Shen, Jing and the Three Treasures

Shen, Jing and the Three Treasures, are specific concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). They do not exist in western medicine.


Shen, “Spirit” or “Mind”, is our consciousness, mental functions, mental health, vitality, quickness of mind in the interaction with the others and the environment. Shen lives in the Heart and Blood Vessels (part of the Heart system in TCM) and is nourished by Blood. In TCM’s pathology, deficient Blood may fail to nourish the Shen. Alternatively, Heat (of various Organs) may disturb the Shen. State of the Shen is visible in the eyes. If Shen is healthy the eyes are bright and shining with vitality. Disturbed Shen produces dull eyes, which seem to have a curtain in front of them. This can be seen in those with long-term emotional problems or after serious shock (even a shock that occurred a long time ago.)  Healthy Shen depends on the strength of the Essence (stored in Kidneys) and Qi (produced by Spleen and Stomach). Thus, Shen is dependent on the Prenatal Jing and the Postnatal Jing. If Essence and Qi are healthy, Shen will be nourished.

Jing, Essence or Vital Substance, is the substance most intimately connected to life, and should never be wasted. It can be classified as follows:

  • Prenatal Jing (Pre-Heaven Essence) – At conception it is passed from the parents to the fetus . Together with the energy derived from the mother’s Kidneys, it nourishes the fetus during pregnancy. Prenatal Jing determines basic constitution, strength, and vitality. It is fixed in quantity, determined at birth and cannot be replaced, but only saved and used up more slowly. It is stored in the Kidneys. To preserve Prenatal Jing it is essential to reach a balance in all life activities: diet, work/rest and sexual activity. Irregularity or excess in these areas, wastes Prenatal Jing. Some exercises help to preserve Prenatal Jing, such as breathing exercises, Taiji, and Qi Gong.
  • Postnatal Jing (Post-Heaven Essence) – After birth, the child begins breathing, eating and drinking independently from the mother. Its Lungs, Spleen and Stomach then begin functioning to extract and refine Qi from air, water and food. Postnatal Jing is the complex of essences thus refined and extracted. Postnatal Jing depends mainly on the functions of Stomach and Spleen.
  • Kidney Jing – It derives from Prenatal and Postnatal Jing and is the result of the interaction of both. It is stored in the Kidneys, has a fluid (Yin) nature and circulates all over the body, especially in the Eight Ancestral (Extraordinary) Vessels. Kidney Jing plays an important role in physiology. It forms the basis for growth, development, sexual maturation, and reproduction. During childhood it controls the growth of bones, teeth, hair, brain development and sexual maturation. If it is weak, there may be poor bone and teeth development, stunted growth, and mental retardation. In puberty Kidney Jing controls reproductive function and fertility. It also controls conception and pregnancy (when Kidney Jing is weak there can be infertility, and miscarriage). Finally, it naturally declines giving the characteristic signs of hair and teeth loss, impairment of memory, etc. Kidney Jing is the basis for Kidney Qi, an aspect of Kidney Yin. Deficiency of Kidney Jing can result in impotence, chronic weak or lower back pain, weak knees, tinnitus, deafness , urinary incontinence, loose teeth, etc. Kidney Jing produces Marrow, from which bone marrow, spinal cord and brain are formed.
    Essence and Qi are the material foundation for Shen.

Jing, Qi and Shen are the Three Treasures. They represent three different states of condensation of Qi, ranging from Jing, more fluid and material, to Qi, more rarefied, and Shen, the most rarefied and immaterial.