This is held as truth in medical science, in positive psychology, and in the wisdom of the ancients. It’s a principle humans have understood since before the Greeks built the Epidaurus Theatre in 400 B.C. as a place to honor Asclepius, the god of medicine—and as a place for the weary to cleanse their souls with therapeutic waters and theater.
But what’s special about Shen Yun Performing Arts in particular?
“They’re bringing hope to the world, to the people, to every individual,” Liu said.
Many years ago, Liu saw a performance by the New York-based classical Chinese dance company, and he has been recommending it to his clients ever since.
Music That Moves the Soul
Beyond the healing power of the arts in general, Liu pointed out that Shen Yun’s music blends ancient Chinese musical principles with the sound of the full classical orchestra that audiences are most familiar with.
“I found the music of the Shen Yun performance to be very special. Because I am a music therapy doctor myself, I feel that although most of Shen Yun‘s ensemble is Western instruments, the style of composition is actually in line with yin and yang and the five elements: It is music that expresses the harmony between heaven and earth,” he said.
The ancient Chinese also believed that music had the power to heal. The Chinese character for “music” is actually the root of the Chinese character for “medicine.” This music system is pentatonic, based on five tones, which are attuned to the body’s five main internal organs and the five elements of the exterior world.
The first note, “gong,” is connected to the earth element and the digestive system, and music based on this note puts the listener in a state of serenity. The “jue” note is vigorous and connected to the wood element and liver health. “Shang” is connected to metal, the lungs, and sorrow. “Yu” is melodious and quiet, transparent like water, and connected to the kidneys. “Zhi” is joyous, connected to fire, and the heart.
Liu’s explanation matches that of Shen Yun’s closely, as this was common knowledge in traditional Chinese culture before communism destroyed traditional culture in China.
For 5,000 years, Chinese culture was believed to be divinely inspired, and the deeply spiritual civilization was centered around the idea of harmony between heaven, earth, and humankind. In 1949 the Communist Party, atheist and anti-China in nature, took power and undertook systematic and often gruesome campaigns to change the character of the nation.
However, Shen Yun celebrates the beauty and wisdom of traditional Chinese culture. Liu said that gives it a unique energy.
“This energy really activates your whole mind, body, spirit,” he said. “Our body needs energy. When you don’t have good energy, you don’t sleep well, you worry, and then you make mistakes, because your mind is not clear. This is very common. People lose their spiritual strength, their mental clarity, and then they make mistakes. And they then so easily get sick, because they become weak.
“Body, mind, and spirit—don’t forget this. This is how our whole being came from the universe, from God.”
And Shen Yun, a performance filled with spirit, with ancient wisdom, and with the healing power of art, jumpstarts that for the audience.
Of the three, our busy modern mankind most easily forgets the importance of the spirit, and Liu expressed his wish to administer a reminder.
“We need to go back to our spiritual roots. Deeply connect with divine power, connect with God and the universe,” he said. “Shen Yun uses historical stories and the power of music and dance to connect everyone with the original life source. People are ready for this.
“No matter what kind of religion you have, Christian or Buddhist, or qigong meditator, or yoga practitioners, there’s a lot of spiritual practices still; those people understand it.”
Faith is every individual’s own choice, Liu said. He noted that he wouldn’t recommend someone who’s still holding on to fear to go out and watch a show with their minds clouded with negativity. The three aspects of the body, the mind, and the spirit all need to be in balance.
“These are the three points that I want to make, these three aspects of the physical, the mind, and the spirit,” he said.
As for physical health, the Shen Yun performers are human, too, Liu said, and they’re healthy not only because they’re athletes who tend to their physical states, but because they’re meditators and people of faith, taking care of their mental and spiritual states as well.
And a testament to their motivation is the fact that they’re sharing their source of health—their fearless passion for art and faith—with the world, according to Liu.
“Audiences, all people, are protecting their life. Shen Yun is doing the same thing as everyone wants,” he said. “They are meditators and cultivators, they are dancers and musicians, so they bring this to the world, to help the world, help everyone.”
Liu still remembers the feeling he had when he first saw a performance many years ago.
“Gosh, this show, I feel so connected, I really feel connected. This whole show, two hours, I’m in heaven. I feel all of life surrounding me, I feel that my whole body is so warm, great energy circulating inside my body, a hundred meridians are open,” he said. “When I came out of the theater, you know, my face, I feel changed. I feel young, like I’ve gone back to my 20s! You have to experience that.”