The Principles Of The Chinese Art Of Radiant Health
Oneness With Nature
In the Orient, all philosophy, art and science are traditionally based on the fundamental realization that there is an intrinsic unity to all things. All things and all processes are connected and all things and processes influence everything else in some way or manner. The ancient people thought of the world as a great mysterious ecosystem where the health and vitality of one aspect of the system could be felt throughout the system. The ancient Chinese emphasized this unity and stressed that the glue that holds it together is the harmony of the system. Certainly small disharmonies arise in nature, but they are immediately counterbalanced. If a change is radical enough, then the whole entity must change.
We can see this so clearly today as humankind industrializes and alters the face of the earth in amazingly broad strokes. Our industrialization, so far, has resulted in ecological destruction. There are millions of examples, but a couple should suffice in providing illustration. We invent refrigeration. The coolant is not fully understood in terms of its long term effects on the environment. After just a few decades of use, it turns out that it is contributing to a depletion of the earth’s ozone layer, which protects us from extraterrestrial radiation. As a result, animals and fauna are dying and humans are more prone to cancer, and probably other disorders.
The human body, mind, and spirit form one complete whole within themselves and with the environment and with the universe. Oriental philosophers and scholars long ago recognized the interconnectedness of the various parts of the body to one another. Oriental knowledge of these connections is both extensive and enlightening. The organs have reflex actions on various distant places in the body because of energetic, chemical, neurological and psychic connections.
In the Oriental health arts, it is accepted as indisputable truth that the physical body and the psychic aspects of a human being are inseparable. Changes in one's physical being will result in changes in one's thinking and in one's intuitive and unconscious psychic processes. The state of one’s mind likewise directly and indirectly influences the gross and subtle condition of one's physical nature. This notion of the interconnectedness of the body and psyche is fundamental to the Oriental health arts.
Virtually all aspects of health and sickness are rooted in the union and disintegration of the body and the psyche. In the East, it is taught that by cultivating one's body, one can influence the quality of thought and intuitive experience, which can lead to a truly successful, happy, enlightened life. This is the basis of the superior herbal system, as well as of, dietary and exercise arts, and of acupuncture and acupressure. Inversely, cultivating the various aspects of one's psyche can and does have profound influence upon one's physical nature. This is the basis of meditation, guided imagery and visualization techniques.
The Oriental health-maintenance and health-promotion arts, such as the superior herbalism, take full advantage of this oneness of body and psyche to help each person to grow to as full a state of health, well being, and spiritual awareness as the person is ready to achieve. The tonic herbs are used to bring about changes in one's physical condition, and simultaneously are routinely used to influence the conscious and subconscious mind, the emotions, and the human spirit.
No form of health care is complete unless it recognizes and utilizes this principle of the unity of physical and psychic energy, because in fact there is no real distinction between them. Thus the goal of Chinese tonic herbalism is never to influence a singular change in just one aspect of a person's physical or psychic life. The real goal is to help the user of the tonic herbs to establish a harmony of body, mind and spirit which can result in a new level of well being, a new level of health and happiness that forms the foundation for true spiritual discovery, growth, and eventual enlightenment.
The principle goes beyond unity just within the isolated human being. A person is also always seen to be intimately interconnected with their environment in both the small and large sense. Oriental philosophy is essentially naturalistic and recognizes that a human being is as much a part of nature as any other being of this planet. We have evolved over millions of years by the process of adaptation. A human life is complex even beyond our imagination, but this complexity has evolved so that we can survive and flourish within the environment found on earth at this time.
Any change in the environment influences us both physically and psychically. How we handle such changes, how we adapt to the stresses of life, will be the determining factor in our health and well being. Conversely, as we change, the environment around us will be influenced and will reflect our changes. Thus it is true that by harmonizing one's environment, one harmonizes one's own life. And in harmonizing one's own life, one's environment will be brought into order.
The greatness of Oriental natural philosophy lies to a great degree in the subtlety and breadth of vision with regard to the interconnectedness of a human being and his or her environment. The seeker of radiant health recognizes such influences as seasonal change, the wind, heat, cold, dryness, moisture and so on as fundamental causative factors in one's health as well as one's dis-ease.
The greatness of Chinese tonic herbalism lies in its adaptogenic quality; that is, the ability to enhance the body-mind's capacity to adapt optimally and accurately to changes in the environment. This adaptability allows us to lead a much richer, broader, adventurous life. Another aspect of their greatness lies in their ability to harmonize the physical energies within the body, and to harmonize the physical and psychic energies of a human being so as to increase optimum functioning.
The Principle Of Yin And Yang
The principle of Yin and Yang is the fundamental concept of the Chinese health care system. The principle of Yinand Yang is an all-embracing system which can be used to describe virtually all natural phenomena. The principle of Yin and Yang has withstood the test of time and stands today as arguably the greatest model of the universe known to mankind.
Yin and Yang are opposing components of one integrated whole. They are totally interdependent, interacting constantly so as to maintain the normality and integrity of the whole. Each in turn tends to dominate over the other, but no total dominance is permanent and eventually the other takes its turn as the dominant force. This interplay of opposing forces establishes the basis of all existence and all change.
The Chinese call the principle of Yin and Yang "the Great Principle." The Great Principle describes the innately dynamic, polar, cyclic nature of everything in the universe. Although many people find the principle of Yin and Yang foreign at first, it is in fact a very simple concept to grasp---and extremely reasonable. Every thing and every process in nature can be seen as having a cyclic nature, and are thus governed by the Great Principle. Light and sound move in waves that are cyclic. The earth turns on its axis resulting in an endless multitude of cyclic manifestations here on earth.
Human sleeping/waking cycles, seasonal changes and the millions of microscopic cycles that support these daily and seasonal changes are the result of the larger cycles in our solar system, galaxy and super-galactic systems. Within our bodies, our hearts beat, our lungs breathe, our glands secrete hormones, and our bowels and bladder excrete waste rhythmically. Our eyes each dominate for several minutes at a time, rhythmically. Indeed, virtually every human function follows rhythmic (cyclic) patterns.
Yin and Yang Defined
These rhythms are described and explained by the Great Principle, the principle of Yinand Yang. But what are Yin and Yang? Yin is defined as that part of a cycle in which energy is being accumulated, assimilated and stored for later use. Yang is defined as that part of a cycle in which energy is being expended in order to create a manifest action. Thus Yin is often associated with rest, receptivity and quietude, while Yang is associated with action, expansion and movement. Yin should not be thought of as the absence of Yang. Nor should it be automatically associated with weakness. Yin is at the very core of existence. Yin is in fact the very substance of life, and it is absolutely essential to all functioning. Yang on the other hand is the functional aspect of any process and is also essential to life. Yang sometimes seems more obvious than the inward manifesting Yin, but there is no Yang without Yin.
In Chinese tonic herbalism, we utilize the principle of Yin and Yang constantly. Some herbs are activating, drying, warm or hot: these are Yang. And some of these herbs affect the body profoundly and fundamentally to build up the Yang power of the body, mind and spirit: these are the Yang tonic herbs.
On the other hand, herbs that are nourishing, moistening, cooling or anti-inflammatory, are said to be yin in nature. Those substances that nurture the fundamental reserves of the body, mind and spirit are called Yin tonics.
Yin and Yang are often associated with the female and male forces in the Western world. This association has its value, but in many ways serves to confuse students of Oriental philosophy until a deep understanding has been attained. Relative to one another, the female is often said to be more yin than the male, which is generally more outgoing and is therefore more Yang. The female is said to be receptive and nourishing while the male is said to be aggressive and protective. However, from person to person, it is easy to see that many women are more aggressive than many men. These women would be considered more Yang. And there are most certainly passive men who are relatively more yin than even the average woman. Yin and Yang is a concept of relativity and each person must be looked at relatively. An aggressive person with a hot temper would be considered to have a Yang nature irrespective of sex; and a cold, passive person would be considered relatively yin irrespective of sex. A person who is dry (Yang) will need to increase their fluids and blood (yin) and a person who has cold extremities (yin) will need to invigorate their blood circulation (Yang) in order to establish a healthy, balanced physiology.
The relationship of Yin and Yang is never static. The two forces are always vying with one another for dominance. First one dominates, then the other in its appropriate time. Under normal circumstances, the interaction of the two forces will remain within well-defined limits. Yin provides sustenance for the Yang and the Yang protects the Yin while carrying out the functions of the being. Neither Yin nor Yang will normally go to such an extreme that its opposing force cannot recover. However, if for some reason Yin or Yangexceeds the limits normally inherent in the system, the self-regulatory mechanism breaks down and crisis ensues. Health is dependent upon the maintenance of the correct balance of Yin and Yang forces in the body and psyche. Neither Yin nor Yang should increase or decrease beyond normal limits. It is possible through the application of Chinese tonic herbalism to help the body-mind to maintain its self-regulatory capacity, assuring optimum functioning and radiant health.
One's basic physical constitution plays a very important role in one's long term health pattern. A person born with a dominance of Yangenergy is said to have a "Yang constitution." These fundamentally Yang people often tend to suffer from Yang symptoms throughout much of their lives. Conversely, a person born with a yin constitution generally suffers from yin symptoms. Yang symptoms tend to be more acute and more dramatic, but also tend to be overcome more quickly, whereas yin symptoms tend to be chronic, mysterious and difficult to correct. It is important to take a frank look at one's constitution and to come to an understanding of how it affects one's life as a whole. It is possible to alter one's constitution to some small but significant degree by the use of Chinese tonic herbs, diet, breathing and exercise techniques such as those taught by the Daoist masters, and by stimulating certain acu-points regularly for an extended period of time. Knowing yourself is a key factor in establishing radiant health.
Ying-Yang Self Analysis
In order to best take advantage of the Chinese tonic herbs, it is wise to determine your Yin-Yang balance. The following table provides a few of the markers that can help you to understand whether you have a Yinor a Yang constitution.
|Yang Constitution||Yin Constitution|
|Large bones and sturdy frame||Thin bones and frail frame|
|Aggressive Nature||Passive Nature|
|Ruddy complexion||Pale complexion|
|Easily angered, a fiery disposition||Not easily angered, a tendency toward fear, anxiety or melancholy|
|Testosterone dominant||Low testosterone or Estrogen-dominant|
|Sexually aggressive||Sexually passive|
|Illnesses tend to be acute||Illnesses tend to be chronic|
|Warm blooded||Easily chilled (“cold to the bone”)|
If you tend to have more of aYang constitution, you will tend to take more risks and be more aggressive in life than less Yang people. Yang people generally live fast lives and tend to burn the candle at both ends. Yang people, while they are young, tend to think of themselves as invincible. Therefore, they often burn themselves out and suffer from acute illnesses and radical breakdowns. If you have a Yang constitution, you need to consume Yin tonic herbs in all its various aspects. Yang herbs may be consumed as well to sustain your Yang nature, but only in conjunction with Yin herbs and usually in only moderate quantities. Yang people generally do better when they consume “cool” herbs.
If you tend to have a more Yin constitution, you will tend to be more passive and cautious. You will be aware of your frailty and will naturally shy away from dangers that you instinctively know could harm you. Yin people tend to develop chronic ailments that just linger on. These chronic ailments are often not as serious in appearance as the acute illnesses that Yang people contract, but over time they can be severely draining and debilitating. Yin people need to take plenty of both Yin and Yang herbs. The Yin herbs replenish the energy lost Yin energy. The Yang herbs are necessary to replace, in a sense, the Yang energy that is not their by constitution. Yin people tend to do better with “warm” herbs.
Most people do well with a balanced blend of Yin and Yang herbs, only slightly balanced in one direction or another, based on their original constitution. In fact, we all need to nourish both Yin and Yang throughout life if we hope to achieve radiant health.
One of the greatest ancient Daoist masters, Zhuang Zi, once said that "When the shoe fits the foot is forgotten, when the belt fits the belly is forgotten." This is a very profound thought. It reflects the notion that when one has achieved balance one can be at peace and contentment is achieved. Life and health are sustained by maintaining balance, even as the environment changes. Whenever there is imbalance, there will be discomfort. On the other hand, the state of being known as "well being" is really a state in which everything is in balance---a state of harmony exists in all aspects of one's life. And it is a state that is genuinely attainable, though it may take much practice, depth of understanding and wisdom to attain and maintain it.
There is no question that we have to work at being in balance when we live in a modern society. It is easier to fall out of balance than to remain in balance. There are many aspects of our lives that need to be watched and maintained in order to remain truly healthy: our diet, elimination, exercise, love life, work life, meditation, etc. Doing anything to an extreme is contrary to this basic premise of maintaining balance. If we eat too much we will pay for it sooner or later; if we eat too little we will likewise suffer. If we exercise too much we become sore or injured--it could even shorten our life; if we exercise too little we will suffer many disorders that will likewise cause us to suffer and shorten our life. Oriental sages have always taught that moderation is the key to health, happiness, and longevity---that is, radiant health. One must learn to keep the concept in mind at all times so that one's whole life can be brought into balance. One's life is brought into balance by bringing the details of one's life into balance and by simultaneously keeping the big picture in mind at all times.
One of the tricks to attaining a balanced life is to simply avoid extremes. An extreme high is always countered by an equally drastic low. By moderating one's highs, one can moderate one's lows. By moderating one's desires and by moderating one's habits, it is possible to attain a dynamic balance in all aspects of one's life that leads to the state of genuine well being, which is a state of comfort and satisfaction.
Certainly, I am not advocating a boring, non-adventurous life. It is possible to do everything you want to do---just maintain your balance at all times. Actually, this is one of the areas where the tonic herbs are most useful. The greater vitality and adaptability, and the deeper reserves provided by the tonic herbs allow a person to live a much more dynamic life than one would be able to experience if energy was in short supply.
Moderation and balance are different things to different people. What is extreme for one person may be moderate for another. The levels of available energy, adaptability and deep energy reserves are the determining factors. I have seen many people completely change their lives by using tonic herbs. Their energy increases and their courage and self-confidence increases with it. As a result, these people seem to take much bigger chances than they did before they were using the tonic herbs. As a result, they accomplish more. Their protection lies in the fact that they have more adaptive energy and therefore can get away with a lot more stress before the body and mind pay a penalty.
Generally, it takes most people many years, if not an entire lifetime (if ever), to learn the lessons of moderation and the overall art of balancing one's life. An acute awareness of balance, and thus the law of Yin and Yang, is the source of true wisdom. There are those who come to understand the principle of balance at a young age, and it is these who establish their health for a long lifetime. Those who wait to establish balance in their lives generally come to suffer a number of serious ailments which lead them to seek a way to overcome their problems. Using the tonic herbs, one can help achieve balance in all aspects of one's life at virtually any age.
Chinese tonic herbalism is specifically and directly aimed at helping a person become more balanced and at helping them to maintain balance by enhancing adaptability. This is accomplished in many ways. It is done by relaxing tense muscles that are contracted due to excessive energy supplies to that muscle or muscle group, and conversely to stimulate and tonify weak muscles. It is also accomplished by improving the ability of each of the organs to function optimally and harmoniously as a unified system. The tonic herbs strengthen the ability of the body to produce energy, to defend itself, to cleanse itself and to rejuvenate itself.
In summary, it must always remain clear to the Chinese tonic herbal practitioner that balance is absolutely central to every action we ever take and to the results we hope to achieve. This balance is of a dynamic nature, governed by the principles of Yin and Yang. The practitioner of this great art must seek to establish and maintain a dynamic balance in their own lives so that they reflect the principles of balance at all times and under all circumstances. Those who endeavor to follow the Way of Yin and Yang in their own lives will develop a power and subtlety in their lives that will result in amazing achievements.
The Three Treasures
Through the interaction of Yin and Yang, energy is created. From the densest object to the subtlest vibration, the entire universe is composed, at its fundamental level, of energy. Chinese philosophy is founded on the energetic nature of all things. Things are not seen materially, but as ever-changing states of energy. This is the same idea expressed by modern physics, which understands that mass and energy are one and the same. The Chinese word for energy is Qi (pronounced Chee). Qi permeates all things in the universe and is the motivating force of all activity. An ancient Chinese philosophical classic states that:
"There is nothing between Heaven and Earth but Qi (energy) and Dao (the laws of the Universe). Dao itself is based on Qi. Everything in the Universe relies upon it. When the Qi is outside Heaven and Earth, it embraces them. When Qi is inside Heaven and Earth, it circulates through and sustains them. Planets depend on Qi for their brightness; weather is formed by it, and the seasons are caused by it. Man cannot stand outside of Qi. It supports him and permeates him as water is contained within the ocean."
Qi exists everywhere, even in a lowly rock. The atmosphere is full of Qi, and the air is a primary source of Qi for human beings. The Earth provides Qi to us in the form of food and herbs which we consume.
The nature of life is to extract Qi from its environment and to transform it so as to live, adapt and to create more life. The more energy, or Qi, that a living system can accumulate and utilize, the more success it will have as a living being. A less than adequate ability to extract Qi from one's environment and/or an inability to utilize it efficiently will result in failure of the organism and death, and possibly extinction of the species.
It is the purpose of Oriental tonic herbalism to improve the absorption and utilization of Qi, according to the laws of Nature. It is possible through the consumption of certain herbs, and through the development of one's breathing, to influence the various aspects of Qi within our systems and to establish harmonious functioning as a result.
Qi, however, is not all the same. After observing both nature and the human body over many centuries, the Daoists defined several levels of Qi in living beings. This knowledge led to the quintessential theory of Chinese life philosophy, that of the three treasures.
The Three Treasures
In the Daoist tradition, which forms the foundation of the traditional Oriental healing and health-promoting arts, there are said to be three treasures that in effect constitute our life. These are known as Jing, Qi and Shen. There are no exact translations for the terms Jing, Qi and Shen into English. However, they are generally translated as Essence, Vitality and Spirit.
The ultimate goal of all of the Oriental healing and health-promoting arts is to cultivate, balance and expand the three treasures. At the highest level of the Oriental healing arts, the practitioner is attempting to harmonize all aspects of one's being. This is accomplished by focusing one's attention on the three treasures.
The author's great teacher, Daoist Master Sung Jin Park, described the three treasures by comparing them to a burning candle. Jing is like the wax and wick, which are the substantial parts of the candle. They are made of material, which is essentially condensed energy. The flame of the lit candle is likened to Qi, for this is the energetic activity of the candle, which eventually results in the burning out of the candle. The radiance given off by the flaming candle is Shen. The larger the candle and the better the quality of the wax and wick, the steadier will be its flame and the longer the candle will last. The greater and steadier the flame, the greater and steadier the light given off. Master Park described the three treasures in some detail:
"There are three treasures in the human body. These are known as Jing, Qi and Shen. Of these three, only Qi has received some recognition in the West so far. Qi is but one of the three treasures--the other two are equally wondrous."
Jing has been called the 'superior ultimate' treasure, even though even in a healthy, radiant body, the quantity is small. Jing existed before the body existed, and this Jing enters the body tissues and becomes the root of our body. When we keep Jing within our body, our body can be vigorous. If a person cares for the Cavity of Jing (a space within the lower abdomen), and does not hurt it recklessly, it is very easy to enjoy a life of great longevity. Without Jing energy, we cannot live.
Qi is the invisible life force which enables the body to think and perform voluntary movement. The power of Qi can be seen in the power that enables a person to move and live. It can be seen in the movement of energy in the cosmos and in all other movements and changes. Qi circulates through the twelve meridians (the energy circuitry of the body) to nourish and preserve the inner organs.
Shen energy is similar to the English meaning of the words 'Mind' and 'Spirit.' It is developed by the combination of Jing and Qi energy. When these two treasures are in balance, the mind is strong, the spirit is great, the emotions are under control, and the body is strong and healthy. But it is very difficult to expect a sound mind to be cultivated without sound Jing and Qi. An old proverb says that 'a sound mind lives in a sound body.' When cultivated, Shen will bring peace of mind.
When we develop Jing, we get a large amount of Qi automatically. When we have a large amount of Qi, we will also have strong Shen, and we will become bright and glowing as a holy man."
Jing, Qi and Shen Fully Defined
Jing is the first Treasure and is translated as essence. Jing is the primal energy of life. It is closely associated with our genetic potential, and thus is intimately associated with the aging process. The quantity of Jing determines both our lifespan and the ultimate vitality of our life.
At conception, the refined essence, Jing, of the mother and father merge and become one within the new fetal cell and this new life takes up residence in the womb. This united essence creates an energy which forms the foundation of the new human being's life. It is called Pre-natal Qi or Original Jing). During pregnancy, the fetus relies upon the mother to nurture and protect the Original Jing. However, at birth the infant becomes independent of the mother's direct umbilical nourishment and begins to breathe and eat by its own power. After birth, the OriginalJingbecomes active and aids in the transformation of foods and thus in the production of energy. Original Jing acts as the primary catalyst for all energy transformation in the body throughout one's lifetime, and it provides the fundamental life force that determines the life span and the innate vitality of the individual. A small amount of Original Jing is released constantly, and this is used by the body to maintain all its functions. This active Jing is called Post-natal Jing, but is commonly refered to simply as Jing. Original Jing and Post-natal Jing have a major determining influence over both the length and the quality of one's life.
Jing is the refined energy of the body. It is very concentrated energy. Jing provides the foundation for all activity and is said to be the "root" of our vitality. Jing provides the reserves required to adapt to all the various stresses encountered in life. Jing is stored in each of the five primary organs. Jing is essential to life. When it runs low, we are forced to tap into or Original Jingreserves and our life force is severely diminished and thus we lose our power to adapt. When OriginalJingis depleted below a level required to survive, we die. Eventually everyone runs out of OriginalJingand thus everyone dies (at least physically).
It is considered to be extremely difficult to enhance the OriginalJingafter conception, although it is not difficult at all to deplete and weaken it, and thus to weaken and shorten one's life. The only way to strengthen the Original Jing is through specific highly sophisticated yogic techniques such as those developed by the Daoists and by consuming certain potent tonic herbs known as Jing tonics. The purpose of taking Jing tonic herbs is to maintain healthy levels of Post-natal Jing. If post-natal Jing is maintained at sufficient levels, Pre-natal Jing is used much more slowly and the aging process is slowed down.
Jing is stored for the whole body in the “Kidneys,” which includes according to Chinese physiology, the reproductive organs, the brain, skeleton and adrenal cortex, and is concentrated in the sperm and ova. Jing specifically controls the functions of the reproductive organs and their various substances and functions; the power and clarity of the mind; and the integrity of one's physical structure. Jing is largely associated these days with the hormones of the reproductive and adrenal glands. Strong Jing energy in the Kidneys, so the Chinese say, will lead to a long and vigorous life while a loss of Jing will result in physical and mental degeneration and a shortening of one's life.
Jing is burned up in the body by life itself, but most especially by chronic and acute stress and excessive behavior, including overwork, excessive emotionalism, substance abuse, chronic pain or illness, and sexual excess (especially in men). Excessive menstrual patterns, pregnancy and childbirth can result in a dramatic drain on the Jing of a woman, especially in middle aged women.
If one is under perpetual or acute stress and the reserves of Jing in the Kidneys are used up, the only backup beyond that is the Original Qi. Further stress will result in a depletion of this Original Jing and this will in turn result in an overall weakening and breakdown of the body, mind and spirit and will result in a shorter life, even if the stress is overcome. There is a great Chinese maxim that should never be forgotten:
"It is all right to become fatigued, but never to become exhausted."
There will be no severe permanent consequences if one experiences some stress that requires utilizing some of the Jing reserves; but if one exhausts the available supply of Jing and is forced to utilize their Original Qi, one will pay dearly indeed. This idea of avoiding extreme stress and thus avoiding the depleting of one's Original Jing while cultivating strong reserves of Jing lies at the heart of many of the standard health practices of the Oriental masters.
The use of the Chinese tonic herbs, as well as breathing exercises and diet therapy, profoundly influence the manufacture and transformation of the life energy. It is possible, by cultivating our own energy and by protecting our Original Qi, to enhance the energy that we pass on to our children. Jing, which is stored in the Kidney, is refined to an absolutely pure state in the reproductive glands, and it is this refined Jing that energizes the sperm and ova and provides the genetic potential of our offspring.
The vitality, happiness and longevity of our children, and theirs, will depend to a very large degree upon the quality and vitality of this Jing. Enhancing this Jing, this primal essence, is one of the ultimate goals of life, whether we recognize it or not, for this is the determining factor in the survival of the species. Modern Western man has apparently not yet grasped the long range results of the way we treat our bodies. It is time to take the bigger view of life and remember that what we do at one moment will have consequences far into the future. We start by refining our character, practicing moderation in all things, accumulating Qi, cultivating Jing, and protecting ourselves against the unnecessary loss of our Jing.
There are special tonics that fortify Jing, and these are found among the Yin and Yang tonics. These Jing tonics are used to replace the spent energy and to build up large reserves for future use.
Qi is the second Treasure, and in the three treasures system includes both energy and blood. Although Qi may be defined as all energy, in the three treasures system it represents human vitality on an immediate basis. This Qi is the aspect of our life which involves action, function and thought. Qi is the source of our vitality. It nourishes and protects us. That Qi which nourishes us is known as nutritive Qi and that Qi which protects us is known as protective Qi. Both are produced from food and air on a day-to-day basis.
In the system of the three treasures, blood is considered to be a part of the Qi component of our being. Blood is said to be produced from the food ingested after the Qi has been extracted through the action of the Spleen. The red blood cells are said to be nutritive and are yin, while the white blood cells are protective and aggressive and are therefore Yang.
Qi tonic herbs, composed of energy and/or blood tonics, increase our ability to function fully and adaptively as human beings. Qi is said to be produced as a result of the functions of the Lungs and Spleen. Therefore, Qi tonics strengthen the digestive, assimilative and respiratory functions. In addition, they have potent immune potentiating activity.
Qi tonics increase the amount, and improve the quality, of the energy and blood flowing through our system. This increase in energy and blood results in an overall increase in physical and mental vitality.
All that exists in the universe is, in one form or another, a manifestation of Yin and Yang. Through the interaction of Yin and Yang, energy is created. Thus, from the densest object to the subtlest vibration, all is a form of energy. All of Chinese philosophy is founded on the energetic nature of all things. Things are not seen materially, but as ever-changing states of energy. This is the same idea expressed by modern physicists, who now universally agree that mass and energy are one and the same. The Chinese word for energy is Qi (pronounced Chee). The Koreans call it Kias do the Japanese (both pronounce it Kee). Qi permeates all things in the universe and is the motivating force of all activity. A Chinese classic states that:
"There is nothing between Heaven and Earth but Qi (energy) and Tao (the Way and the laws that govern it). Tao (the Way of Life) itself is based on Qi. Everything in the Universe relies upon it. When the Qi is outside Heaven and Earth, it embraces them. When Qi is inside Heaven and Earth, it circulates through and sustains them. Planets depend on Qi for their brightness; weather is formed by it, and the seasons are caused by it. Man cannot stand outside of Qi. It supports him and permeates him as water is contained within the ocean."
Even modern astro-physicists recognize the existence of a primal energy. R. A. Muller, a noted astro-physicist points out that "a curious radiation bathes the earth almost uniformly from every direction. Most astro-physicists now believe that this microwave radiation was emitted shortly after the 'big bang,' the cataclysmic explosion in which the universe was created some 15 billion years ago. Not only is it the most ancient signal ever detected; it is also the most distant, coming from well beyond the quasars, the most remote luminous sources known." Recent research, very interestingly, has revealed that the temperature of this radiation varies by about a tenth of a percent across the sky, with the warmest region being in the direction of the constellation Leo and the coolest in the direction of Aquarius. The temperature varies smoothly between these two regions. Indeed, virtually all physical properties are governed by the laws of physics, which are in fact the laws of energy dynamics and of the various forces that can easily be translated as "Qi."
Qi is sometimes translated asvitality or life force. These are useful descriptive terms insofar as Qi influences life. It is important for the student of Oriental philosophy and especially of the Oriental healing arts to remember that Qi exists everywhere, even in a lowly rock. The atmosphere is full of Qi, and the air is a primary source of Qi for human beings. The Earth provides Qi that it has itself accumulated, in the form of food that we eat. The nature of life is to extract Qi from its environment and to transform it so as to live, adapt and to create more life. The more energy, or Qi, that a living system can accumulate and utilize, the more success it will have as a living being. A less than adequate ability to extract Qi from one's environment and/or an inability to utilize it properly will result in failure of the organism and death and possibly extinction of the species.
The Chinese define many different kinds of human physiologic Qi. Qi that is more yin tends to be more concentrated and forms substantial matter while Qi that is more yang results in the functioning of the organs and tissues and in action, including movement and thought. Cosmic Qi (or Air Qi) is the energy derived from the air through our breathing. The energy derived from food is called Grain Qi (or Food Qi) and includes all the nutrients and electromagnetic energy ingested and absorbed from foods and liquids. Other types of Qi include the Essential Qi (which includes the nutritive Ying Qi and the defensive Wei Qi), and Original Qi (or Ancestral, or Pre-natal, Qi) and Post-natal Qi, both of which are known as Jing Qi, which represents our primal, genetic energy, the energy that we store and also the energy of the sperm and ova. Blood too is considered to be a form of highly concentrated Qi. These will be described in detail as we proceed.
It is the purpose of the Oriental tonic herbalism to improve the absorption and utilization of Qi, according to the laws of Nature. It is possible through the consumption of certain "tonic herbs," and through the development of one's breathing, to influence the various aspects of Qi within our systems and to establish harmonious functioning as a result.
Shen is the third treasure.Shen is our spirit. It may also be translated as our higher consciousness. This is ultimately the most important of the three treasures because it reflects our higher nature as human beings. Chinese masters say that Shen is the all embracing love that resides in our Heart. Shen is expressed as love, compassion, kindness, generosity, acceptance, forgiveness and tolerance. It manifests as our wisdom and our ability to see all sides of all issues, our ability to rise above the world of right and wrong, good and bad, yours and mine, high and low, etc. Shen is our higher knowledge that everything is one, even though nature manifests dualistically and cyclically, often obscuring our vision and creating illusion.
Shen is the spark of divinity within each human being. Shen is the spiritual radiance of a human being and is the ultimate and most refined level of energetics in the universe. It is associated with our awareness of and oneness with the Universal Infinite Being, and is manifested in our own godliness. Shen is not considered to be an emotion, or even a state of mind. It presides over the emotions and manifests as all-encompassing compassion, and non-discriminating, non-judgmental awareness. Shen manifests not only as our love and compassion, but also as our mental and intuitive energy.
Chuang Tzu, one of China's greatest Daoist sages, once wrote:
"When the shoe fits the foot is forgotten,
When the belt fits the belly is forgotten
And when the heart (Shen) is right,
For and against are forgotten."
This quote expresses quite exquisitely an aspect of Chinese Daoist philosophy that is absolutely central to the attainment of health. Very simply, Chuang Tzu is saying that one cannot attain high spiritual levels until one has learned the art of balance. One who seeks true happiness must achieve balance in their lives. Imbalance is the source of stress that distracts Shen’s attention away from its higher path. But when there is balance and harmony in one's life then “the heart,” or Shen, has an opportunity to develop and attain a state of enlightened all-embracing acceptance of things as they really are, transcending the notions of good and bad, right and wrong, for and against.
It is taught in Chinese philosophy that Shen naturally rules our lives, but if we lose our emotional balance (which we all do), then the ego and the various emotions compete for dominance and Shen withdraws and becomes hidden. Immoderate behavior is brought about by a lack of understanding of the laws of nature which promotes selfishness. We develop addictions to particular egoistic attitudes and to the emotions that help manifest our egoistic goals. Anger, greed, fear, worry, sorrow, frustration, uncontrolled and excessive worldly joy, the perpetual seeking of pleasure in the things of this world of relativity and illusion, are all examples of the types of mental states that force Shen into hiding, often for the duration of one's life. If Shen is weak, then the person becomes ruled by emotions and passions and the true desires of Shen are covered by the demands of the body and of the lower self. The person constantly craves excitement and novelty but these things do not satisfy the heart and the person is frustrated, lonely and depressed.
An ancient classic says:
"If the master is brilliant, his subjects are peaceful.
If the master is disturbed, then his twelve officials are in danger."
The "master" is Shen, and the "twelve officials" are the twelve organ systems of the body.
The great spiritual paths of the world have all attempted to teach their followers that it is necessary to temper excessive desires and imbalanced emotions so that Shen can naturally regain its position as the ruler of our lives. The Chinese Daoists have long practiced a spiritual path that emphasizes living in harmony with Nature. They have stressed the idea of living a balanced life that flows with the seasons and various cycles of life, constantly adapting to each situation so as to minimize stress and allow Shen to rule unhindered by excessive desire. Living so closely with nature, the Daoist masters have realized that the body, mind and environment were one and that these need to be cultivated in such a way as to allow the process of spiritual growth to proceed most fluidly.
In fact all activities are directed by Shen: thinking, seeing, speaking, hearing, exercising, working and loving are all different functions of Shen. In health, these activities are performed pleasantly and rhythmically, but in sickness we see changes in all the human functions and activities, and there is a lack of mental clarity and actions become disturbed. Jing and Qi support Shen, and if they are wasted (dissipated) Shen will suffer. If Shensuffers, it becomes shaken and withdraws. When the emotions are not subordinate to Shen, they strive for dominance amongst themselves and this struggle eventually affects the organs and disharmony and disease follows. This is why moderation is regarded in the Orient as the supreme way of health, happiness and longevity. Immoderate behavior is brought about by a lack of understanding of the laws of nature which promotes selfishness.
Herbal remedies are capable of helping with many problems. But unless they help to raise the level of consciousness of those who use them, they are doing little. For this reason, the true tonic herbalist is always striving to open up Shen and discover the nature of Shen.
There is a great, age-old secret method of developing Shen. The way to develop Shen is to give. By seeing the divine beauty in all things and thus becoming a channel of divine love, we can rise above the small egotistical motives that drive most people's lives. The reward for true giving is Shen. It does not matter whether or not you are paid for your service, because it is what is in your heart and what flows from it that determines how your Shen will unfold. If you give all of your caring, love and wisdom, and truly try to help in whatever way you can, your reward will be far greater than the financial reward of the moment.
It is necessary also to develop Jing and Qi so that Shen has a body to survive in and through which it may radiate. The three treasures form the very core of all traditional Oriental healing and health maintenance, but are often overlooked today. To forget them is to forget the very basis of the Oriental healing arts. It is possible to practice the Oriental healing arts at many different levels. But only by working at the level of the three treasures can one be said to be working at the level of the masters.
Certain true Shen tonic herbs encourage the opening up of Shen. There are also Shen "stabilizers" which help stabilize our emotions so that Shen (our higher self) re-emerge and rule our lives. The emotions are allowed to play themselves out, but not to dominate our lives and become obsessions or even addictions. Shen tonics have been used by the great sages of the Orient to help in their quest for enlightenment and harmony with God, Nature and all of Mankind.
Human Energy Production and Transformation
There is a fundamental pattern of Qi production and transformation in the human body that must be understood by the tonic herbalist in order to help establish optimal functioning and thus radiant health. It is possible to influence this production and transformation, and with great skill one can have a truly significant influence, an influence that can change the course of lives.
At conception, the refined essence of the mother and father merge and become one within the new fetal cell and this new life takes up residence in the womb. This united essence creates an energy which forms the foundation of the new human being's life. It is called the Original Qi (or Pre-natal Qi). During pregnancy, the fetus relies upon the mother to nurture and protect the Original Qi. However, at birth the infant becomes independent of the mother's direct umbilical nourishment and begins to breathe and eat by its own power. After birth, the Original Qi becomes active and aids in the transformation of foods and thus in the production of energy. Original Qi acts as the primary catalyst for all energy transformation in the body throughout one's lifetime, and it provides the fundamental life force that determines the life span and the innate vitality of the individual. It is also generally believed that the Original Qi has a major determining influence over both the length and the quality of one's life.
It is considered to be extremely difficult to enhance the Original Qi after conception, although it is not difficult at all to deplete and weaken it, and thus to weaken and in fact shorten one's life. The only way to strengthen the Original Qi is through specific highly sophisticated yogic techniques such as those developed by the Taoists in combination with the intake of certain extremely potent tonic herbs known as essence tonics. The Taoist yogic techniques include the practice of self-applied acupressure and exercises such as those performed in Qi Gung and Tai Qi Quan.
However, it is possible, through proper living to protectthe Original Qi and to ensure a long and happy life. Excessive stress and abusive lifestyle are the factors that use up the Original Qi (pre-natal essence) before its predetermined time. Either chronic or acute stress can have devastating effects upon the ability of the Original Qi to properly influence the transformation of Qi as well as on the actual amount of Original Qi retained in the body. Excesses of every kind deplete the Original Qi. Sexual excess, dietary excess, emotional excess, drug excess and work excess in particular are believed to be particularly debilitating. Baring children can result in the loss of Original Qi if this energy is not protected before, during and after giving birth.
The Original Qi is said to reside in the Lower Field of Elixir (known as the Lower Tanden in Japanese, the Lower T'an Tien in Chinese and the Lower Dan Jun in Korean). This primal energy center is located internally, approximately three fingers width below the navel. It is associated with the Kidney function as defined in Chinese physiology. A person born with an abundance of Original Qi will have more vital force throughout their life and will have the opportunity to live longer than one who is born with less Original Qi. However, one who abuses their Original Qi may die well before an innately weaker person who does not abuse their Original Qi. A person born with little Original Qi but who protects and enhances their essence and consistently enhances their Qi may live a long and fruitful life. It is now believed that the Lower Field of Elixir is actually associated with a large abdominal nerve center known as the hypogastric plexus.
When food enters the stomach, the Original Qi acts upon it, resulting in the extraction of Qi from the food. In other words, this primal bio-electrical energy field located in or about the hypogastric plexus influences the extraction of ionized particles and electromagnetic energy from the food as it is broken down into its basic components in the stomach. This extracted energy is known as Grain Qi. Under the influence of the Spleen function, the Grain Qi is directed upwards to the Lungs. In the Lungs, and again under the influence of the Original Qi, it mixes with the electromagnetic energy that has been extracted from the air by the Lungs (known as Air Qi), resulting in what is known as the Essential Qi, which can now be used by the body and psyche for all its functions.
The Essential Qi emerges from the Lungs in two forms, one known as Ying Qi and the other called Wei Qi. The Ying Qi (nutritive energy) circulates through the blood vessels and meridians (energy curcuitry). It is the energy that nourishes and vitalizes the body and is used by the body for movement and thought, and for the multitude of functions required in order to live. It is said to be a combination of Heavenly and Earthly energies. Because it is nourishing, it is considered to be relatively yin when compared to the Wei Qi.
The Wei Qi (defense energy) also is derived from the Essential Qi created in the Lungs. However, its function is not to nourish the body and mind, but to protect it. The Wei Qi does not flow through vessels or meridians like the Ying Qi, but circulates instead in the subcutaneous tissues between the skin and muscle and in the fatty membranes of the abdomen and thorax. Its function is to defend the body against the attack of the "external evils" such as heat, cold, wind, dryness and moisture, as well as against the attacks of microscopic infectious agents. The Wei Qi opens and closes the pores, produces sweating and shivering, etc. The Wei Qi is responsible for maintaining soft, resilient, active skin that is capable of adapting to changes in the environment and protecting the tissues and organs that lie under them. The Wei Qi is yang in nature because it is fast moving and resides primarily at the surface of the body.
If there is an abundance of Ying Qi, the excess enters a system of reservoirs known as the Extraordinary Channels. These channels maintain an immediate reserve of extra Qi that the body can utilize at the spur of the moment. As the Ying Qi circulates to the organs themselves, the organs absorb and utilize this nutritive energy. If the supply is abundant and there is more Ying Qi than required, the yin organs concentrate and store the surplus. This stored energy is known as Jing (the word Jing means literally "essence," or "extract"). The six solid organs that are capable of storing surplus Qi can hold only relatively small amounts sufficient for their own needs, except for the Kidney. In fact the surplus energy of the whole body is stored in the Kidney (that is, the Kidney as defined by Chinese physiology). The Kidney is thus a reservoir of this highly refined energy that can be utilized by any organ at any time. One of the first goals of Chinese tonic herbalism, Taoist yoga and the higher forms of acupressure is to develop large reserves of Jing so that the body is always prepared for emergencies and extreme stress. If one never dips too low into this reserve and maintains an abundant supply of Jing, a long secure life will result.
If on the other hand one is under perpetual or acute stress and the reserves of Jing Qi in the Kidneys are used up, the only backup beyond that is the Original Qi. Further stress will result in a depletion of this pre-natal Jing and this will in turn result in an overall weakening and breakdown of the body, mind and spirit and will result in a shorter life, even if the stress is overcome. There is a great Chinese maxim that should never be forgotten:
"It is all right to become fatigued, but never to become exhausted."
In other words, there will be no severe permanent consequences if one experiences some stress that requires utilizing some of the Jing reserves; but if one exhausts the supply of Jing and is forced to utilize their Original Qi, one will pay dearly indeed. This idea of avoiding extreme stress and thus avoiding the depleting of one's Jing while cultivating strong reserves lies at the heart of many of the standard health practices of the Oriental masters.
All of the energy transformations described here can be specifically influenced and coordinated with the tonic herbs. The use of the Chinese tonic herbs, as well as breathing exercises and diet therapy, profoundly influence the manufacture and transformation of the life energy. A knowledge of these energies and their transformations can lead to a better life---and not even just our own or that of our clients. It is possible, by cultivating our own energy and by protecting our Original Qi, to enhance the energy that we pass on to our children. Jing, which is stored in the Kidney, is refined to an absolutely pure state in the reproductive glands, and it is this primal essence that energizes the sperm and ova and provides the genetic potential of our offspring.
This primal essenceis in fact the final distillation of our life to this point, including the way we have eaten, acted, felt and thought. The vitality, happiness and longevity of our children, and theirs, will depend to a very large degree upon the quality and vitality of this primal essence. Enhancing this primal essence is one of the ultimate goals of life, whether we recognize it or not, for this is the determining factor in the survival of the species. Modern Western man has apparently not yet grasped the long range results of the way we treat our bodies. It is time to take the bigger view of life and remember that what we do at one moment will have consequences far into the future. We start by refining our character, practicing moderation in all things, accumulating Qi, cultivating essence (Jing), and protecting ourselves against the unnecessary loss of our Jing.
The Three Treasuresand the Chinese Tonic Herbs
Tonic herbs are categorized as Jing (Yin and/or Yang), Qi (Qi and/or Blood) and Shen (opening and/or stabilizing) by virtue of which treasure(s) they nourish and develop. It is the fact that certain herbs are capable of providing these treasures to those who consume them that separates Chinese tonic herbalism from other forms of herbalism. Though many herbs have medicinal qualities and some provide nutrition, only a select number are true “superior herbs.”
Applying the principle of the three treasuresis the highest form of herbalism. In the Orient it is called the "Superior Herbalism."
The Five Elemental Energies
Yin and Yang describe the primary polar aspects (or forces) of an entity or process. However, Yin and Yang can be defined even more subtlety in order to understand the exact degree or stage of yin or Yang in a cyclical process. The Chinese thus further defined Yin and Yang so as to refine the Great Principle. In so doing they developed the Principle of the Transformation of the Five Elemental Energies.
Again, Yin and Yang can be seen as the two poles of a cycle. The Yin is the withdrawing, storing, nutritive stage and the Yang is the expanding, exuberant, active stage. The Yin phase can be further described as consisting of two major segments, namely the early Yin phase and the late (or full blown) Yin phase. Yang can likewise be divided into and early and late phases.
The seasons provide an example of this. The year can be divided into two main phases: the months during which the days become longer, lighter and warmer (Yang), and the months during which the days become shorter, darker and colder (Yin). Thus the half of the year starting at the autumnal equinox and running through the winter are Yin and the six months from spring through summer are Yang. Fall is the beginning of Yin and Winter is full blown Yin. The Yang phase is likewise clearly divisible into Spring and Summer, Spring being the beginning of theYang phase and Summer being full blown Yang. Thus there are four cardinal phases to the yearly cycle. The same four phases can be seen in all cycles.
The early Chinese masters gave each phase a name. The early Yin phase was called Metal, the late Yin phase was termed Water, the early Yang phase was termed Wood and the late Yang phase was called Fire. Thus in a daily cycle, the morning (early Yang) would be the Wood phase, the afternoon (late Yang) would be the Fire phase, evening (early Yin) would be the Metal phase and late night (late Yin) would be the Water phase.
These four are the cardinal phases, but there is another aspect which in Eastern philosophy is absolutely essential to the understanding of the system, and that is balance. Without balance in a system, it would soon fall apart. Thus the great sages described a fifth element, which is in fact balance. The Chinese called this fifth elemental factor Earth. The Earth element represents the balance and harmony within a system that is actually responsible for the integrity of the system as a whole. Earth is in the center, representing the pivotal, balancing, unifying factor of the whole system. Earth should thus be present at all times, because the system should always be balanced, albeit dynamically.
The five elemental energies are thus traditionally diagrammed like this:
Diagram 1. The Cycle of the Five Elemental Energies
The Five Elemental Energies and Human Energetics
The five elemental energies also correspond to the various aspects of a human being, including specific organ systems, emotions, sense organs, etc. The following descriptions may provide some insight into the nature of each elemental energy as it influences the human condition.
Wood is new Yang---the first stage of a new cycle. Aggressive, vigorous energy which bursts forth from the depth of substance, expanding, invigorating all in its field of influence, bringing forth creation and life. Wood is the elemental energy of Spring. It is associated with the “Liver.”
The Wood element initiates activity. It is the creative urge and the procreative drive. It is the "will to become", the urge to grow and develop, to create our own existence. It is that which provokes and drives us. We experience it as the urge to express ourselves, to manifest, to break bonds, to metamorphosize. We sense it as "spring fever". It is our will to open up, to expand. So when Wood is abundant we develop, we create and procreate.
Fire is the energy of growth to fullness, of full expansion, of warm all-embracing love and compassion. Fire is the elemental energy of Summer and is associated with the Heart. It is warm and full and has a fully developed Yang nature.
When true Fire is unimpeded, life is joyous, exuberant and loving, supported by courage, strength and wisdom. Contentment, enduring vigor, a cooperative approach to life, clarity of understanding and a free-giving spirit are signs of one whose Fire Element is in proper harmony with the external-being (the world and universe) and with the internal-being (the body-mind) which are in fact one. Feeling compassion, love and joy without becoming overly excited, and giving of ourselves are the natural ways to develop the Fire Element.
The Earth Element is the energy of Balance, of the Center, and is thus always present. It is the pivot, or balancing point, of Yin and Yang. Earth is said to dominate at the change of seasons, during Indian Summer, and during periods of atmospheric balance. It rules the Spleen energy system and directs the digestive system. It is experienced as a sensation of balance, centeredness, non-striving, non-judgmental contemplation, and sympathetic understanding. It is a mature energy, the energy of the ripening, well-adjusted soul.
Earth provides the energy of thought and reflection. It nourishes the flesh and builds strong muscles. Always seeing life from a broad perspective while remaining physically and emotionally centered will nurture the Earth Element.
The Metal Element is the energy of Fall, and is thus the energy of retreat and withdrawal. It represents the transition of Yang energy to Yin energy. Metal controls the Lungs.
It manifests as an intuitive, contemplative sifting and letting go of that which is encumbering and useless to our inner life. It manifests as the drawing within ourselves of that which is essential, that which is storable as concentrated, storable energy called “essence” and it is the active discarding of excess. It is thus analogous to “harvesting,” in which that which has grown in the previous Yang season is collected, while the chaff, or useless byproduct, is thrown away. It is the energy which draws life's forces toward us and draws it deep into our body-mind for storage so as to ease the passage through the dark period soon to follow. It is the energy of release, freeing ourselves of our old selves, outer attachments and emotional entanglements.
The Water Element is the energy of Winter. Its power is very great, but highly concentrated. Water is associated with the 'Kidneys." It is the energy of the "seed,” the fundamental energy of life which concentrates and matures deep within. It is indeed the very essence, the final distillation of all accumulated energies and is thus very pure and of remarkable potential energy. It is our “will to sustain ourselves,” it is our courage. It is also our emergency reserve, it is the power of our mind, it is the root of our sexual vigor.