Understanding Jing
What's the lifetime of your body's battery? The kidney essence and what it means for your health.

What's the lifetime of your body's battery? In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) the body's essence, the finite amount of Chi/Prana/Qi that you're born with, is called Jing. When you run out of Jing, you die (essentially of old age). That leaves a couple questions. First, can Jing be replenished? And second, how do I know how much Jing I'm using?

Things that we can't easily see are sometimes hard to measure. And like a lot of TCM concepts, observation is the key to understanding. So, while there may not be a dipstick to measure your Jing, there are several signs you can use to know how you are doing. Let's at least temporarily assume that the premise of a finite amount of essence/Jing is correct.

The first organs to form in the body are your kidneys. They are the energetic "home" of your original essence, the strength and amount of which determines your constitution during your lifetime. This energy is like the fire under an ever-bubbling cauldron that provides sustenance for the rest of your body. It is believed that the amount of Jing you are born with is determined by the constitution of your parents at the time of conception. Having healthy parents ensures a plentiful amount of Jing for the child. Having older or less healthy parents (even just having a simple cold when trying to conceive) is thought to diminish the amount of Jing merged to start the life of the child. Those are all things you can't do anything about anymore.

What's important for you today is how to manage this "natural resource" so you don't run out too soon. Qi Gong instructor Jai Jei answered the question about how to replenish Jing by explaining the way your body uses energy.

There are several different kinds of Chi that your body uses daily, Jing being the one of last resort. So, the Qi (pronounced "chee") that you draw in from breathing (Kong Qi), from eating food (Gu Qi), from resting, and from gathering it through exercises like Tai Chi or Qi Gong, all go to provide a supply of Qi for daily use. It is when you exceed the amount of daily collected or consumed energy that you start tapping into Jing. You can tell that you are tapping Jing because you will feel tired or exhausted doing whatever activity. The phrase "burning the candle at both ends" describes someone who is regularly relying on Jing to supply them with energy.

So, if you are eating and resting well, breathing properly and exercising gently, and not feeling tired, most of the time you are not tapping your Jing because you are using the daily acquired Qi for regular activities. The Qi from food, air, rest, etc. can be easily replenished, whereas Jing cannot. Think of it like a jug with 50% oil floating on 50% water, where the oil is the daily Qi you can refill, but the water can never be replaced. If you consume all the oil, you reach and begin to consume the water. You can refill with more oil, but you can't replace the water you used. Even when you have gotten down to the water many times, and now you have 25% water and 75% oil, you can still have a vibrant life. There are just some things that only use Jing, not everyday Qi, and that's why we continue to age.

Sex is one example where we use Jing (essence) instead of Qi. The energy of orgasm is derived from Jing only as it's designed for the miracle of procreation, while the physical act may use Qi. TCM prescribes a diminishing frequency for sex to preserve Jing as we age, from 2-3 times per week when Jing is plentiful to perhaps once per month when Jing is noticeably diminished. It is one of the reasons sex can temporarily boost your immune system as you release the most powerful Jing (energy/essence) during orgasm.

What other physical manifestations of Jing show how often you're tapping your reserves? Gray hair, short term memory loss, dark circles under your eyes, lower back pain, and lack of coordination (clumsiness) all manifest more when you are depleting Jing. When you are at the bottom of the tank near the end of life, your tongue and fingernails may turn dark purple or black. You've sometimes heard a severely depleted person as someone whose "fire has gone out" (remember the cauldron).

You want to remain young and vital as long as you can. And none of these descriptions takes into account injuries and accidents, nor is this a comprehensive understanding of how your body's energy systems function. It's meant to give you a foundation for understanding the way your body (in TCM terms) is set up to use energy, and why some people age more gently than others.

What can you do to keep from depleting your Jing unnecessarily?

  1. Eat foods that a healthful and look like they were once recently fresh or vibrant (less frozen, canned, processed stuff).
  2. Breathe deeply and fill your lungs with each breath, it is the first source of energy you have so don't skimp.
  3. Rest well, which means letting your body tell you when it's time to put your head down and pick it up again, most people's worst offense in depleting Jing.
  4. Do some Qi-building exercises, a single class is enough to teach you several very easy techniques in Tai Chi or Qi Gong that are great for your blood pressure too.

Lastly, don't panic that you've overdone it for so long that there's no hope. If you live well and follow steps 1-4, you can really limit your consumption of Jing and almost freeze your apparent age. Some people started with a deeper well of Jing than you, and some less deep. It is up to you how to manage your resources. With a little understanding of what is at stake, perhaps you can notice more as it happens instead of in retrospect.

by Paul M. Garcia - Dipl. ABT (NCCAOM), CMT


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Paul Garcia - Paul M. Garcia

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