In Chinese medicine, a model of the body is used that is based upon energy and the passages along which energy flows to nourish the organs. Just as prana has many forms, there are three major energies in the Chinese model: Chi (Qi), Ching (Jing) and Shen. The passages, similar to the yogic nadis, are called “meridians.” And where the yogic models include psycho-energetic centers called “chakras,” in the Chinese models the organs are the important centers for energy storage and distribution. In the Chinese model, the organs are actually functions residing, not just within the physical location of the organs as we know them in the West, but within every cell of the body.

Chi is derived from the word “breath,” just like prana or spirit, and also denotes this essential life force. Chi is the mystical, subtle force that moves the universe. One meaning for the word is “weather.” Another is “heaven’s breath.” Chi is the pulsation of the universe itself. It is found everywhere, in all things. It is not quite energy or matter; rather, it can be considered energy on the verge of becoming matter, or matter on the verge of becoming energy. Chi is becoming and being. Chi doesn’t cause things to happen, as Chi is always present before, during, and after any change or event. [1] Whether Chi is real or merely a metaphor is debated. In the next chapter, The Western View of Energy, we will look closer at these subtle energies and join that debate.

When we looked at the Yogic view of energy, we noticed that there were five main kinds of prana within the body. In a similar manner, the Daoist yogis and doctors discerned five kinds of Chi, called “the fundamental textures,” which include the three major energies seen already. These are:

  • Chi
  • Blood
  • Ching
  • Shen and
  • Fluids

Blood is what we would normally think of as blood in the West but with a bit more to it. Blood moves constantly throughout the body, flowing in both the blood vessels we are familiar with in the West, and also through the meridians. Blood nurtures, nourishes, and moistens. Blood is a yin complement to the yang Chi. Where Chi excites, Blood calms. Where Chi advances, Blood remains.

Ching (Jing) is essence. That definition is not overly helpful and there are many interpretations on what exactly Ching is and does. Ching can be considered the material basis of our body that nourishes and fuels our cells. Ching also cools the body and thus is yin in nature. One definition of Ching claims it is a form of Chi found in sexual fluids. Another possible consideration has Ching being the carrier of our original physical nature. It is in the DNA that our cells build upon – the gift from our parents. Ching is stored in the kidneys and is carried in the semen and menstrual fluids. There are two kinds of Ching: “before heaven” – the Ching that is allocated or given to us before our birth; and “after heaven” – the Ching that we gain from living, eating, and exercising. Unfortunately our store of the prenatal Ching is fixed and cannot be replenished. Once it is used up, life is over. Ching is consumed constantly by just being alive; however, some activities consume Ching too quickly: stress, illness, too much sex or improper sex, or abuse of substances. Some activities restore Ching, but only the postnatal Ching. The secret to longevity is to use up as little before-heaven Ching as possible while building up a store of after-heaven Ching through Daoist practices, such as Chi-gong, Tai Chi, or Yin Yoga.

Shen is a broad term. Sometimes Shen is used as the word for God by Chinese Christians. It is the opposite density from Ching; Shen is the most refined and subtle form of Chi. Shen is the inner strength underlying Chi and Ching, and is closely associated with consciousness. Shen is awareness. It is also associated with creativity. If Shen is weakened, a person will suffer in many ways; forgetfulness and foggy thinking, insomnia or erratic behaviors may arise. [2]

Fluids are all the other liquids we have not yet discussed. These include saliva, urine, perspiration, and all the digestive liquids. Some Fluids are dark and heavy, while others are light and clear. Fluids lubricate and nourish. Fluids feed the skin, the hair, muscles, joints, the brain and all the organs, our bones, and our marrow. While related to Blood, these other Fluids are not as deep or as important as Blood.

  1. — A more complete introduction to Chi can be found in Ted Kaptchuk’s book The Web That Has No Weaver.
  2. — To be complete we would need to investigate the five subcategories of Shen: Yi, which means consciousness of potential; Hun, our non-corporeal souls; Zhi, or our will; Shen again, but this time as our spirit; and Po, which is our animal soul that dies when the body dies.¬†Unfortunately this level of investigation is beyond our scope. The reader is once more directed to
    The Web That Has No Weaver to learn more.