Part 1: The flow of Jing and Chi
All of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) hinges on the interplay of 3 things. Jing, Chi, and Shen. In this post we are going to explain the role of Jing and Chi to our martial art, meditation and self-healing practice. In the following post we’ll go over how we connect and use these “Three treasures” to greatly benefit our lives.
If you’ve had any exposure to me before you probably have gathered this, I’m not a big fan of esoteric or spiritual explanations of concepts. I like to keep things as concrete and useful as possible. I feel these types of explanations are detrimental to that goal. The reason I bring this up is because many times explanation of Jing, Chi, and Shen can get very spacey, I’ll do my best for that not to happen.
Lets start off by giving Jing, Chi, and Shen short simple definitions on which we’ll elaborate further. Jing is similar to our primordial essence, Chi is similar to vitality or energy, and Shen is similar to spirit or our true/detached selves.
Jing is similar to essence. What do we mean by this? In TCM Jing is like our original/primordial essence it’s our physical being and can be equated to our DNA to a certain extent. It is what we have physically to work with, and has obvious limits. Jing is like our DNA programming but it’s also our physical selves. For example our body can digest foods and every cell operates by its DNA to use those nutrients in their intended way, this is using Jing/Yuan (original) Chi. When a cell replicates, it can only replicate a certain amount of DNA. The more DNA it replicates there are minor errors or small changes to the DNA, causing aging and a number of issues. In time our cells can’t replicate as efficiently as they used to which is why as we age it takes longer to heal, our metabolism slows, etc. in TCM this would be called running out of Yuan Chi. Our cells and our body can only be pushed so far before we run out Jing, this primordial essence. Every form of matter has a finite start and finish so everything in this sense has a sort of Yuan Chi it lives on. When it runs out, that’s it, the end, no more refills.
Chi holds a vital role in the use of Jing and Shen. In the case of Yuan Chi, Chi is the vitality or energy taken from our essence to do the work. Taken out of context in TCM, Chi is that which connects all things. Keeping this concept in mind and building on the example we used above, Chi is the change from DNA code to action. It is the intermediary vitality or energy that facilitates the change. In TCM there are various types of Chi, the 3 we are mainly concerned with is our Yuan (original, or jing) Chi, Wei (external or protective) Chi, and our Ying (nutritional/internal) Chi.
The interplay of Yuan, Wei, and Ying Chi
Our Jing Chi is effected by how well we balance our lifestyle. Take your car as an example, to get the car started you have to use your battery, to kick start the engine. Once the engine is running then the carburetor charges the battery. If the carburetor is bad then it will not charge the battery sufficiently, or if the battery doesn’t hold a charge the carburetor has to work overdrive to get the battery back. The carburetor is your Ying Chi, the nutrients from food and air that we use to recharge our battery and gain energy for life. Once the battery is charged, and our life processes are working well, the left over juice goes to protect us from diseases and invigorate our health. Just like in a car if your battery doesn’t work well and you’re running too many things it will dull the lights, with more you pack on. That left over juice is our Wei Chi that helps protect us from sickness and ill health. The balance of our diet, rest, and lifestyle builds Ying Chi. Exercise, and activity helps distribute our Wei Chi. When these two things are working well, along with a balanced relationship + sex life our Jing Chi remains undisturbed and is not depleted prematurely.
Part 2: The Commander of Our Existence
Traditional Chinese Martial Arts (TCMA), Chi Kung, and nutrition have huge impacts on all types of Chi, beyond the physical conditioning it is mainly because of their impact on Shen. Shen takes a pivotal role in all of these mechanics as a commander of actions. Being the commandant of our body it is the central focus when we train in TCMA + CK. This is the reason why character building takes a central role in any TCMA approach to training the art. Knowing its importance how do we describe our Shen?
Shen is simply translated as Spirit. The view of Spirit, in the sense we are talking, should be a culmination of your strength, wisdom, compassion, patience and tolerance. A concrete applicable thing, as opposed to an ethereal form that exists. The purity of your Shen can be seen in the development of your character and your upright actions supported by honor and truth. The strength of your Shen is what determines to a great degree the path of your life, and consequently the bodily health that results from your lifestyle.
My Grandmother used to write to me in depth on these things when I was going through various hardships of combat and otherwise when I was in the Marine Corps. I’ll start off by quoting her directly and then describing how this fits into our overarching topic of using Jing, Chi, and Shen.
“When wisdom controls desire you live longer. When emotion overcomes wisdom you die early.”
These attributes and interplay of wisdom versus emotion and desire; spirit versus the body, is very important. When wisdom and spirit are strong and in command all things function well and our lives are directed in the correct manner, as we touched on earlier in TCM this is seen as building, saving, and nourishing our Chi. When wrongful desires, emotions or urges of the body are in command, in TCM we’d say we’re losing our Chi because it is led by its own devices.
In the training of Chi Kung especially we focus on building the main attributes of Shen to command all parts of our body. For a more in depth post on how we command with our Shen read:
Chi Kung: Mechanics of Yi and Blood
Daniel R. Hyde