THE VITAL SUBSTANCES
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.” – Genesis 2:17
“The spirit of God made me, and the breath of the Almighty gave me life.” – Job 33:4
“Qi is understood to be the intrinsic, dynamic, self-regulating and self-maintaining power of the organism. All healing in Chinese Medicine is directed, ultimately, at conserving, protecting, augmenting, restoring, and facilitating Qi.” – Between Heaven and Earth by Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold
“Concerning matter; we have been all wrong. What we have called matter is energy whose vibration has been so lowered as to be perceptible to the senses. There is no matter.” – Albert Einstein
“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.” – Nikola Tesla
Numerous cultures throughout history have identified a certain “vital energy” as critical for life and health. The Chinese referred to this energy as Qi, the Japanese called it Ki, and in Hebrew the term was “Ruach” (which can be translated as breath, wind, or spirit – see Genesis 2:17 above). It is this breath of life that God breathed into dust to create man. In the Bible, God is the source of Ruach (see Job 33:4, above). In human beings, Ruach further denotes an animating dynamic that is characterized by reason, will, and conscience. More recently, European physicians and scientists have called this vital energy Elan Vital or Orgone Energy.
Qi is the motive force behind your ability to move, see, hear, heal, digest, speak, love, and dream. It is the “spark” that keeps your heart beating, your blood circulating, and your brain thinking. It is the energy behind the phenomenal growth of a small child and the remarkable ability of the human body to heal from injury and disease. One translation of the word Qi is “that which animates life”—the presence of Qi is what distinguishes a living being from an inanimate object. The balanced, unobstructed flow of Qi is critical for health.
Qi serves 5 major functions:
- Activates and animates (metabolic function)
- Warms the body (thermogenic function)
- Protects and defends (immune function)
- Transforms and transports (digestive function)
- Contains and retains (circulatory function)
Meridians (also known as channels) are the pathways that conduct Qi throughout the body. Free flow along the fourteen major and innumerable minor meridians of the human body brings life-giving Qi to every cell of the body, including the muscles, nerves, and organs. An obstruction in a meridian is like a dam in a river or a kink in a hose – Qi builds up and overflows the normal boundaries of the meridian on one side; on the other side tissues lack nourishment. When there is an obstruction, energy stagnates on either side of the blockage and tissue function is impaired. If the blockage is sustained, pain and disease results. In Chinese there is a saying, “If there is pain, there is no free flow; if there is free flow, there is no pain.”
Blockages can be caused by injury, contagious diseases, emotional stress, lack of physical activity, excessive physical activity, overuse injuries, faulty diet, and many other factors. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are used to remove blockages, regulate Qi, and restore physiological and psychological
Yin and Yang
By the age of 40, half of the body’s yin has been consumed. (This is because our modern lives tend to burn yin energy much more quickly than yang energy. We are always busy, rarely rest, rely heavily on technology, and our minds are almost never quiet. All of these things consume yin.) This lack of cooling, moisturizing energy results in a relative excess of warming, drying yang energy. This imbalance is frequently referred to as “deficiency heat”.
This is a commonly encountered phenomena in women as they age and approach menopause. As the yin becomes more and more deficient, women often develop symptoms such as night sweats, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, insomnia, and anxiety. These are all signs of yin deficiency – indications that there is not adequate yin to cool and moisturize the body tissues. Fortunately, this situation can be remedied with simple dietary, lifestyle, and herbal strategies.
In Chinese medicine, the term “Blood” refers to the western idea of blood (red liquid that flows in the circulatory system), as well as several additional functions. From the Chinese point of view, Blood is actually a form of denser, more material Qi. Blood flows in the veins and arteries, but it also flows in the meridians (along with Qi). Blood and Qi cannot be separated; Qi infuses life into Blood and without Qi, Blood would be an inert fluid. In the most basic terms, Blood is the substance that serves to nourish and moisten every cell in the body.
According to Chinese medical theory, Blood serves several major functions:
- Nourishes the body
- Moistens the tissues
- Forms the material foundation for the mind (when there is Blood deficiency, a person experiences “deficient restlessness”, which includes vague anxiety, slight irritability, and a feeling of dissatisfaction.)
Just as Blood is denser than Qi, Essence is denser than Blood. According to Bob Flaws, “Essence is the most fundamental, essential material the body uses for its growth, maturation, and reproduction.”
There are two forms of Essence. The “Pre-Heaven Essence” is inherited from our parents and is formed at the time of conception. It is stored in the Kidney, which forms the foundation for the function of all the other internal organs. The concept of Pre-Heaven Essence corresponds roughly to the western notion of genetics and it determines our basic constitution, strength, and vitality. We are each born with a finite amount of Pre-Heaven Essence and when it is gone, we die. The Pre-Heaven Essence could be likened to a long-term savings account. It is important for us to live in a way that protects this limited resource. “Fast living”, including poor diet, stress, too little sleep, caffeine, too much sex, drugs, and alcohol are factors that accelerate our expenditure of Pre-Heaven Essence. Living in a way that minimizes the withdrawals from our “Pre-Heaven Essence Account” is important for long-term health. This is especially important for individuals who are born with a limited amount of Pre-Heaven Essence (i.e. a weak constitution).
Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for “inner parts” in Psalm 139:13 refers to the kidney. This implies that more than one ancient culture saw the kidney as fundamental to human life.
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous, and how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (emphasis added)
The Post-Heaven Essence is formed on a daily basis from the food we eat, the liquids we drink, and the air we breathe. If the Pre-Heaven Essence is a long-term savings account, the Post-Heaven Essence is the checking account that we use for our day-to-day expenses. Fortunately, a strong Post-Heaven Essence that is formed from excellent diet, restful sleep, and proper exercise can partially make up for a weak constitution or past indiscretions.
Because Essence forms the basis for reproduction, adequate reserves of Essence are critical for conception and healthy pregnancy. According to Chinese medicine, a baby conceived at a time when either parent is weakened by illness, fatigue, or old age is likely to be born with weak Pre-Heaven Essence, which will result in a weak constitution and a greater likelihood of congenital malformations or other health difficulties.