Li Ching-Yuen was a Chinese herbalist who claimed to have been born in 1736. Other records, obtained by Professor Wu Chung-chien, Dean of the Department of Education in Minkuo University, showed that Li was born in 1677.

What’s interesting, though, is not his year of birth, but the year of his death: 1933.

This means he would have either by 197 or 256 years of age, respectively, at the time of his passing. Newspapers around the world reported his death. In their search for information, there were accounts of Ching-Yuen knowing grandfathers in his village when they were just boys, and he was already a grown man. According to some sources, he had 180 living descendants spanning 11 generations.

He had been brought into warlords’ homes for advice on longevity, and when asked by a pupil what his secret was, as reported by Time Magazine, Li Ching-Yuen revealed his methods:

  • A tranquil mind
  • To sit like a tortoise
  • To walk sprightly like a pigeon
  • To sleep like a dog

Whether or not Ching-Yuen really lived to be the age he claimed to be is still disputed, but the tenets he shared were intuitively correct. In these rules by which to live, he touches on some of the most important practices that today modern science validates. It starts with remaining stress-free and calm of mind, carrying oneself with good posture and breathing, and getting plenty rest.

Step 1: A Tranquil Mind

Stress can have some of the most devastating effects on our lives. It can exacerbate illness, be the source of unnecessary anxiety, and even cause you to break out in a rash. Regardless of your diet or exercise routine, if you feel stressed and mentally over burdened, you’re not likely to live a very full life emotionally, and your health may suffer because of it.

In fact, remaining tranquil in mind and stress-free correlates to better health, and in effect, longevity. Simple tools to combat stress, like meditation, can improve emotional wellbeing, from helping your ability to accept what you cannot change to focusing on the present to warding off negative emotions in general. It can also help with serious health issues, like substance abuse, sleep problems, and depression.

Ching-Yuen was thinking of meditation when he gave his famous advice. To him, it was about quieting the mind to such an extent that all processes were stopped – the body fully hibernated. Even involuntary physiological processes slowed. To Ching-Yuen,  when you remain calm, centered, and tranquil, you set yourself for living a fuller life mentally, and potentially a more healthy life physically.

Step 2: To Sit Like a Tortoise

Sitting like a tortoise may sound difficult, but here, Ching-Yuen was referring to a open, comfortable breathing posture. Tortoise breathing is used to describe sitting silenty and withdrawing the senses almost completely. Like quieting the mind, this encourgaes a reducation of energy use by your conscious and unconscious processes. It allows your body to exist in an expansive, awake, but preserved state.

Here, the name of the game is deep breathing and proper breathing exercises during mediation. Like meditation, breathing exercises help center the mind and body, helping reduce stress and the feeling of anxiety.

Step 3: Walk Sprightly Like a Pigeon

Another slightly peculiar piece of advice for those unfamiliar with the term, walking sprightly like a pigeon may sounds like a joke to you. In reality, this practice was used to describe the conscious connection one carries within them when walking about the earth. All things are made up of atoms, and all things thus emit a point of light and energy. Ti Ching-Yuen, walking sprightly – that is, full of energy and spirit – connects you to this energy. It allows you to absorb the energy emitting from the Earth.

To walk sprightly, it is almost always inherent that you must also use proper posture – and one must be on their feet. This is actually corroborated with modern evidence, which suggests sitting (ie. not walking sprightly enough) is indeed linked to reduced longevity.

Step 4: To Sleep Like a Dog

At the end of his advice comes one thing that truly resonates today with modern science: adequate sleep. Ching-Yuen describes his practice as “sleeping like a dog,” an ode to a lethargic, deep sleep characterized by sleeping often and whenever needed. Sleep is a silence, to some, that inspires wisdom, and Ching-Yuen would have likely agreed.

So would science.

Harvard has found a causal link, for example, between insufficient sleep and disease resistance, not to mention overall mental well being. Lack of sleep impairs judgements, affects energy levels, and makes it harder for us to stay focused and thinking clear. On the other hand, adequate sleep can improve our immunity and boost our mood, leaving us feeling fresh, awake, and full of life.

Reach 256 (or something near it)

Si did Ching-Yuen really live to be 256, or 197 for that matter? We’ll likely never actually know. And while the idea seems interesting enough, the real point isn’t to focus on this one man with this one fantastic story. Instead, take these lessons and apply them to yourself. Ask yourself, how could your like be different, or longer, by making just a few some lifestyle changes? Get a few extra hours of sleep, practice meditation and breathing, and conscious walk with energy. You might soon be recounting to the media the last two centuries of your life!