THREE TREASURES: ESSENCE, ENERGY AND SPIRIT
What can we do to avoid sickness, debility, and senility in our lives? What can we do to help ourselves heal from diseases or afflictions already a part of our lives? What can we do to create a longer, healthier, enjoyable, and more productive life? I suggest we look toward the ancient wisdom of the Chinese people who have studied the phenomenon of longevity for over 5,000 years. A vast body of Chinese medical knowledge has accrued from these efforts, providing a viable alternative to unhealthy, destructive life habits.
The Traditional Chinese Medicine paradigm of health and healing emphasizes the influence of emotions, nature, electromagnetic forces, and energy on the human body and spirit. This system is built on the belief that energy flows throughout every living thing and health depends on how and where this energy is flowing. The Traditional Chinese Medicine view of health maintenance emphasizes the importance of prevention as a necessary first step.
THE FIRST CLASSIC OF CHINESE MEDICINE, THE NEI JING, STATES THAT TREATING DISEASE AFTER IT ARISES IS LIKE BEGINNING TO DIG A WELL AFTER ONE HAS BECOME THIRSTY OR LIKE FORGING SPEARS AFTER WAR HAS ALREADY BROKEN OUT.
Ancient Chinese medical texts are filled with information about how to prevent disease and degeneration. These texts offer a variety of guiding principles about how to create and maintain a healthful and long life. A basic tenet of these teachings holds that we are born with an abundant supply of “THE THREE TREASURES”: which are ESSENCE, ENERGY and SPIRIT. These three treasures are believed to have a direct affect on the aging process as proper cultivation, preservation, and protection of them creates a greater likelihood for a long and healthful life.
A fundamental relationship exists between essence, energy and spirit whereby an accumulation of one, in turn, creates abundance in the other. To retard the aging process, it is, therefore, essential to maintain balance and harmony within not just one, but all of the treasures. Understanding how these three treasures work together to promote proper body function provides a compelling impetus for making healthier choices in one’s life.
TREASURE #1: ESSENCE, also known as Jing, forms the initial substance from which the body is created and determines genetic make-up and constitution. The quality of Jing determines longevity and resistance to degenerative disease. Strong Jing generates a long life free of degenerative disease. Weak Jing manifests in children as failure to thrive and in adults as premature aging. Tooth decay, arthritis, hearing loss, lack of sexual drive, osteoporosis, and senility are all examples of the physical and mental deterioration that occurs with diminishing of essence.
A finite amount of Jing exists within the body at birth and when it is ultimately used up, one dies. To allay this process, extra energy left over at the end of a day can be transformed during sleep and used to protect Jing from being consumed too quickly. Since we tend to have less excess energy as we age, our bodies can be depleted of Jing more quickly during our latter years. For this reason, it is best to conserve energy each day, go to bed and rise at a reasonable time, and avoid chronic stress throughout life, but especially in our later years. In addition, Jing receives its nourishment after birth from food and water. Practically speaking, this explains why consuming organic foods and drinks can help to maintain a healthy body through promoting strong Jing.
Essence is related primarily to the kidneys, the main organ that controls growth, maturation, aging, and natural death. The kidneys are considered to be the root of the body’s energy and spark the energy of other vital organs. Maintaining proper amounts of kidney essence, therefore, has a profound effect on the energetics of the body. This explains why strengthening, protecting and cultivating kidney essence is a major focus in Chinese longevity practices.
Chinese tradition dictates that the kidneys are nourished by warmth, yet injured by cold. It is also believed that they are depleted from excess sexual activity. What constitutes excess in this case varies for each person, however once or twice a week is typically recommended.
Self-Help Hints to protect kidney essence:
• Sleep with socks on and refrain from walking barefoot on cold floors to warm and protect the “Bubbling Well Point” which is the first point on the kidney meridian located on the soles of the feet .
• Wear a band (or extra covering) around the lower back or simply make certain the lower back is covered to protect the kidneys from the cold elements, especially in the winter months.
• Abstain from ingesting cold food and drinks, especially in the cold weather or right after vigorous exercise.
• Don’t overdo sex (on a average no more than 1 to 2 times per week). It is also common practice to refrain from orgasm to preserve kidney jing, especially during a healing process.
• Do self-acupressure on the acupoint “Kidney 3” (on each foot behind the inner ankle bone midway between this bone and the Achilles tendon) once daily for two minutes on each foot to strengthen not only the essence, but also the energy of the kidneys. Practice your acupressure in a quiet place so you can concentrate on your breathing and achieve a relaxed, receptive state of mind and body. Breathe into your lower abdomen, rather than into your chest as you perform it to further strengthen your kidney essence and energy. Use firm pressure applied gradually on the acupoint, using your thumb or middle finger.
TREASURE #2: ENERGY, also known as Qi, refers to the life force flowing throughout every cell and tissue of the body. Qi motivates all vital functions and transformations and thus sustains life. Ultimately, everything in Chinese medicine is based on the concept of Qi.
After birth, Qi comes from the digestion and transformation of the food, water and herbs we ingest and air we breathe. This means that to have strong Qi, it is important to eat correctly, drink pure water (liquids), live in a well-ventilated environment, get plenty of fresh air, and use herbs for your healing.
The ancient Chinese exercises of Tai Chi and Qigong are excellent ways to cultivate Qi, thereby supporting the welfare of the physical body. These slow, rhythmical, and meditative movements permit the entire body to relax, opening and restoring the proper flow of Qi within the energetic pathways (meridians) of the body. The enhanced and free flow of energy created through these movements promotes blood flow, thus transporting nourishment to our vital organs, glands, and tissues.
Tai Chi and Qigong movements are often coordinated with slow, rhythmic, and deep breathing techniques to increase lung capacity, cultivate and balance vital energy (Qi), calm the emotions spirit (Shen), as well as nourish vital essence (Jing).
The following Qigong exercise Fluffing White Clouds, as found in my book, Qigong for Staying Young, can be practiced to strengthen your Qi and nourish the three treasures.
To begin, stand with your feet parallel, shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent. Your hands are resting open at your sides with your pinky fingers next to your legs and fingertips facing the earth. As you inhale, straighten your knees and lift your hands to shoulder height in front of you with palms facing upward and elbows slightly bent.
As you exhale, turn your palms downward and bring your arms down, drawing your wrists back in toward your body and bending your knees again. The heel of your hand leads and fingertips follow. End with elbows slightly bent, palms face downward, your hands by your sides stretched out flat as if gently patting white clouds. Turn your palms upward and continue from the beginning. Coordinate the movement of your hands with the bending and straightening of your legs.
The sensation of Qi during this exercise can be extraordinary. As your palms move upward, you may feel as if they are holding a heavy weight – this signifies an abundance of Qi in your hands gathered from the heavens. By contrast, when your palms turn down and float back to your sides, it may feel as if there is a light, fluffy pillow beneath them This is the Qi from the earth that you are feeling in your hands. The power of these sensations increases with every repetition of the movement and your deep, rhythmical breath.
TREASURE #3: SPIRIT, also known as Shen, represents the infinite aspects of consciousness and the mind including awareness, cognition, thinking, feeling, will and intent as reflected in our personality. The Chinese medicine principles for nourishing the spirit suggest openness and peace combined with a balanced and tranquil emotional life. It is believed that the more you can flow within your psyche, the more things will flow around you and the brighter your Shen will be.
The following suggestions can be followed to create a vibrant, shining Shen.
• Visualize yourself strong, yet flexible as bamboo – a Taoist symbol of longevity. Bamboo bends in the strongest winds. It survives without breaking, whereas rigid plants break and die. Remain firm in your inner goals, yet flexible in your choice of methods to achieve those goals.
• Create relationships with people that make you feel happy, respected and good to be around.
• Find what you truly love to do and go for it! Focus yourself toward specific goals to manifest your dreams. Be one of those people living well into your nineties still imbued with a passion for life.
• Find time for fun, rest and relaxation.
• Learn to acknowledge and express your emotions as they arise. Chinese medicine theory teaches us that the five emotions of anger, fear, sadness, grief, and worry, need to be expressed in order for us to stay healthy. If you keep these emotions pent up inside they can have a negative affect on your vital organs. Begin this practice with care and take your time! Be gentle with yourself and those around you as you honor and share your feelings. It is not the easiest route but it is certainly the healthiest.
Be flexible, spontaneous, and free from judgment. This is the best way to achieve peace within yourself and your environment. The more your mind flows, the more your Shen will be pacified, your Jing cultivated, and your Qi will flow freely throughout your body.
AS THE MASTER CHANG PO-TUAN SAID A THOUSAND YEARS AGO: “THE WORDS ARE SIMPLE, AND THE WAY IS EASY. IT’S LIKE FINDING THE SOURCE BY FOLLOWING THE STREAM.” AS LONG AS YOU STAY ON COURSE AND DON’T GET SIDETRACKED EN ROUTE, YOU WILL GET THERE SOONER OR LATER. MEANWHILE, THE JOURNEY ITSELF IS HALF THE FUN, AND THE TAO TEACHES US HOW TO ENJOY THE TRIP WITHOUT EXHAUSTING ALL OUR RESOURCES.
Shoshanna Katzman – author of Qigong for Staying Young