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The Roots of Illness Part 1 - Jing, Qi, and Shen

By Grandmaster Shou-Yu Liang and Master Wen-Ching Wu



Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses the terms jing (essence-of-life), qi (energy), and shen (spirit) to theorize and explain the human physiological system. It is believed that these three treasures (jing, qi, and shen) are the fundamentals for all facets of life and its many variations. Deficiency in any of the three will influence the other and can result in illness if not replenished or corrected.

Jing or essence-of-life is the fundamental material that makes up the human body, the material foundation of life. It is further classified under two categories, innate-jing and acquired-jing. Innate-jing is that which we inherit from our parents. Acquired-jing is from food and water converted by the stomach and spleen, with the excess stored in the kidneys along with innate-jing. Therefore, what you eat can significantly affect the jing in your body which in turn affects your qi and vitality. Innate-jing and acquired-jing are not separate parts stored in the kidneys. They mutually utilize and promote each other. When we are born, innate-jing already exists, providing the foundation for acquired-jing. After birth, acquired-jing is continually nurtured by the innate-jing to maintain and develop its functions.

Innate-jing includes reproductive essence or semen - the original substance needed for the construction of the human body. The jing stored in the kidneys is also closely related to reproduction and sexual function. Acquired-jing from food and water, is the essential substance needed for all human bodily activities and metabolism. Jing is continually being used and is also continually being replenished with food and water. Under normal condition the surplus of jing is stored in the kidneys. When jing is abundant, then your vitality will be strong and your adaptability to environmental changes will be adequate, to prevent illness. When jing is deficient, then your vitality will be weak and immunity to illness will be impaired.

Qi, generally speaking, is the intrinsic substance that makes up the cosmos, and produces all things through its movements and variations. The physiological definition of qi in TCM is the intrinsic substance that flows in the human body and is the impelling force for all activities. Qi includes the energy derived from the air, food, and water, as well as, the innate energy source we inherit from our parents. The existence of qi is felt indirectly and manifested as a result of the body's interactions within its integral parts and with its surroundings.

Qi in the human body is classified according to the source of the qi. Innate-qi comes from our parents. It is the energy source that we inherit from our parents when we are born. It is converted from innate-jing. Acquired-qi is converted from food, water, and air. The combination of innate-qi with acquired-qi is further classified as genuine-qi, serving as the dynamic force of all vital human functions. Because qi distributes in different parts of the body, it is further classified into different categories to explain the function of qi in different areas of the body.

The general term for these different types of qi, whether it is from innate-qi and/or acquired-qi sources, is called vital-qi. It is the cumulative term describing the human ability to defend against pathogenic influences that cause dis-ease. That is, the ability of the human body to ward off diseases depends on the abundance of lack of vital-qi in the body. The basic premise of qigong training is to remove stagnation and balance qi, and to build and strengthen vital-qi.

Qi is not visible to the untrained eye. Many gifted individuals and qigong practitioners are able to see a manifestation of qi as an aura. Even though most people are unable to see the qi, everyone can feel the qi. Qi can be felt as warmth, coolness, tingling and magnetic repulsion sensations.

Shen, loosely translates as spirit, is explained in TCM as mental faculties; and the expression of one's vitality of spirit. It is closely related to the function of the heart. It is the individual's expression of consciousness and living activities. Shen is derived form innate-jing, and relies on acquired-jing and qi for nourishment to maintain its function. It is the most important component of the human system. When shen is abundant, then the body will be strong, and the all the human systems will function harmoniously. When shen is scattered, then all the human functions will be debilitated. Shen is the cumulative term for the expression of one's vitality, as well as, the reflection or manifestation of the functions within the human body.

The condition of one's vitality of spirit, is also an expression of one's emotional state. Emotional disturbances can in turn cause energetic changes in the human body. One's vitality of spirit is an important factor that can influence one's health, recovery from disease, or can impede body functions. A stable emotional state and positive state of mind can maintain health and speed recovery. Whereas a low vitality of spirit and a constant bombardment of emotional disturbances will cause a scattering or stagnation of energy. Constant prolonged emotional disturbances manifest itself as physical dis-eases.