Put on your Defensive Qi, it’s cold out!

Day 5

by Gene Chuah

“Put on the full armor of Wei Qi so that you can take your stand against Evil Qi’s schemes.”

What is this miraculous Jing essence we talked about in last week’s class? Jing is actually just one of the several types of Qi (synonyms: Ki, Chi, Prana, universal energy, The Force) coursing through our bodies. In the latest class yesterday, we went into further detail on the other types of Qi in the human body, and the flowchart, or map, of its creation and end products (defensive and nutritive Qi).

First, continuing on Jing. This Pre-Natal Essence, whose level is determined at birth, is stored in the Kidneys, and is responsible for: body growth, reproduction, development (vital in growth of genitalia, bones, teeth, hair) and constitutional strength especially at birth. The quality and quantity of Jing that you have also determines your lifespan and strength of your immune system. Insufficient Jing can cause issues like absent or underdeveloped genitalia.

Your Jing level (quantity, quality) is influenced during conception and pregnancy, by 3 types of factors : (1) Chronic (e.g. smoker parent(s)), (2) Acute (e.g. emotional shock during pregnancy), and (3) Environmental (e.g. time of day, season, astrology at birth).

Jing actually has 2 subtypes. Now here’s where the naming gets a bit tricky, but it’s really simple if you use my made-up names. See table below :

Correct names Jing (Pre-Natal Essence) Yuan Qi (Original, Primary Qi)
Gene’s made-up names Yin Jing Yang Jing
How they’re different More “Yin” than its twin; moves slower. More “Yang” than its twin, moves faster; helps move Jing and circulate it through the channels; think of it as the transporter (it’s still Jing though).
How they’re similar Both are actually Pre-Natal Essence (just different polarities) — stored in Kidneys, endowed at birth, with finite quality/quantity determined at conception/pregnancy; responsible for growth, reproduction, development, health maintenance etc.; direct correlation with immune strength and lifespan; consumed at a low “baseline” rate unless facing physical overexertion; is needed for life to continue. Also consumed via: pregnancy, lactation, and ejaculation.

Now on to our most exciting Qi Synthesis Flowchart :
Qi Synthesis Flowchart

Pretty self-explanatory isn’t it? A picture is worth a thousand words… (granted, this is a picture with words in it). This diagram is actually an amalgamation from what I learned in yesterday’s class plus other TCM material I gathered from around the Web.

A word on True Qi (Zhen Qi). Related concepts: Good Qi, Correct Qi, Upright Qi, Righteous Qi, and Central Qi (see this snapshot discussion). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is a continuous war between Good and Evil that happens in all our bodies. Evil Qi is usually equated with the external elements, and you need a surplus of Good Qi (True Qi) in order to overcome Evil Qi (continually invading from the outside) in order to maintain good health. So, a cold draft at night is definitely one of Evil Qi’s henchmen, better make sure you defend against it. Defend with what? Thankfully your True Qi has 2 components : Defensive Qi (Wei Qi), and Nutritive Qi (Ying Qi). You could think of one as the Ministry of Defense and the other as the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. Defensive (Wei) Qi is your knight in shining armor, ready to defend your body against the orcish hordes. Defensive Qi is more Yang compare to Nutritive Qi, which is Yin in contrast. Think of Nutritive Qi as the citizens of the kingdom, peacefully going about their lives, building, trading, cooking, cleaning and pursuing the arts. They wouldn’t know a thing or two about warfare… and in fact they are more dormant during the daytime (the Yang half of the day), during which Defensive Qi is more active. At night when you go to sleep, the balance shifts from Defensive to Nutritive Qi so your body can heal itself and do all sorts of nifty things like regenerating your cells. Which is why it is important to make sure you are protected from the elements when you go to sleep at night — because your army is asleep and you are more vulnerable to attack. That open window bringing in a draft will make you catch a cold much easier, even if you’re too slow to catch a cold.

Take note that in fact, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, this “kingdom” allegory of the human body is actually used, and was documented in the Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine) as follows :
Nei Jing Kingdom Allegory

Also, an important note here regarding the Organs. You’ll notice that I used the uppercase O for Organs. From this article on, I’ll be adopting this naming scheme where TCM organs will have the uppercase (e.g. Spleen, Stomach, Kidneys). This is to differentiate them from the *real* physiological organ documented in modern medicine (non-TCM). The reason there is this is distinction, is because very often in TCM the Organ doesn’t not correlate 1-for-1 with the actual organ in function and even physical appearance and location. For instance, we know that in modern medical terms, the spleen’s main function is to filter the blood and participate in the immune system. However in TCM, the Spleen performs the function of the intestines. This a very important concept to grasp when studying Traditional Chinese Medicine. The key thing is that we are using models that describe the processes and subsystems of the body, and these models are indeed very accurate in describing how the body works, and how to correct health imbalances as a practitioner. TCM is not concerned about the minute details of physiology — who cares what atoms make up the molecules that make up the proteins that make up the hormones that send messages to notify some transglobuleraseic lammunotamic fluid about its zygonomitrous underundulamations? It’s too easy to fall into this trap of empirical reductionism and not see the forest for the trees. Sometimes less is more.

Now back to Evil Qi’s plotting and his plans for world domination. Defensive (Wei) Qi works hard to keep you protected from him, and when the battle heats up, your body literally heats up too. This is because Wei Qi is Yang (warm, energetic) in nature, and in order to win, more Wei Qi is allocated by the body to the battlefield (at the expense of Nutritive (Ying) Qi). Defensive Qi works mostly around the skin and muscles, and includes responses like vasodilation, vasoconstriction, shivering, and fevers, whereas Nutritive Qi works mostly in the body’s interior, particularly the Organs. Yes, fever is a classic example of a fierce, hot Yang battle going on, and in fact, the stronger one’s immune system, the more intense the battle (higher fever, worse symptoms) — but it is all over quickly, as opposed to a long-drawn-out illness. Sweating during a fever is seen in TCM as the body’s way of expelling the pathogen; the pores let the “evil” out.

Incidentally… lately in the world of modern medicine there has been a renaissance of “letting fevers run their course” instead of bringing them down immediately. This is a good thing, and rightly so — there has been some deeply entrenched scaremongering about fevers causing brain damage, but the incidence of this extremely low, and only happens when the hypothalamus is malfunctioning (extremely rare) (e.g. due to infection), causing a runaway fever. Having a good fever and “sweating it out” will often cure a patient, whereas patients on fever-lowering medications (very common OTC drugs) take much longer to get better. Take a look at these pro-fever articles.

If Evil Qi should get past the Wei Qi defense though, it can “hide” in the body and continue to cause problems (an infection in modern terms). In serious cases, this pathogenic “evil heat” permeates Ying (Nutritive) Qi — yes, it becomes part of the body Qi (e.g. hepatitis, HIV).

It is important to “make hay while the sun shines” when it comes to cultivating Defensive (Wei) Qi. It is best cultivated Daytime vs. Nighttime, and Summer vs. Winter. This makes sense as during the Day we are awake an able to proactively take care of our health (good food, exercise, etc.). Also, during the Summer months, it is easier to grow fresh food and get plenty of sunshine — to build up your Qi reserves before grumpy Old Man Winter comes around again. Be careful, he’s a good friend of Dr. Evil Qi!


Other cool things we learned in yesterday’s class (in no particular order, and I may jump around) :

The Kidneys are a source of both Fire and Water. The Ming Men, located between the Kidneys, is the “gate of vitality” or “gate of fire”. Together with the Kidneys, both Jing (Water) and Yuan Qi (Fire) are distributed to the body in the needed proportion.

An Acupuncture point, “Du 4″, corresponds to the Ming Men. It is located on the back, on the latitude 3 finger-widths below the belly button. Together with some other Acu points on the same latitude, they are great treatment points for Kidney Yang Deficiency. Use moxa (moxibustion) for these points. Especially useful for treating low fertility. The uterus tends to be cold; fertility issues in general are due to lack of heat (both physical heat and TCM Yang). You need warmth to incubate new life; moxa and herbs have been very successful in treating infertility especially in China where there is widespread acceptance and practice.

Each of the 12 main Acupuncture channels has a Yuan Source Point, through which Jing can be brought in. Typically this is used when an Organ needs it; the channel that feeds the Organ is selected for needling on the source point. Think of these Yuan Source Points as faucets and the Meng Men as a pump.

Shen, or spirit, resides in the Heart. Emotional or physical trauma can “unseat” the Shen and cause a person to be in a disoriented/wandering state (he hasn’t been himself ever since…). In extreme traumatic situations (shock), Jing can be lost from the Kidneys as if they were wrung out, and Shen can be “dispersed” — in some cases this is a permanent loss. This helps explain comas, and cases where someone’s head hair turns grey in a very short span of time.

The placenta contains a lot of Jing. Animals in nature eat it after giving birth, to regain lost Jing. Some human mothers are doing this as well (Google: Placentophagy).

There is also a growing awareness in the medical field that after birth, the umbilical cord must not be cut until at least 2 minutes has passed. See these articles. There is still blood and stem cells being pumped through the umbilical cord after birth (and in fact some proponents vouch for not cutting it at all, and letting it fall off naturally). The benefits extend beyond the early neo-natal period and babies delivered this way are healthier (more stem cells and immunoglobulin through the blood, stronger immunity). Here is a photo that was making its rounds on Facebook, showing how the umbilical cord changes over time as it “loses” blood to the baby (if not cut too early):
umbilical cord changes color over time There is research to back this up — see this study, “Mankind’s first natural stem cell transplant“.

One interesting revelation: stem cells contain Jing. There is a connection between placental stem cells and anti-aging. Remember that Jing correlates to lifespan, and that it is endowed at birth? Both the placenta and umbilical cord are also rich sources of stem cells, and it looks like this precious resource of Pre-Natal Essence has led to all sorts of commoditization around it. See also : placenta cord banking. Is it worth more to the mother eating it or selling it? How much is a year of your lifespan worth?

The quality of Gu Qi (Food Qi) is dependent on the suitability of the food or drink to the individual, as well as the healthy functioning of their Spleen.

Spleen Yang is needed to “burn” food. With Spleen Qi Deficiency, the stool will be soft/runny (diarrhea), and the patient will be tired. My analogy is “incomplete combustion” — a cold engine will produce a stronger smell of “wet” gasoline due to not enough “burn”.

Sweet-tasting foods feed Spleen Yang. However, too much Sweetness and/or the wrong kind (refined sugars) will wreck the system and cause a vicious cycle by weakening the Spleen, which in turn results in excess Damp (obesity, tiredness, brain fog). A weak Spleen will cause one to crave Sweet foods, perpetuating the vicious cycle. In TCM, rice is a “good” kind of Sweet food, supplying good Spleen Yang. In TCM, Sweetness corresponds to carbohydrates — it may not have to be actually sweet-tasting to be classified as Sweet (hence the classification of rice). It’s no surprise that rice is a staple in traditional diets, particularly Asian diets. The body prefers a certain regularity when it comes to diet. Traditional Asian diets are quite constant — rice along with side dishes, usually prepared the same way (some variations like steaming, boiling, stir-frying, but mostly a “wet” style as opposed to baking, roasting, frying). The ingredients may vary, but it’s not as big of a swing as, say pizza one day, pasta another, then steak on yet another day.

The Guardian of Wei Qi is the Lungs; the Guardian of Ying Qi is the Spleen.

Signs of low Wei Qi : cold limbs, weakness, low energy, susceptible to colds/flus. Signs of sufficient Wei Qi : redness, sweatiness.

Not all Evil Qi is external; some can originate from within. For instance, excessive anger or worry can manifest as disease (psychosomatic causes).

Eat Yang foods for breakfast to boost Defensive (Wei) Qi (a Yang energy). Conversely, eat Yin foods before bed to boost Nutritive (Ying) Qi (a Yin energy).

4 Functions of Qi :
1. Transforming (think of electricity powering a microphone)
2. Transporting/Moving (physical+mental : voluntary+involuntary actions)
3. Holding (you’ll be surprised what starts falling out when Qi levels are lower, e.g. in old age)
4. Protecting (via Defensive Qi, as discussed above)
5. Warming

When the Heart (where the Shen or Spirit resides) is at peace, one is able to speak their mind clearly. The flip side is stuttering, incoherence or even mental illness. Also, too much pathogenic heat at the Heart can disrupt the Shen and cause mental illness.

The San Jiao or Triple Warmer is an Organ that regulates heat by moving warmth between 3 main vertical regions :
A. Chest, Lungs, Heart (more Yang)
B. Spleen, Stomach, Liver
C. Kidneys, Bladder, Intestines, Uterus (more Yin)

The Heart benefits from Zong Qi (Gathering Qi). With good Zong Qi (see Qi Synthesis Flowchart above), the heart beats stronger, more rhythmically. Correlated with cardio strength, and can be cultivated. A marathon runner is able to extract Zong Qi more efficiently than an armchair dweller.

The Spleen is directly related to our capacity for thinking and concentration. See this excellent snapshot page from tcmstudent.com for the Functions of the Spleen.

 

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