'Three treasures' in the human body determine quality and length of life

Zhang Ciyun
Jing, Qi and Shen are the crux of traditional Chinese medicine. When healthy and strong, they make the human body “click.”
Zhang Ciyun

The “Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon,” the earliest text on the theories and practices of traditional Chinese medicine, contains 156,507 Chinese characters but lists only 13 prescriptions of medicine. It refers to Jing (精), Qi (气) and Shen (神) as the three best medicines.

Today, Jing, Qi and Shen are still considered the three vital concepts in traditional Chinese medicine.

Jing (精) is translated as “essence” in English and is defined as “all tangible nutrients of the human body.” According to the World Health Organization’s standard terminologies for traditional Chinese medicine, “it can also specifically refer to the kidney essence.”

More specifically, there are two different kinds of Jing: prenatal and postnatal. The prenatal Jing is acquired via biological heredity from one’s parents and is stored in one’s kidneys. It technically cannot be replenished and is used up gradually. It determines a person’s basic constitution, strength and vitality, and it is fundamental to one’s growth and reproduction. So, the English word “sperm” is called jingye, or “Jing fluid,” in Chinese.

Insufficient prenatal Jing is said to cause lack of physical strength, waist and back aches, and feebleness in the knees.

Traditional Chinese medicine doctors often advise people to practice certain physical exercises, such as tai chi, qigong or other deep breathing exercises to help conserve the prenatal Jing.

Postnatal Jing is acquired by the nutritive substances obtained through eating, drinking and breathing. So, it largely depends on the functions of one’s stomach and spleen, the two key organs for food digestion.

Most traditional Chinese medicine practitioners agree that the postnatal Jing can partly replenish the prenatal Jing despite the belief that the amount of the latter is decided at the birth.

'Three treasures' in the human body determine quality and length of life

Traditional Chinese medicine doctors often advise people to practice certain physical exercises such as tai chi and qigong to preserve well-being.

Qi (气) is difficult to translate into English because there are no equivalent concepts in the English-speaking realm. Some people translate it as “vital energy” or “life energy” or “life force.” WHO defines Qi as “the intangible, high-mobility nutritive substance that maintains vital activities” in the human body.

There is still no hard, conclusive scientific evidence to prove the existence of Qi, but people nonetheless can feel it and even manipulate its movement for health and therapeutic results.

Some people make an analogy between blood and Qi in the human body and water and air on earth. We all understand that blood flows around our body inside vessels, just as water travels the earth in rivers and streams. And Qi, flowing in our body through the meridian system, is just like air on earth, which is invisible but is everywhere, linking everything and influencing everything.

Like Jing, Qi is also divided into the congenital Qi that one inherits from parents and acquired Qi that one obtains mainly from breathing, eating and drinking, and from some physical exercises such as qigong.

Some medical researchers believe Qi refers to a vague concept of the finest matter believed to exist in all possible aggregate states, from air and vapor to liquid and even solid matter.

But according to ancient Chinese philosophers, Qi is comprised of Yin and Yang. It is not only the basic substance of the universe, but also a key factor in conserving a person’s health and well-being. So, in traditional Chinese medicine, a human being is described as a microcosm interacted by Qi with the surrounding natural conditions.

Disease is perceived as a disharmony of Yin and Yang in the human Qi. When the flow of Qi in one’s body is insufficient, unbalanced or interrupted, Yin and Yang become unbalanced, which will result in illness.

Acupuncture, which has now become familiar in the West, is the practice of inserting needles into the skin’s epidermis, subcutaneous tissue and muscles at specified points to stimulate the flow of Qi and restore the balance between Yin and Yang, thus reinstating the health of mind and body.

Shen (神) refers to the psycho-emotional aspects in traditional medicine. It is translated as “spirit” in English. According to WHO, Shen means dominance of life activities, the outer manifestation reflecting life’s activities and state of mind, mood and mental activities.

Traditional Chinese medicine explains that Shen lives in one’s heart and retires to the spleen at night. When Shen is disturbed, one suffers from insomnia. On the other hand, well-cultivated Shen brings peace of mind.

One of the salient outer manifestations of Shen is said to be in the eyes. Healthy Shen makes the eyes bright and shining, full of vitality. There are several popular Chinese idioms using Shen: jiong jiong you shen (炯炯有神), or “bright and piercing eyes;” shen cai yi yi (神采奕奕), or “beaming and buoyant in spirit;” and shen qing qi shuang (神清气爽), or “fresh and energetic.”

Therefore, Jing, Qi and Shen are called the “three treasures” in the human body, and they are usually considered the three key factors that determine the quality of life and its longevity.

The “three treasures” are interdependent and also reinforce one another. Balance and harmony among the three is vital in boosting a person’s activities and preserving well-being.

So, when the “three treasures” are balanced and strong, everything seems to “click” in the human body.

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