Traditional Chinese Medicine: Qi, Jing, Shen, and Blood
What Are These Vital Essences?
Before exploring the individual treasures or fluids that flow through every human body according to traditional Chinese medicine, it makes sense to determine what they are in general. After all, Western ideas of medicine and health do not usually deal with things like essences, energies, or even spirit. Those ideas are left to religion, spirituality, or similar topics.
All of the functional entities, as these essences and fluids are called, provide specific services to the body and mind. They are interconnected, dependent on one another, and responsible for certain functions that maintain health and balance. The concept of Yin and Yang is closely related. This idea, which is commonly symbolized by the curving black and white circle motif, speaks directly to the concept of balance of things like light and dark, hot and cold, feminine and masculine, and more.
Functional Entities Support Cardinal Functions
Although the concept of overall balance flows throughout the entire realm of TCM, it is too amorphous an idea to explain everything. This medical understanding and practice goes far beyond your concepts and into actual physiological improvement and treatment methods. It separated the health of the human body into five cardinal functions. These include:
- Movement as it pertains to the physical functions and processes of a body and not locomotion specifically
- Warming which has much to do with blood flow to the limbs and metabolism as we know it today
- Defense or the immune system functions
- Containment of bodily fluids and the prevention of things like dehydration
- Transformation of one substance to another such as food to energy and the process of respiration
Even from a very modern and Western perspective, it is easy to understand these five functions and how they cover every aspect of health that people require. We need things like proper blood and lymphatic flow to move hormones around appropriately, sufficient metabolism to keep our limbs active and healthy, immune system power to fight off infections, appropriate fluid levels, and all of the organ-supported functions like digestion, respiration, and more.
While people today may look at the system as purely physical, the traditional Chinese practitioners also included non-physical essences in the entire system. Interestingly enough, modern science supports the idea that things like meditation that has no direct physical process can certainly benefit the physical systems that affect overall health.
What are the functional essences that support the cardinal functions of the body and mind in traditional Chinese medicine?
Qi – The Vital Energy of Human Life
What is Qi? In TCM, Qi, which is sometimes spelled Chi, is the fundamental life force or essence that flows through everything else and touches on all the important parts of the body. Without this life force, there would be no life. It can go out of balance and generally affects every part of health and well-being possible.
Qi Flow Disruption or Obstruction
When Qi cannot flow effectively through the body, it results in a disruption of the five cardinal functions listed above. It depends where the blockage exists when determining what effect it has on health in general. In traditional Chinese medicine, a blockage in the flow of Qi usually results in some type of illness or disorder.
Qi Deficiency or Excess
If you do not have enough Qi, you may feel fatigued, lethargic, have digestive issues, and have a compromised immune system that will leave you open to infection and illness. If you have too much Qi, you may experience high levels of mental and physical stress, have difficulty sleeping, and have other health complaints that reduce the quality of your life.
In most cases, a deficiency of Qi affects the overall health and vitality of the body more than an excess. It is also more difficult to have too much. From your own personal perspective, you can understand that things like lack of energy and a compromised immune system leads to more frequent malaise.
The symptoms of Qi deficiency involve all different body systems. In TCM, they focus on the spleen primarily, although Western ideas would put them in different areas. When the traditional practitioners speak of the spleen, they are not describing the same organ that modern doctors do.
- Bloating and gas
- Lack of appetite
- Shallow breathing
- Asthma or congestion
- Lack of respiratory stamina
- Heart palpitations
- Compromised circulation
- Lack of happiness and positive emotions
Along with the negative emotions mentioned above, deficiency in Qi can also lead to anxiety, cognitive difficulties, and overall feeling of mental or spiritual exhaustion, and depression.
How to Improve Qi
While this site is not intended as a therapeutic tool, it does help to understand how you can increase Qi if you are deficient or regulate the balance necessary to maintain optimum health. Because this essence is the foundation of all other things in traditional Chinese medicine, it makes sense to pay attention to it on a regular basis. Some healthy habits greatly improve your chances of maintaining proper Qi levels and flow.
Some of the simple ways to improve Qi include:
- Get appropriate amounts of sleep every night
- Follow a healthy eating regimen
- Reduce stress and promote positive mental and emotional health
- Follow a comfortable exercise plan to invigorate and strengthen your body
- Practice positive breathing techniques with yoga or meditation
These healthy habits are easy to implement if you look to ancient Chinese practices that complement TCM considerably. These include things like tai chi or Qi gong, which are slow and balanced exercises or martial arts forms that combine body movements and breathing. They promote a stronger and more supple body, mental and emotional relaxation, and more. You may also like to try acupuncture, which is specifically designed to improve the flow of Qi and get rid of blockages.
Jing – The Essence of Growth
What is Jing? Although all of the five things listed in this report are frequently called essences, Jing is always called the essence as it is one of the fundamental substances of both the body and the spirit. TCM practitioners see it as both a physical and nonphysical thing that contributes to all life, growth, and the actual substance of being and reproducing.
Together with Qi, Jing is considered one of the ingredients for Shen, which is described below. Jing is commonly thought to be the Yin nature of being. Looking at it from a more modern perspective pushes the association with genetic material or DNA. It is believed that Jing is passed from parent to child and is responsible for making the individual who they are. It operates a bit like an energy anchor that keeps it inside of you and helps your overall health and function as long as you hold onto enough of it about your life.
What Does Jing Do in the Body?
Jing is specifically responsible for circulating through the entire body, helping to produce bone marrow, regulates the growth and development of the physical body, creates menstrual blood and semen, and works with Qi to promote immune function.
Signs and Symptoms of Jing Depletion
Although you start out life with a set amount of Jing, you can take certain steps to prevent its loss over time. Most of these involve living what is commonly called a life of moderation and following healthy practices with diet, exercise, appropriate sleep, avoidance of alcohol, drugs, and excessive sex, and maintaining emotional stability.
If your Jing is being depleted to quickly, you may experience some rather unpleasant symptoms. These include:
- Tiredness and lethargy
- Cognitive and memory problems
- Mental or emotional exhaustion or depression
- Accelerated aging
All of these things come about because people naturally leak Jing throughout their lives. No one is immortal, after all, and you cannot hold on to all of your Jing that you are born with no matter how healthy a lifestyle you adopt. It is natural to become more lethargic when you are elderly, for example. However, if you experience these symptoms before your time, it is a sign that you do not have sufficient protections in place to stop the leaks.
Restoring Jing Balance and Stopping the Leaks
In traditional Chinese medicine, improving Jing mostly comes down to stopping the leaks. However, there are also ways you can replenish it after it is gone. Most of it comes to before you were even born. However, because of the negative side effects of excessively quick Jing leakage, paying attention to protecting it makes more sense. With that in mind, the primary way to restore balance is to stop the behaviors that cause the rapid Jing depletion.
Sometimes, this is especially difficult because the symptoms of Jing depletion directly counter all the efforts made to stop. When you are excessively lethargic, for example, you hardly want to start an exercise regimen. When you have difficulty with thought or memory, taking on tasks to improve it become more difficult. However, these are the types of things you must do in order to restore appropriate Jing processes.
Some of the ways to stop the Jing leaks that affect your overall health include:
- Minimizing all forms of physical, mental, and emotional stress
- Adopting habits that fight inflammation
- Getting sufficient sleep every night
- Making time for relaxation and recreation
- Using herbal supplements that promote a healthy stress response
Because Jing is closely tied to blood marrow formation, the reproductive system, and is stored in the kidneys, anything that supports these body systems can help in TCM. From a modern perspective, a lot of these symptoms have to do with chronic fatigue and stress and adrenal deficiency. Stress relief and overall healthy practices remain the basis of balance when it comes to this important life essence.
Shen – The Presence of Mind and Spirit
What is Shen? As Jing and Qi come together, they create the physical foundation upon which Shen exists. Shen is the Yang nature of being and has a nonphysical existence as what we would call the spirit or soul depending on your spiritual ideas. In traditional Chinese medicine, the people believe that this spirit was stored in the heart and blood vessels, flowed throughout the body bringing balance and emotional regulation to the person.
What Does Shen Do Exactly?
When many people in the Western world here is a term “spirit” they instantly think of religious practices, prayer, and things outside of physical health. For traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, the Shen was as integral a part of existence as any other part of the body or mind. It was associated with the mind more so than any Western understanding of religious spirits. It regulates things like thinking, consciousness, memory, and intent.
Shen involves concepts like consciousness, mental and emotional energies and desires, and overall vitality. If you pay attention when looking at a group of people at your school, office, or in a social situation, you can quickly pick out those who seem to have more energy or glow with an inner light. They feel positive, uplifting, engaging, and expressive. From a traditional point of view, these people would have high levels of Shen.
Although this example puts it in a positive light, the power of the spirit inside a person is not always good. The power and vitality that comes from Shen can inspire others to do either great or horrific things. One of the most common examples includes the dichotomy between Martin Luther King Jr. and Adolf Hitler. They are both extremely charismatic, energetic, and influential, but they certainly have different foci when it comes to influencing others.
Is Shen a Religious Idea?
Some people automatically equate the concept of the spirit with religion. However, Shen has very little to do with any practice or prayers. It is more of a philosophical idea closely entwined with the physical nature of people as understood by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. In order to understand and balance your own Shen, you do not have to adopt any religious beliefs.
Instead of thinking of a spirit as something synonymous with the soul, think of how we use the term in a colloquial sense. Someone may call a child high-spirited, or you show your spirit at a sports game. It is more about innate non-physical energy than anything else.
Problems that Arise With Shen Imbalance
One of the most obvious issues associated with an imbalance or lack of Shen is the field of mental illness. Things like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder that affect a person’s ability to intentionally think and use their personal energy as they want to wear some of the more serious Shen-related diagnoses.
The majority of health problems that arise from insufficient Shen power include a long list of things that could be considered mental or emotional conditions rather than precise diseases or disorders. Anyone with reduced cognitive function, memory, or mental acuity would be described as having an obstructed or clouded Shen. This is not particularly associated with people who are developmentally delayed or have a low IQ, for example. Instead, it is an explanation for temporary states of being.
Because of the holistic attitudes associated with everything involved in traditional Chinese medicine, the Shen was not dealt with as a separate entity or characteristic of a person. The practitioners believe there are physical aspects and reasons for even mental or spiritual challenges.
Boosting Shen Health
In traditional Chinese medicine, the balance of Shen is not really measured quantitatively. A person does not run out of Shen like they may run out of Jing. Instead, the problems associated with it have more to do with obstructing or weakening the power of Shen rather than making it disappear. Common phrases people still use today such as “clouded judgment” or “foggy memory” clearly indicate this concept. Dampness and its associated form Phlegm, in fact, are major obstructors of Shen.
In order to stabilize or free your Shen, it makes sense to look at the types of things that obstruct it. Anxiety, insomnia, stress, pain, and physical illnesses all get in the way of its free expression. Diet can reduce Phlegm dampness. Boosting Shen health therefore primarily deals with reducing these problems. Get a good night’s sleep, meditate or remove yourself from stressful situations, connect with people you feel comfortable with, and engage your mind in some type of creative pursuit.
Together, Qi, Jing, and Shen forms of three vital treasures of life. They are interconnected and support each other in various ways to promote overall well-being that includes physical, mental, and spiritual health. If you are interested in any side of traditional Chinese medicine, you will come across these terms frequently. They are used as part of herbal supplementation regimens, acupuncture, and every other aspect of this ancient health system.
While they may form the foundation, they are certainly not the only essential substances or fluids considered in TCM. From a more physical perspective, practitioners also look at the Xue, or blood, and the Jin Ye, which comprises all other bodily fluids.
Xue – The Blood
When you compare traditional Chinese medicine to modern Western medicine, some aspects and ideas show up in both. Both practices understand that things like healthy nutrition, quality sleep habits, and exercise support your whole-body health and well-being. When it comes to essences and elements, however, the main one shared by both medical foundations is blood or Xue.
Xue in TCM is more than just the red fluid that flows through your circulatory system. It is a formula to part of Qi, a main source of nourishment for all the body parts that create Qi, and is also created from Jing. As mentioned above, Jing is closely related with the bone marrow, which shows that ancient Chinese medical practitioners understood where blood was formed before their Western counterparts stated the same thing.
What Does Xue Do in Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Besides being an integral part and vehicle for the Qi, it also supports the Shen or spirit. It is described very much like a transportation system that consists of both the roads and vehicles at the same time. The transport of nutrients and vital essences occur primarily in the Xue. As with everything else, it is a fully integrated element of everything else that makes the body function properly.
Xue Issues and Their Symptoms
Unlike Western medicine, a lack of sufficient Xue or some type of imbalance is not associated directly with something like anemia or a pathogen. Instead, deficiencies, stagnation, and excessive heat, which is not associated with temperature in TCM, point to problems like heart palpitations, fatigue, pain, pale skin, excessive bleeding, and even anger.
Jin Ye – The Other Vital Bodily Fluids
All of the other bodily fluids that physically exist both inside and outside the human body are lumped together in traditional Chinese medicine as Jin Ye. This term means both light and clear fluids, such as saliva, tears, and sweat, and heavy and thick ones, such as mucus, synovial fluid, and the substances that lubricate organs and even the brain. Jin fluids are considered generally external although organs like the lungs are integral in their production and use. Ye fluids are controlled by the kidneys, spleen, and other lower organs and are always internal.
Instead of being viewed individually as points of interest or things to watch when it comes to diagnosing health issues in traditional Chinese medicine, the Jin Ye were primarily seen as an integral part of other fluids, essences, or energies in the body. They heavily supported the blood, various organs, and nourish the Qi. At the same time, if these fluids are seen in excess, it is an obvious sign that Qi, Xue, or other imbalances exist. This led practitioners of TCM to create treatments that focused on either one or the other rather than approaching both the same time. If a patient was sweating excessively, for example, they would not want to disrupt blood levels as well.
Jin Ye fluids are created through digestion of food and the intake of water. Of course, the TCM practitioners could identify the correlation between not drinking enough and dehydration that causes minimum sweating or urination. They also understood that these bodily fluids were responsible for transporting nourishment to different organs including the skin, helping to produce blood, facilitating the flow of Qi, and aiding in the metabolism of all other fluids and essences contained within the body.
Whether you focus on the three treasures of life or expand your attention to include all five vital substances, it gives you additional insight into how your body and mind function. While some of these concepts align with modern or Western medicine, some may seem unusual or new age in some ways. In truth, there are all part of an understanding that goes into the ancient art of traditional Chinese medicine.
As more people learn about these essences and how they are said to operate, they can work toward better mind and body balance and improved overall health and well-being. The included understanding of Yin and Yang, and how that engine idea symbolizes the balance of everything both internal and external adds to the possibilities of achieving or reclaiming optimum health.