The July 2016 issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences includes an article of interest to AHP readers. The piece describes the use of breathing exercises as a treatment for neurasthenia in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century. Full details follow below.
“A Disorder of Qi: Breathing Exercise as a Cure for Neurasthenia in Japan, 1900–1945,” by Yu-Chuan Wu. The abstract reads,
Neurasthenia became a common disease and caused widespread concern in Japan at the turn of the twentieth century, whereas only a couple of decades earlier the term “nerve” had been unfamiliar, if not unknown, to many Japanese. By exploring the theories and practices of breathing exercise—one of the most popular treatments for neurasthenia at the time—this paper attempts to understand how people who practiced breathing exercises for their nervous ills perceived, conceived, and accordingly cared for their nerves. It argues that they understood “nerve” based on their existing conceptions of qi. Neurasthenia was for them a disorder of qi, although the qi had assumed modern appearances as blood and nervous current. The paper hopes to contribute to the understanding of how the concept of nerves has been accepted and assimilated in East Asia. It also points out the need to understand the varied cultures of nerves not only at the level of concept and metaphor, but also at the level of perception and experience.