The five vital concepts in Traditional Chinese Medicine


According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the human body is a collective of interrelated yin-yang systems. When these different yin-yang systems are in harmony, the body is healthy, but when there is disharmony, illness arises.

There are three major yin-yang systems that are crucial to health known as the Functional Entities:

1. The Five Vital or Fundamental Substances: Qi (Vital Life Force), Xue (Blood), Jin ye (Body Fluids), Jing (Essence), and Shen (Spirit).

2. Zang-FuFive bodily organs that follow a Wu Xing cycle.

3. Jing-Luo: Meridians that are connected to the Zang-fu, through which the five substances flow.

The Functional Entities are responsible for performing five cardinal functions, which protect and maintain health within the body. The five cardinal functions are: actuation, warming, defense, containment, and transformation.

The Five Vital or Fundamental Substances are: Qi, Jing, Xue, Shen, and Jin ye. Each of them play a different role in maintaining life and health within the body. Let’s examine them in greater detail:

Qi: Qi (also known as Chi) is the most basic of the Fundamental Substances. It is usually translated as “life force” and flows through the Jing-luo (meridians), which correspond to particular points on the body.

If the flow of qi becomes obstructed, then the body cannot perform the Five Cardinal Functions, and as a result, illness may occur.

For example, if there is a qi deficiency, then issues like fatigue, lowered immunity, poor digestion, and breathing problems may ensue. Similarly, an excess of qi can result also in illness, such as stress, insomnia, and dry mouth.

Jing: Jing, which translates into “essence” is the substance that is responsible for both the essential immaterial (soul) and essential physical being (body) of a person. It is yin nature and is stored in the kidneys. It is considered to be the densest physical matter within the body and circulates through the Eight Major Vessels, where it helps to create semen, menstrual blood, and bone marrow.

Jing regulates the body’s growth and development, and works with qi to help protect the body from harmful external factors.

Jing and qi have a close relationship. Together, are believed to form the foundation for shen, or spirit.

Shen: Shen is the yang portion of qi. It is often translated as “spirit” and is responsible for regulating emotions. Shen is stored in the heart and enters a rested state while sleeping. It is nourished by xue and is stored in the blood vessels. Symptoms of imbalance may include mental illnesses, such as anxiety and extreme depression, but also insomnia.

Three Treasures: Qi, Jing, and Shen are referred to as The Three Treasures. Together, they form the foundation for understanding the human body and the healing practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine, such as acupuncture, tui na, and herbology.

However, the other two fundamental substances are still important and should be thought of as subsets or particular manifestiations of The Three Treasures, rather than completely different substances.

Xue: Xue or blood is the liquid life force of the body, and its key proponent is nourishment. It is yin in nature and is considered to be a subset of qi. Qi gives rise to blood, which nourishes the Zang-fu organs, which produce more qi.

Click on the below links where I will discuss each of the fundamental concepts with greater details in addition to exploring the concept of dualism: ‘Ying/Yang’. For now, the important concept to keep in mind is that the substances are all interconnected and need to remain balanced to stay healthy. As we better describe theese particulars, the big picture of health and healing in Traditional Chinese Medicine will become clear…


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About Kimberley

Kimberley, Acupuncturist and Clinic Director at Life + Lemons, is a registered TCM (Traditional Chinese Medical) Acupuncturist, passionate about helping women reclaim their feminine edge. After graduating with a First Class Honors in York, she has undertaken specialist training in the area of pain management, natural conception, IVF support, menopause + pelvic pain (endometriosis/dysmenorrhea).