Jing: The Substance of Vitality

Jing – it’s what you’re made of.

CAUTION: Includes explicit topics related to reproductive health.

In Chinese physiology, there is a substance that each of us possesses called jing – it’s often translated into English as “essence” or “vitality”. Jing is said to be stored in the kidneys and is believed to decline with age. In fact, the definition of aging in Chinese medicine is the loss of jing. Brittle bones, thin skin, hair loss, and cognitive decline are all symptoms of jing deficiency. Your jing is your genetic integrity and it is inherited from your parents. In this sense, congenital birth defects are also considered a jing deficiency.  This substance is a very yin substance and is said to be related to the Water element through it’s association with the Kidney. This makes sense, as Water has a relationship to one’s ancestors and to the past. Adequate jing is necessary for healthy reproduction and for sexual function. It is also necessary for growth and development, particularly of the bones and bone marrow. Going through puberty is like receiving a shot of stored jing from our kidneys.

Overwork, overthinking, age, and chronic oxidative damage are all things that can detract from one’s jing. Kidney yin deficiency and Kidney yang deficiency, if both present and profound enough, can equate to jing deficiency. It is considered a precious substance and is given to you at birth in a finite amount, so it’s best not to waste it by “burning the candle at both ends”. Whenever you work beyond your means (i.e. spend all the qi you have to give in a day and continue working), you drain your jing. It is said that whenever you go to bed without using up all your qi for that day, some of that qi gets transformed into jing – like change in a piggy bank.

To get at the importance of having a healthy storage of jing, I often compare it to a similar concept from another traditional healing system – Ayurveda. In Ayurvedic medicine, there is a substance believed to be contained in the heart called ojas. Each individual is born with only eight drops of ojas – when those eight drops are used up, the person dies.

There are some gender differences when it comes to jing-metabolism.

It is said that 100 drops of Blood is worth 1 drop of jing. This is where it gets more interesting – it is also said that 30 drops of semen is worth 1 drop of jing.

There are a few different statements being made here. One is that, the more yin a substance, the closer it’s relationship with jing. Semen is more yin than blood. It is also making the important point that men are at a higher risk of developing jing deficiency through lifestyle than women are.

Granted, childbearing is a remarkably jing-intensive process. However if a woman is careful and has prepared her body before bearing a child (by nourishing her blood and jing), then her jing will not suffer and both her and the baby will be healthy. When a woman’s body is not prepared to give birth, the baby pulls on the mother’s essence and women often lose bone density or teeth as a result of bearing a child. The biggest challenge for women is the cyclical loss of blood, which can have quite a pernicious effect on a woman’s health if not regulated and kept in balance. However, for men, the frequent and unregulated loss of semen, from the Chinese medical perspective, can pose much greater health risks – theoretically shortening a man’s life.

It is believed that the only way to nourish jing in Chinese Medicine is through qigong. So do your qigong!

For more information on how jing works in men and what they can do to prevent the loss of essence, see this article. (CAUTION: Explicit topics.)

Be good to your body. Take care of the vitality you were given.

Qi and Blood (and Their Imbalances)

Chinese Medicine is both a physiological and an energetic medicine. We deal primarily with what we call bodily substances. These are Qi, Blood, Yin, And Yang. Bodily substances can take more of an energetic form – as in Qi or Yang – or they can take a denser form – as in the case of Blood and Yin.

This article will cover Qi and Blood, the signs and symptoms of imbalance, and some simple lifestyle choices one can make to correct their imbalance. When reading this article, keep in mind that all Chinese Medicine understands pathology first and foremost in terms of excess or deficiency.

NOTE: This is not an exhaustive list and does not address the finer points of pathology and diagnosis in Chinese Medicine. It is recommended that you consult a practitioner to aid you in meeting your health goals.

Qi and its imbalances

For an entire article on Qi, check out What is Qi? Qi is the animating life force that sustains and mobilizes the functions of the body. The functions of Qi are to transport (Qi is what moves the Blood), transform (turning food into nourishment), hold (keeping your organs and Blood in place), protect (keeping pathogens out), lift (keeping your body upright) and warm (keeping your body nice and cozy).

Qi Stagnation

When the Qi of the body is not moving properly, it can become stagnant. This is an excess characteristic. Common things that cause Qi stagnation are a sedentary lifestyle, suppressing one’s emotions, too much dampness in the body (excess Yin), or not having enough Blood for the Qi to move (that’s its job). Symptoms of Qi stagnation are agitation and frustration, bloating, sighing, and dull aching or throbbing pain. Ways to relieve Qi stagnation naturally are exercise, expressing oneself, and getting in the Sun.

Signs: Swollen tongue (up and down), tense or cottony pulse

Qi Deficiency

When there is not enough Qi in the body, we refer to this as Qi deficiency. Common things that cause Qi deficiency are overwork, poor diet (leading to blood deficiency), poor digestion, and sleep deprivation. Symptoms are weak and heavy limbs, general fatigue, getting sick easily, poor digestion (which is also a cause) with loose stools, dull pain that is better with pressure, arrhythmia, bruising easily, trouble staying asleep, spontaneous sweating, shortness of breath, and prolapse. Ways to tonify Qi are eating nourishing and easily-digested foods, rest, and getting your bare feet on the ground. Qi tonics like green tea are also helpful!

Signs: Pale or swollen tongue (side to side) with thick coat and scalloped sides, a pulse that changes amplitude, where the vessel walls feel diffuse or feel like a thinly rolled cigarette

Blood and its imbalances

Blood is that which carries nutrients to tissues and what, in Chinese Medicine, is responsible for housing the mind and storing memories. This is why after a profoundly Blood-moving treatment, patients can experience a resurgence of old memories. Consequently, most treatments geared towards treating trauma in Chinese medicine involve Blood invigoration. Qi and Blood are intertwined. In Chinese Medicine it is said that Blood is the mother of Qi, and Qi commands it’s mother. In other words, you can’t have Qi without Blood, but Qi is what tells Blood where to go.

Blood Stagnation

Blood stagnation happens when the blood isn’t moving properly. This ultimately leads to thick, clotty blood. In Chinese Medicine, Blood stagnation is the most pernicious of all pathologies, but often only occurs with age or with circulatory problems. Blood stagnation can lead to fixed, stabbing pain that is better with movement and worse with rest (as it is an excess condition). Varicose veins and high blood pressure can be signs of Blood stagnation. Blood stagnation can also be cause by toxicity or toxic exposure. Ways to relieve Blood stagnation are exercise, working through old trauma, and getting in the Sun.

Signs: Purple tongue with thick, engorged veins underneath, a choppy pulse that feels grainy or rough like sandpaper

Blood Deficiency

Blood deficiency is a common pathology, but can be quite pernicious as well. Blood deficiency happens when there is not enough blood to nourish the tissues or for the mind to function well. Causes of Blood deficiency are poor diet (lacking in blood nourishing foods, esp. animal products), poor digestion (being unable to transform food into blood), sudden traumatic loss of blood, heavy periods, and overthinking. Symptoms of Blood deficiency are weakness, pale skin, numbness, dizziness, scanty periods, being easily startled or frightful, and the feeling of being small. Ways to nourish Blood are to eat a Blood nourishing diet (rich in iron and animal products), abstain from giving blood, rest (conserving one’s Qi in order to make more blood), and to both get your bare feet on the ground and your body in the Sun.

Signs: Pale or small tongue (esp. with pale sides), a pulse that feels narrow or thin

I hope these concepts help you to understand some of the fundamentals underlying the practice of Chinese Medicine. This knowledge can empower you to create a lifestyle that brings your body better into harmony with nature and promotes your wellbeing.