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.

What is Qigong?

Qigong is a form of energetic exercise that arises from an ancient Chinese tradition of martial arts and meditative movement practices. Qigong is actually a modern term that originated in the mid 20th century to describe the enormous variety of Chinese energetic exercises that had developed over the past several millenia. Taichi (or taiji chuan) is the more popular, more complex cousin of Qigong and is a true martial art. They both arise out of ancient practice of what is called daoyin, which is simply a “way of movement”, but encompasses any movement practice for health purposes, including self-massage and other physical exercises. Qigong is less of a martial art and more of a meditative practice intended to exercise the mind and strengthen and invigorate the qi. Qigong literally means “energy work” or “breath work”. One big difference between Taichi and Qigong is that there are generally more complex movements in Taichi and many of the movements involve the feet. In the majority of Qigong practices, the feet are often stationary and the hands do the movement. Some Qigong practices are simply meditative postures that don’t require movement at all. Sometimes people even make up their own energetic movements as part of their Qigong practice – this is called spontaneous Qigong.

The purpose of Qigong is to increase health and extend life. In Chinese medical theory, some believe that the only way to increase one’s pre-heaven essence is through Qigong – this is a profound statement. For some, sitting meditation can be difficult as it can be challenging to stand still for extended time. The practice of Qigong offers a fantastic alternative to sitting meditation in that it enables one to meditate while moving one’s body. This confers all the benefits of meditation plus the benefits of bodily awareness (mindfulness) and better postural practices. The same can be said for Taichi. Some Qigong exercises can be quite vigorous and either stretch and strengthen the muscles and joints or invigorate blood flow through the active movement of the body.

I have a saying that I often use in trying to explain the what I think is purpose of Qigong:

How strongly you can feel the qi in your hands is directly related to your level of success in your Qigong practice.

What I mean by this is to point out the importance of Qigong being first-and-foremost a mental exercise. It is a moving meditation on the life force energy that penetrates all of matter and encompasses the entire universe. To learn more about the nature of qi, click here.

The experience of qi can occur to different individuals in drastically different ways. This is due to your unique energy field and your relationship and role to play in the greater energy field in which we live. Generally, when one practices Qigong the experience of feeling the qi in one’s hands can be felt as

  • heat
  • cold
  • buzzing
  • tingling
  • numbness
  • heaviness
  • softness
  • magnetic (like your hands are magnets, either attracting or repelling)
  • electrical
  • flowing (like water)
  • spinning
  • pressure

and other sensations.

For some, this sensation comes easily and they might have profound qi sensations the first time they practice. To other, experiences the movement and the feeling of qi through Qigong takes time and work. Regardless of how it manifests for you – don’t give up. Every second you take out of your day to practice Qigong will improve your life.

The following video is one of my favorites to get people into the Qigong mindset:

I find Roger Jahnke’s work to be some of the very best. In my humble opinion, Roger Jahnke has “got it right” in his attitude towards the practice of Qigong. Regardless of one’s level of skill and regardless of what form (the particular set of exercises) one practices, we can always adopt the kind of attitude that Jahnke does – one of reverance,  meditation, and prayer – when we engage in the practice of Qigong. I think this will lead to deeper and longer lasting results.

There is much more to say about the practice of Qigong. Have a blessed journey in your practice of Qigong. I believe it is truly foundational in a deeper experience of life and will open up many doors to you.

What is Qi?

This is one of the most important topics on this website.

Qi (also written chi) is a complex Chinese term that has a number of meanings. It is most often translated as “breath” or “energy“, but can also refer to the weather, the mood of a certain day, things having to do with air, oxygen, or gas, and a persons attitude. This relationship between qi and breath points to the critical role of breathing when getting in touch with qi. The ancient Chinese character for qi is said to pictographically represent the steam that rises and falls from a cooking pot of rice.

In Chinese metaphysics, everything in the universe is a manifestation of qi. The universe even “before creation” itself was still qi. Qi is the universal substance of which all matter and space is composed. It is the substrate of reality itself.

This notion of a universal substance – qi – brings ancient Chinese philosophy in resonance with a formidable idea that permeates much of ancient history and still feeds a powerful undercurrent within both scientific and popular philosophy today – the notion of vitalism. Vitalism is the belief in a universal life force that penetrates all matter and animates all life. In English we might call it a “universal life force energy” or simply a “vital force”, but this very concept has taken so many forms throughout history that it would be quite a challenge to make an exhaustive list. However, here are a few: qi (Chinese), prana (Vedic), reiki or ki (Japanese), ruach (Hebrew), od (Norse), pneuma (Greek), mana (Polynesian), elan vital (French),¬†the Force¬†(Star Wars – just kidding but kinda not really) and many more.

The philosophy of vitalism used to play a fundamental role in the mind of the physician. It wasn’t until the 20th century that vitalism was almost entirely stamped out from the philosophical education of physicians in North America. The medical profession used to be much more based in faith in the body’s natural healing process rather than in the power of drugs and surgery. The ancient Greek notion of “vis medactrix naturae” or the “healing power of nature” drove the idea that, if given enough time and support and proper nourishment, the body has a way of bringing itself back into balance on it’s own. This underlies the idea that there is an intelligent life force that drives the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the individual. The adherence to this philosophy is, I believe, the most fundamental factor that divides the approaches of mechanistic biomedicine and holistic medicine. Western medicine was actually founded on this idea by the ancient Greek physicians such as Hippocrates and Galen, but this theory as well as many of the physiological understandings of the ancient world are considered obsolete in the eyes of conventional materialistic science.

This idea of an all-pervasive life force energy isn’t accepted by the mainstream scientific community. However, contrary to popular opinion, this is not for lack of evidence. Our world is replete both with scientific evidence and with anecdotal evidence. Quantum physics tells us that at the super sub-atomic level, the universe is an incredibly dense sea of literally pure energy (see my article on MakingtheMedicine.com). The phenomenon of psi is actually a well-supported fact with decades of research demonstrating it – telepathy, psychokinesis, and remote viewing all have tremendous support in scientific literature (see Dean Radin’s work or the book The Field by Lynne McTaggart). There are a number of phenomena that point to the existence of bioenergetic fields surrounding the bodies of living organisms, especially around humans (Kirlian photography, biophoton emission, etc.). The beneficial effects of faith healing, prayer, and Reiki are also well-supported. The laying on of hands of Christians and of ancient Greek followers of Asclepius are ancient examples of healing using this knowledge. The sensation of qi is common to many people who practice energywork or do taichi, qigong, or yoga.

What’s so important about this article is that to take the notion of qi seriously is to awaken to an entirely different worldview with entirely different possibilities than the ones we’ve been handed by Western materialism. It gives solid foundation to the idea that we are indeed deeply connected and that the substance from which we are made – pure energy – is the same everywhere.

Now that you’ve read up on qi, consider learning about how to use it through Qigong.

If you are interested in taking this discussion deeper, check out this website..

Three Treasures – Jing, Qi, & Shen

In Oriental Medicine (OM), the body is composed of three major parts – jing, qi, and shen. These are referred to as the Three Treasures (sanbao).

Jing is most often translated as essence or vitality. Jing is your genetic integrity and the ability of your cells to replicate. It is described as the blueprint your body uses to live and to grow, which you were given at birth from your parents – sounds a lot like DNA, right? I think the ancient Chinese were on to something.

Qi (sometimes written chi) is an increasingly common word in the English language. It is often translated into English as breath, but this does not encompass the entire concept implied by the word qi, as qi can also mean weather, mood, air, attitude, and other things. The translation agreed upon by most practitioners of OM is vital force or life force. As recently as the 20th century, the philosophy of vitalism, or the belief that there is an invisible energy that animates all life, was an accepted idea by medical professionals all over the world – an idea which has its roots in ancient natural philosophy. If you are looking for a similar concept, it is believed to be synonymous with the Vedic notion of prana. To learn more about qi, see this article.

Shen is translated as spirit. This entails both a person’s individual spirit and their access to the source spirit of the universe (call it what you will). We assess a person’s shen by the look in ones eyes. We believe that having a healthy shen is one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy state of being and in a good prognosis in the case of illness. If one’s shen is strong, he or she has a much greater likelihood of faster healing and longer life. When the shen wanders, mental illness or depression can develop.

The strategies handed down in OM work to keep these Three Treasure optimized and in balance. We use herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion, magnets, and other therapies to supplement and harmonize these fundamental components of the human being.

To learn more about bodily substances and how they be brought back into balance, check out these articles: