The most logical place to start a discussion on health, longevity and energy according to Traditional Chinese Medicine is by way of a brief introduction to what the Chinese call “The Three Treasures”. The Three Treasures in reference to human physiology are jing, chi, and shen.
Jing translates roughly as vital essence and loosely comprises core physical components such as blood, hormones, sexual fluids, lymphatic fluid and synovial fluid. The jing is closely related to the energy of the kidneys and the adrenal glands according to TCM, and the amount of jing that one possesses is largely considered to be determined by genetics, or what the Chinese call, “pre heaven essence”. Although jing can be somewhat nourished, restored and regulated by diet, nutritional supplements and other lifestyle factors considered “post heaven essence”, one’s potential for longevity and health is determined largely at birth by one’s DNA. We’ve all heard stories about the guy that chain smoked, drank like a fish, generally partied like a rock star and lived to be 98 years old. We’ve also heard about the guy that ate a macro-biotic diet, practiced yoga religiously, treated children and old ladies with the utmost respect and died at the age of 35 with a brain tumor. Well those are pretty extreme examples, but the point is clear, DNA and genetic potential is a pretty important factor in our lives.
Whatever our genetic inheritance may or may not have been however, there is an entire science and branch of Chinese medicine that deals with regulating and restoring jing for the purpose health, energy and longevity. The idea behind maintaining and regulating jing is basically this: eat right, get plenty of rest, watch the drink and drugs, regulate your sexual activity and most importantly, don’t stress… about anything… ever. Stress whether physical, mental or emotional prompts the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline in the short term and cortisol and DHEA in the long term. Long term stress is a sure fire ticket to adrenal burn out and the waste of precious jing. Burn out your adrenals and your entire endocrine system, nervous system, digestive system and immune system are in deep trouble and chronic fatigue and illness are a stone’s throw away.
So what to do; live in a cave? No, just get your priorities straight. Get enough rest. Eat as clean and as balanced of a diet as you can. Examine any medications that you are taking and be sure that they are absolutely necessary. The fewer chemicals there are in your daily intake, the less your body has to fight to rid itself of toxins. Regulate stimulants (insert guilty glance at my iced coffee here). And most of all, enjoy your life. Enjoy the little things, the simple things. If you are one of those people that feels the need to go on a skydiving marathon after attending an all-night rave, just so you don’t get bored, well, maybe longevity just isn’t your thing. No big deal, it just depends on what you want out of life.
The second of the three treasures is chi. Chi translates loosely as “energy”. It corresponds to all of the dynamic, metabolic processes that transpire in the body including the production of energy from ATP, and it is derived from both “pre heaven essence” and “post heaven essence”. If the body were a hybrid vehicle, the amount of gas in the tank would be the jing and the electricity that we generate to preserve and offset the amount of gasoline used would be chi. In a nutshell, chi is derived primarily from the food we eat and the quality of the air we breathe and correlates therefore, most closely with the digestive and respiratory systems.
So how do we nourish and maintain healthy levels of chi? Again, much of our controllable ability to nourish ourselves revolves around proper diet. Add to that regular exercise and plenty of fresh air. Exercises created by the ancient Chinese specifically for generating and maintaining abundant chi include Chi Kung and Tai Chi. Notice that both of those exercises include the term chi? Both Chi Kung and Tai Chi combine calisthenics and stretching with deep breathing exercises for a well-rounded exercise regimen designed to improve energy. Acupuncture is another great option for balancing and improving the utilization of energy throughout the human body, and regular acupuncture treatments can go a long way to helping to improve the quality and quantity of chi. In addition to diet, exercise and acupuncture, the Chinese have a long history of utilizing herbs to strengthen and nourish both jing and qi. The herbs most beneficial to each individual are specific to their particular constitution and are best explored with the assistance and under the supervision of a qualified practitioner of Chinese Medicine.
The third of the three treasures according to TCM is shen. Shen translates roughly as “spirit” in the English language. When the mind and body are at peace and in good repair, one naturally resides in a balanced repose indicative of a healthy shen. Although shen is closely related to jing and qi on a relative level, shen or “spirit” ultimately transcends both the mind and body and continues its existence beyond one’s mortal coil. Meditation, prayer and other contemplative techniques geared toward realization of one’s true nature are the means by which one becomes familiar with shen, and how one moves toward ultimate peace.
The potential for health, longevity and energy all culminate in, and are encompassed by, the ultimate treasure that is shen. It is well beyond the scope of this short article to be able to thoroughly examine the nature of spirit and the means by which it can be revealed and embraced, but get this part right and everything else falls into place naturally. Who are we really? What lies beyond the temporal body and finite human mentality? As far as I can tell, there is only one real way to find that out.
Terry M. Chen, Licensed Acupuncturist
Open Sky Acupuncture, Eugene Oregon