In East Asian Medicine, the pathway to vital health and longevity is to cultivate the physical and spiritual substances in the body called the Three Treasures: Jing, Qi, and Shen.
Jing is our life essence
Qi is our life force
Shen is our spirit
Jing, our life essence, is inherited from our ancestors and cultivated and protected through nutrition and lifestyle. It’s the basis for the growth of bones, teeth, hair, brain and sexual development. It controls reproductive function, hormones and fertility. There are two types of jing.
Prenatal Jing, called pre-heaven essence, is what you are born with and determines your body constitution and its ability to adapt and change to different life circumstances. You can’t add to your prenatal jing, you can only conserve it. In western medicine this is equivalent to our DNA, sperm and egg that you inherit from your parents.
Postnatal Jing, called post-heaven essence, is derived primarily from nutrition and your lifestyle. The postnatal Jing is the one that we can cultivate and influence through our life practices.
Our Jing is something that we must protect because how much of it we have, and how much we use up, determines our body’s ability to weather life’s stressors and how our body will respond to illness and disease.
Qi, pronounced “chee,” is our vital force. Qi is responsible for all our everyday body functions such as metabolism, functioning of our organs, and how our body is able to digest nutrients and influences from the outside environment.
When the free flow of Qi is blocked or not coursing smoothly through the body, it causes an imbalance and can result in illness and disease.
Throughout our lives, we naturally use up our Qi. Depending on our lifestyle, and what we do to replenish our life force will determine how much of it we are able to access throughout our lives.
Shen is our spirit. Our shen encompasses our emotions, our consciousness, our thinking, our wisdom, and our spiritual connection. It informs our awareness of our place in the world and in the Universe.
Cultivating the Three Treasures
Protecting and cultivating the Three Treasures is key to optimal health and longevity.
These three vital substances of the body can’t be separated, they all function together to maintain health. For example, maintaining a healthy body without also nourishing the Shen, or emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of our being can eventually lead to an imbalance in the body. You can work out everyday and have a fit body like a bodybuilder but also work crazy hours and don’t take the time to rest or address your emotions, you’ll burn through your jing or essence, not to mention depleting your qi or life force. Likewise, only paying attention to the emotion, the mind or spirit while neglecting the body can lead to disease. It’s like meditating every day but then eating only junk food, staying up late and getting only three hours of sleep each night. Paying attention to one aspect of our lives, while ignoring the others doesn’t lead to peace and health but more towards chaos and disease.
The key is balance and harmony. Conserving what we already have while cultivating more so we can have a reserve for a long, healthy and happy life.
The practice of cultivating your Jing, Qi, and Shen is profound medicine to both prevent and treat disease. We can cultivate these three treasures through such practices as acupressure, acupuncture, good food, herbal medicine, Tai Chi and Qi Gong. All of these practices aim to conserve our precious Jing, balance the Qi in the body and help us tap into our Shen.
When we tap into our potential by cultivating the three treasures we can achieve optimal health and access the deepest ways of our knowing and being in the world.