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TCM substances: Essence (Jing)

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TCM substances: Essence (Jing)

This is the third post on the series on basic body substances in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The basic substances are Qi, Blood (Xue), Essence (Jing), Spirit (Shen), and Body Fluids (Jin Ye). You will find out about the concept and functions of each substance as well as ways to maintain their health and balance within the body.

Essence (Jing) is the deepest and densest of the basic substances. It is stored in and “administered” by the Kidneys, and is responsible for our constitutional strength.


Types of Jing

TCM classifies Jing into three distinc types:


Prenatal Jing

Our parents' Essences combine to form our Prenatal Jing
Our individual Jing first results from the combined Essences of our mother and father carried within the ovum and sperm at the time of conception, and it is influenced by our mother's health during pregnancy. This Jing provides the basis for our foetal growth and development; we could indeed say that we owe our very existence to it. Because this is the Essence that determines the constitution we are born with - our built-in strength and ability to fight illness and be mentally and physically healthy- it is often equated to our genetic make-up.

Prenatal Essence constitutes the deepest and largest part of our overall Jing. After we are born, it acts as a kind of energetic savings account whose contents will be gradually spent through our normal growth, physical and mental development, reproduction, and aging process.


Prenatal Essence is fixed in quantity and is considered irreplaceable - what has been used cannot be renewed. Nevertheless, it is possible to slow down its exhaustion by leading a moderate  and supportive lifestyle. Conversely, a life of continuous excess, lack of adequate rest, and poor nutrition can make us use our Essence at a faster pace. This in turn will lead to a decline in health that may involve chronic incurable illnesses, infertility, premature aging, etc.  
Postnatal Jing
Postnatal Jing is the deep nourishment we get from what we eat and drink. After we are born, we obtain energy from what we eat and drink, and from a supportive lifestyle. When we are in health and cultivate our energy with proper nutrition, rest, and moderation; we are able to harbour enough Qi for optimum functioning of the body. When this is the case, the energy that is not used on everyday functions gets further refinement to become Postnatal Jing which will provide a reserve for times of higher demand of Qi - such as illness -, thus protecting Prenatal Jing from being used faster during these times. Conversely, when we behave recklessly and fail to nourish ourselves and cultivate our health, we end up spending more energy than we can replace on a daily basis and end up resorting to the deeper Prenatal Essence for basic bodily functions.

If Prenatal Essence represents the savings that need to be spent carefully and wisely so that they last us long enough to live a comfortable old age, Postnatal Essence is our current account from which we draw for our day to day needs, and which we replenish with nourishment and rest. When we start to “borrow” from our life-savings to pay everyday bills, we may start a downward spiral that may leave us with no savings at all unless we correct the situation and restore the production of Postnatal Essence to normality.

Kidney Jing
Kidney Jing is in fact the combination of prenatal and postnatal Jing. The use of Prenatal Jing follows very long cycles related to all the events associated with - and triggered by - important developmental landmarks such as the loss of milk teeth, the beginning of our reproductive life, reaching reproductive maturity, and the beginning of reproductive decline. It is thought that prenatal Jing is released every 7 (in women) or 8 (in men) years, this released Jing is what combines with postnatal Jing to form Kidney Jing. 

Jing gets put into action by the Kidneys where it is converted into into prenatal (Yuan) Qi, before it gets delivered into the body and vessels to enable all the events related to our growth, mental and physical development, reproductive development and fertility. Yuan Qi also serves as a catalyst to all bodily functions including the transformation of food and drink into Qi and Blood. Through proper Kidney function, Kidney Jing makes possible every single event that happens in our body throughout our lifetime. This is why looking after the health of the Kidneys is one important way to maintaining our Jing.

 Functions of Jing 


Jing triggers all changes during the different life stages
 Provides the basis for growth, development, and reproduction: This includes all of our mental and physical development from the foetal stage up to puberty, the development and functioning of our reproductive system and our fertility, and all natural processes occurring as a result of growing up, maturing, and aging.    
Is the origin of our constitutional strength: Jing is what determines our individual physical characteristics, enables growth and reproduction, and our in-built ability to fight illness. The solidity and strength of our bones, muscles, and all organs in the body also depend on our Jing. 

Produce the Marrow:  Marrow is understood as the collection of substances and tissues that fill the bones, spinal cord, and the brain and it is closely related to the the skeletal and nervous systems and to our overall mental ability. 


Provides the foundation for Kidney Qi: Jing has a very close relationship with the Kidneys and just as the Kidneys provide it with storage and enable its distribution through the body, Jing provides the basis for the Kidney energy to enable Kidney function.


Jing deficiency


Jing becomes naturally depleted with age and this accounts for our decline in physical ability in later life. In Taoist philosophy, Jing, Qi, and Shen (spirit) are the "three treasures" which are involved in a cycle of transformation of the more physical (Jing), into energy and vital force (Qi) and into our more ethereal, spiritual dimension (Shen). Although this process is constantly happening for the three substances to always be present, the normal decline of energy that we experience as we grow older can be regarded as a manifestation of a natural tendency to become increasingly spiritual beings. However, physical decline does not necessarily imply decades of ill-health or total loss of all capabilities both mental and physical. In TCM, Jing is the secret of longevity and it is associated with our ability to enjoy good health up to a ripe old age. In order to achieve this, Jing needs to be conserved and protected from being wasted by leading a lifestyle that promotes the daily restoration of the Qi and Blood that we use.


A society hooked on stimulants and fastness exhausts our Jing
In our fast-paced society, we tend to use Jing much more quickly than we are supposed to. Jing gets directly depleted by the excessive use of stimulants, excessive sexual activity in men and many consecutive pregnancies in women (even if they don’t come to full term); while failing to get enough rest, sleep and relaxation, a poor diet, constant/unremitting stress, worrying and over-working for long periods of time can deplete our Qi and Blood to the point of forcing our Jing to get used up just to keep going.  As the Western lifestyle commonly encourages us to push ourselves to the limit and become oblivious of our basic needs, it is not surprising that we are seeing increasing numbers of people showing signs of Jing deficiency in the form of infertility and impotence, chronic and incurable illnesses particularly of neurological and immune origin, premature aging, poor constitution and immunity in children inheriting poor Jing from unhealthy parents, etc.

 

What you can do 

Protecting Jing 
We are born with a quantity of Jing that varies depending on what our parents gave us. Because of this, it is up to each of us to determine what lifestyle is the most suitable for our individual needs. Having different constitutional strengths means that we all respond differently to everything in life: Some of us are more able to cope with pollution and air-borne particles while others choke and are unable to breathe at the first sign of dust or spores; some of us can afford to exercise heavily without feeling achy or exhausted while others cannot. And so it goes....

In the UK, w
e tend to live well beyond our own needs in terms of energy and health. Not only we are constantly pushing ourselves, but we also fail to restore the lost energy with proper nutrition and rest. The key to conserving our Jing and long term health lies in our awareness of our individual needs. We owe it to ourselves to find what our bodies are happiest with in terms of diet, rest, relaxation, and exercise. Trying to live up to somebody else’s rhythms - i.e. what our peers or the media tell us is "right" - can end up harming our health and our self-confidence. Living with an awareness of our strengths and limitations can make us stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Nourishing and maintaining Qi with nutritious food, rest, fresh air, and exercise is also of great relevance for the protection of Jing. Looking after our Spleen, Lung, and Kidney energy is important too, as these are these are the organs involved in the making of Qi and Blood, and the Kidneys have an especially close relationship with Jing.


Conserving Jing
Ancient practices can enable us to conserve Jing
Men lose the most Jing through semen, during ejaculation. This does not necessarily mean that there should be total sexual abstinence but rather awareness that the sexual act uses energy that can be lost forever when it is performed superficially and recklessly. Since ancient times, techniques have been developed in order to promote a profound energetic exchange that in fact nourishes the two people involved in the sexual act. Examples of these techniques are found in Tantric and Taoist practices which work on enabling orgasmic energy to be raised back into the body so that Jing is not lost. As a result, pleasure may be enhanced at the same time as longevity is promoted.

Women use up the most Jing during pregnancy and childbirth. After giving birth, the mother needs time to consciously rebuild her Qi and Blood in order to restore her full health. Consecutive pregnancies, do not give a chance for this to happen and the Jing used by the pregnancy itself will compound with the Jing needed to replenish the resources that hadn’t yet been rebuilt, leaving the mother Jing deficient. This will have consequences not only on her health but on the health of her future children.


Prolonged or frequent menstrual bleeding may also deplete Jing. Understanding and respecting the role of menstruation in a woman’s life so that menstrual health can be promoted is essential for the conservation of Jing and the overall health of every woman. For more on this check my previous post exploring menstrual health.



TCM treatment


Because Jing is irreplaceable, TCM treatment for Jing deficiency will focus on enhancing the Qi-making mechanisms of the body by strengthening the organs involved in digestion and development -the Spleen and Kidneys- and promoting plentiful Yin and Yang within the body so that the Kidneys do not release Jing unnecessarily. This cannot generally be done with Acupuncture alone as strengthening the energy to this extent requires the nourishing qualities of herbal tonics.


Specific symptoms rooted in Jing deficiency such as infertility, failure to thrive in children, developmental issues, etc.; can be addressed at the same time as the root of the problem is treated. Long-term treatment may be required particularly as many of the stronger Chinese herbal remedies and the animal products traditionally used for this condition are not available to UK practitioners. Nevertheless, this helps put emphasis on the supportive lifestyle which will enhance the effects of treatment and provide tools for long-term wellbeing.



Jing can be regarded as the seed from which our life originates. Although we cannot do much about the Jing that we have been given by our parents, we can make the most of it by leading a life that reflects and respects our individual abilities and strength. Treasuring our Jing is the same as treasuring our life and that of the children we want to bring into the world who will ultimately benefit - or not - from what we have to give them. 


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