Traditional Chinese medicine holds that the body is an interconnected system of channels and pathways, a self-contained system that relies on various factors to maintain a state of balance and harmony. Among these factors are the Vital Substances, which travel through the body’s pathways to help the body maintain its health state. The Vital Substances are:
Qi. Pronounced “chi,” this substance is a vital force or energy believed to control the workings of the human mind and body. As such, it plays an important role in traditional Chinese medicine. It warms the body and protects it from illness.
Qi is derived from two main sources: the air we breathe and the food we eat. Qi is believed to flow through the body via channels, or meridians, that correspond to particular organs or organ systems. Each organ, in turn, has its own characteristic qi (e.g., liver qi, kidney qi, and so on).
Occasionally, qi may become imbalanced due to depletion or obstruction. When this occurs, the function of organs or organ systems may be adversely affected, because of the body’s inability to transport or produce the qi necessary to fight illness or infection.
Body Fluids. Also known as jin ye, body fluids are the liquids that protect, nourish and lubricate the body. These fluids include sweat, tears, saliva, stomach acid, mucus, semen, breast milk, and other bodily secretions. In TCM theory, the jin are the lighter, purer fluids, which moisten and nourish the skin and muscles. The ye, on the other hand, are the darker, denser fluids; they nourish the internal organs, brain, bones and body orifices.
The body fluids and blood are closely aligned. They have the same source, replenish and nourish each other. The body fluids are also closely connected with qi. A loss of body fluids may result in a qi deficiency, while a depletion of qi may cause an unwanted dispersal of body fluids.
Blood. Blood, or xue (pronounced “shway”), is perhaps the most important liquid in the body. TCM principles hold that blood is the foundational element for the formation of bones, nerves, skin, muscles and organs. It nourishes the body, moistens body tissues and ensures that they do not dry out. Blood also contains the Shen, or spirit, which balances the psyche. Blood and qi perform many of the same functions, yet are interdependent.
Jing. Jing, or essence, is the substance responsible for reproduction and regeneration. It is believed to be derived from two sources: the energy inherited from one’s parents and the energy a person acquires in his or her daily life (chiefly from air, food and water). 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. In traditional Chinese medicine, they are believed to form the foundation for the shen, or spirit.