Jing, Chi, and Shen: What Do You Treasure?

Jing, Chi, and Shen: What Do You Treasure?

A treasure is usually thought of as something of great value such as money, jewels, or precious metals stored up or buried (pirates anyone?). It can refer to wealth of any kind or something of great value.

When I think of it, I think of something of great value that has been life changing for me. It’s the herbal system I learned and still practice today called the Three Treasures. It influences all of the formulas we make here at Herbworks. The origin of Chinese herbology has always been associated with the Taoists of Ancient China.

Taoism is more of a philosophy than a religion, and is the source of one of the worlds oldest mind-body health systems. Today we often think of Taoist priests or teachers as monks or spiritual leaders but in fact they were some of the worlds earliest scientists. They studied The Way, or the interactions between Heaven and Earth, between man and nature.

They often referred to their study as the science of “essence and life.”

Essence deals with the mind, life with the human body. The object is to enhance and refine the three treasures of human existence Vitality, Energy and Spirit. The Taoists were the originators of the philosophy of the Three Treasures and applied it to everything in nature.

Thousands of years old, this system was applied to herbs and became one of the earliest forms of mind-body health. Three Treasures is the system I learned as an apprentice and it applies mostly to Chinese tonic herbalism.

Tonic herbs are considered food grade substances that are safe for daily consumption. They build and regulate energy. In fact, the modern description of a tonic herb is that it strengthens a weakness or deficiency somewhere in the body.

Tonics are considered perfect herbs for people who are worn down and depleted by stress or life itself.

The Three Treasures of Chinese herbalism break down into Jing (Vitality), Chi (Energy),and Shen (Spirit).

These energies are considered so important to human life that they are considered treasures and something to be protected throughout life. All herbs used in tonic herbalism affect one or more of these treasures.

Jing or Vitality is associated with creativity, sexuality, the root of essence and life, the body and flesh. Jing tonics influence the glandular system, skeletal system, brain and bodily fluids. Jing is considered the source of life-force and when its fully depleted life itself ends.

Jing tonics are deeply replenishing and commonly used to restore adrenals and sexual energy. Herbs like eucommia, polygonatum, cistanches, rehmannia, lycium, epimedium, and reishi are all examples of Jing tonics. They are often used in formulas to replenish adrenal energy and the reproductive system. Jing tonics protect you from burnout or excessive lifestyle patterns.

You might recognize some of these herbs are found in the formulas of TianChi and Inner Peace. I took a lot of Jing tonics when I got started in Chinese herbalism. My burn out eventually turned into chronic fatigue and I needed to rebuild my entire health.

My level of vitality changed within weeks but it took a long time to be able to restore the vitality of my glandular system. Chi tonics build physical energy. It’s the subtle energy of movement, power, breadth and strength. Chi is the force animating everything in the Universe.

Every action, thought or feeling we experience is supported by Chi. Chi tonics strengthen digestion and respiration, increasing our ability to extract energy from our food and air. Building good Chi on a daily basis improves the quality of Chi circulating throughout our body and is the key to our physical and mental stamina.

Having good energy, vitality and being able to adapt is a sign of good Chi.

One of the issues I discovered during my recovery from chronic fatigue was how my own ability to produce Chi was completely compromised. I ate a pristine organic diet but my body couldn’t process it into energy.

My collapsed Chi resulted in constant fatigue and feeling totally unable to cope with the daily demands of work. Some of the most famous Chinese herbs are chi tonics such as astragalus, schizandra and ginseng.

I was lucky enough to be working in a store with an elixir bar where I could mix up any combination of herbal tonics I might want to try. Astragalus became one of my daily tonics that had an immediate effect on my body. I began to stand upright and lost my hunched over, collapsed look.

This is one of the outward signs of collapsed Chi. Your shoulders roll inward and you slump slightly forward. Chi tonics filled my lungs with air and I seemed to inflate like a balloon. I often joked that I gained two inches in height by building my Chi.

Chi has another important quality. By building and conserving energy, it protects your Jing from being used up as an energy source. Exhausted people often run on their adrenals and that can only happen for a short while before the whole system collapses. I know; I’ve been there and done that.

The third treasure, Shen, roughly translates as Spirit.

It is the essence of mind and consciousness, the light shining in the eyes, wisdom, intelligence and capacity for awareness. Humans are born with unlimited Shen. It just needs to be uncovered or let out of the cage of human experience.

Too often we shield our true nature as we grow up, building layer upon layer of emotional coverings on our Shen. Similar to putting a basket over a candle, the basket only has to be removed to expose the light.

Shen tonics are different from Jing and Chi tonics in that they don’t build up energy but rather expose or release it. I feature two Shen tonics in my formulas but nothing compares to Reishi mushroom in its ability to uncover hidden potential. 

I love nutrition and got my start in the health field managing health food stores and doing nutritional consulting. I began noticing that nutritional information is often packaged just like pharmaceutical information—single nutrient dosing for certain conditions. The idea of whole food and balance hadn’t filtered through the industry yet like it has today.

When I learned the Three Treasures system of herbology everything came into focus for me and grounded all the knowledge I had accumulated into a framework that made sense. It’s not only the system we use for HerbWorks, my whole life is wrapped up in this ancient view of mind-body health. 

Related Podcast - Anti-Aging and Tonic Herbalism

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