While many are familiar with the herbs and acupuncture of traditional Chinese medicine, few understand the larger picture of what TCM is and how it came to be. There are several paths that have been taken in the development of this medicine, one path was and is to help an individual maintain good health and freedom from disease.
Another path is to ensure as long a healthy life as possible in order to develop the assets of the body mind toward a goal of spiritual and mental fulfillment. The goal of the Court Physicians throughout the history of China’s dynasties was to ensure the health of the emperor and the royal family but even more so to give the emperor the ability to remain strong and mentally bright throughout his long life.
Longevity and immortality were sought as a prize not simply to ensure a long dynastic reign, but also to promote the highest potential for the emperor.
Herbal medicine for the imperial court was largely the use of exotic herbs and minerals like jade, ginseng, cinnabar and antlers to create a state of “exceedingly good health” and long life.
But, why live so long?
The basic paradigm of our medicine is that from the food we eat and the water we drink, we collect sufficient nutrient to grow and nurture our physical body. The mechanism is that when we ingest food and drink it is sent to the stomach to be processed and subdivided, the pure usable substance is sent to the spleen for further processing and the mostly turbid matter is sent to the small intestine. At the spleen the pure usable substance is further processed and subdivided, the purer substance is sent on to the lungs while the more turbid matter is also sent to the small intestine.
In the small intestine the turbid substances are again processed and subdivided, the pure sent back up to the spleen and the turbid to the large intestine.
In the lungs the pure substance is again subdivided, pure fluid from pure substance. The pure fluid is transported by the lungs and “misted” throughout the body moistening the organs and tissues. The pure substance is alchemically mixed in the lungs with the clear air qi that we breathe and is transformed into blood.
The blood is carried by the heart to nourish the other organs and tissues. The blood, which is always replete in a healthy body, stores in the liver and some of that stored blood is transformed into qi, the warming and animating substance of the body. The motive functions of the qi move the blood and the blood, by nourishing the liver, creates more qi.
At this point the body is in harmony and all of the organs and tissues are suffused with qi and blood. If the diet and fluids that are taken in are of high quality and sufficient quantity any surplus of blood and qi will be stored in the kidneys and become jing or vital essence.
The kidneys store the jing essence like a battery stores electrical potential and when the jing itself becomes replete it is further transformed and rarified.
Through the combination of mind will, breathing techniques and physical movement the vital essence that is stored in the kidneys is transported up, through the spinal column to the “lucid orifice” i.e. the brain, where it becomes shen.
Mind will is the collective term for mental concentration and visualization, it is not enough to think a thing, one must also envision the thing. The most common way of thinking about this is a meditative mind but it is more than that because mind will asks the practitioner to see the process, of jing traveling up the spine for instance, in the mind’s eye.
Breathing techniques can be the regulated breathing of meditation but can also include the synchronized breathing of calisthenics or even running.
Physical movement is usually thought of in terms of Chinese yoga or dao yin, qigong and tai chi but so called external martial arts like kung fu and running can be used as the physical movement for this part of the triad of the movement of jing.
There are several types and kinds of shen which can refer to the complexion and general healthy demeanor of the body as well as the brightness in the eyes that shows us that “someone is home”.
Shen in its highest sense is consciousness and it is the natural inclination of human beings to expand their personal consciousness for the good of the self, the species and the environment.
Since ancient times the search for longevity foods, elixirs, exercises and spiritual practices has been to create a temporal platform in which the shen could thrive and the consciousness could grow to its fullest.
Atlantic Acupuncture offers herbal medicines like Brain Food and Strength & Stamina to encourage a state of “exceeding good health” and exercises and breathing techniques like Jade Dragon Qigong and Tai Chi. We also offer individualized programs for the enhancement of the body mind and the development of shen.
Yours in good health,
Robert Kienitz, DTCM