Bathing Practice

Each culture has totally different standards and conceptions about what constitutes clean. Last year the New Yorker had some pictures of people living in a garbage dump in Nigeria. They were wearing bright beautiful clothing and looked cleaner than I do. Japanese are incredibly clean, I've watched men in public baths scrub their entire bodies as many as eight times before getting in the bath to soak. Yet I've seen rural places where Japanese will toss trash on the ground.

Within the United States, even among my friends, there is a lot of variation in what we each perceive as "clean enough." For instance I've noticed that female Italian Americans have very high standards of what constitutes a clean kitchen.

I must admit I find Chinese notions of cleanliness puzzling. Chinese brush-bathing seems to be as much about a feeling of health as it is about getting clean. The idea is to enliven the protective layer of qi on the surface of the body.

This layer of qi is called weiqi. The entire surface of the skin is stimulated so that the weiqi will be distributed evenly around the body. Uneven weiqi results in one part of the body being cold while another part is hot. It is also associated with the first stage of many illnesses, and historically with various types of spirit possession.

I highly recommend trying brush-bathing everyday for two months during the winter. After two months if you like it you won't want to stop.

Developing your weiqi will make you more sensitive to wind and changes in temperature. It tends to improve circulation and may help tonify the liver and the lungs.


  1. Bathing room should be clean, free of drafts, and not too bright.

  2. Rinse in warm water, a bathing stool, a small bucket, a large bucket, a washcloth, and a brush.

  3. Sit on the stool and fill the large bucket with hot water and douse yourself (repeat).

  4. Refill the large bucket and use the washcloth on your head, neck and face.

  5. Scrub your whole body thoroughly and evenly with the brush, beginning at the top and working toward the feet.

  6. Douse yourself with the remaining water.

  7. Use the smaller bucket to rinse yourself four times with hot water, then once with cold.

  8. Rise your equipment and vigorously dry off using a rough towel.