The earliest recorded use of the term “macrobiotics” (from the Greek “macro” meaning great, or long, and “bios” meaning life) is found in the 4th century BC in ancient Greece in the writings of Hippocrates, who is considered the father of western medicine. He wrote about the importance of fresh, seasonal food and outdoor exercise and how these factors reflected in the health of his patients. His ideas were later taken up by other classical writers including Galen, Aristotle and Herodotus.
The term reappeared again in 1796, when Dr. Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland, a famous Prussian physician, published his book Macrobiotics: The Art of Prolonging Life. His focus was on a diet of natural and mostly vegetarian foods.
Towards the end of the 19th century a high-ranking army, Dr. Sagan Ishizuka, who had trained in western medicine, noticed the increasing incidence of disease in the local Japanese population as new western diet and medicine was adopted. He tried prescribing simple, natural diet with good results and in this way he helped many thousands of people to recover their health. He focused on the use of unrefined whole natural foods, grains as a central staple food, fresh foods grown locally and eaten in season and attention to the balance of nutrients.
In the early 1920’s a young man later known as George Ohsawa, who was dying of tuberculosis, heard of Ishizuka’s ideas and decided to give them a try. Using these, together with his understanding of ancient Chinese philosophy (yin and yang,) he made a remarkable recovery. He then dedicated his life to sharing his ideas on health, freedom and world peace. In his writings he described six attributes necessary to be healthy: vitality, good appetite for food and for life, deep sleep, good memory, harmonious emotions, and a sense of justice and gratitude. Using the term “macrobiotics” to describe this way to health, Ohsawa, together with his wife Lima, inspired and taught many students in Japan and in Europe.
Ohsawa’s students continued to develop and spread these ideas world-wide in the 1950s, 60s and onwards. Among them were Michio and Aveline Kushi, Cornelia and Herman Aihara, Noburo Muramoto and William Dufty in north America, Roland Yasuhara in Belgium, Clim Yoshimi in France and, still actively teaching in Brazil, Tomio Kikuchi. They helped many people to recover their health and they inspired thousands of students, many of whom are today’s teachers in what has become a large and popular worldwide movement. As well as their work in education, they also pioneered the whole foods and organic movements – introducing many new plant-based foods and other natural products, encouraging organic farming methods, starting shops, restaurants and businesses. They also introduced health practices such as Shiatsu and Do-in.
As the world has become more globalised, more complex and is drifting further from a simple, natural way of life we need grounding principles and practices to stay well and focused. The teachings of Ohsawa, Kushi and others continue to provide a strong foundation for this, and today’s teachers and counselors bring their own wealth of knowledge and experience to make modern macrobiotics uniquely beneficial and relevant in today’s changing world.
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