Why Burning The Midnight Oil Leads To Early Death, and Why Women Age Faster Than Men

Day 4

by Gene Chuah

God is fair, and everything is a trade-off.

“Men, save your seed!” That was one of the many valuable lessons we learned from yesterday’s class. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, you are endowed with a fixed amount of “life force” at birth. At the moment, there is no known technique for adding to this “savings account” — it was created for you during conception by your parents’ contributions using a portion each of their own life-force, and also determined while you were in the womb (your mom chipped in big-time). Called Pre-Natal Essence, or Jing, this vital energy determines your lifespan, because it is always being used up — in the best case of good health, only at a trickle’s pace, but in the worst case (always burning the midnight oil, daily stress, overexertion, poor diet, lack of exercise, toxin burden, excessive grief etc.), you will be “burning Jing” as a much higher rate and this, to put it simply, “will be the death of you” (so that’s how the saying came about).

A quick recap of my Day 3 entry — I had mentioned “burning Yin“, where Yin is the nurturing/soothing force that helps balance the aggressive, active fire of Yang — however in modern society we are burning up Yin much too fast. Pre-Natal Jing Essence is one of the Yin factors that gets burned up in the fires of excessive Yang. Thankfully there is non-Jing energy that we can use to keep this fire in check. It’s called Post-Natal Qi (which in turn contains Yin and Yang polarities, Yin being useful here), which you can acquire daily from food, drink, and the air. Think of this as your “checking account”. A quick step into the world of Pranic Healing reveals to us that there are actually 4 sources of Qi (also known as Prana) : (1) Solar (2) Air (3) Earth, and (4) Tree Prana. If you are honoring your body and in harmony with the laws of nature (living healthy in all aspects), then this Post-Natal life-force is like a daily paycheck that will keep you out of debt and keep you from dipping into your precious Jing savings account. Other types of non-Jing Yin substances are Blood (TCM concept), body fluids, and Yin forces that reside in the organs. Yang fire burns any type of Yin though, so you’d better have plenty of Yin to spare and to shield precious Jing with.

Why is it so important not only to get enough sleep, but to also (ideally) sleep when it gets dark, and rise at dawn, like our ancestors did? If we look at the earth’s day and night cycle, it looks something like this :
Ebb and flow. During the Day, Yang is the predominant force. This is quite evident — daytime is hotter, has more activity (even if you choose to sleep, the birds and bees will be abuzz), and has a high energy level compared to Night which is cooler, quieter, and low-energy, even dormant. Day and Night need each other; if the Earth stopped spinning, one side of the planet would get fried while the other would be frozen.

Now here’s the poetic (but true) part. Since we are a microcosm within the macrocosm of the Earth, this cycle also applies to us, and it needs to coincide with the larger day/night cycle of the Earth. After all, we are Yin relative to our planet, so it makes sense that we should submit to its laws. If you’re not taking the time to “throttle down” and relax at the end of the day, and if you live a Yang-excess lifestyle (too much noise/activity, not enough quiet/rest), then you will be “burning up Yin” in an attempt to maintain balance. When Yin is weak or insufficient, your Yang energy will not be kept in check and will “flare up” when you’re trying to sleep, causing tossing & turning, insomnia, or even nightmares :
This is not too bad until you keep pushing it and eventually run out of spendable, Post-Natal Yin-Qi and start burning up Pre-Natal Jing Essence. So remember to take it easy (a parting wish common to Western society but unheard of in traditional Asian culture). There’s also a phrase in Chinese that my father used to quote to me, translated thus: “early to sleep, early to rise, the body is healthy”. Easier said than done, I know… it boils down to whether or not you want premature death. :-)

Coincidentally, honoring the day/night cycle is also known to the Western mind via the Circadian Rhythm which says that 10pm to 6am is actually the ideal time-block for sleep.

Now on to our next exciting topic. Why does it seem that women mature faster (think teens) than men, and why does it appear that women age faster too? You know the thing about younger women and older men. And people do say “men seem to age better”. Surprise surprise, according to TCM, women run on 7-year cycles while men run on 8-year cycles. Now — if not for offsetting factors — one of them that men lose Jing through ejaculation — men are supposed to outlive women.

Hmm… I had always suspected that women are “overclocked” compared men, so this now makes sense. Given the same energy, a higher-frequency wave (women) travels less far than a lower-frequency one (men) :


Of course, again, we know that this is not the only factor because women end up living longer than men. But this picture shows us, for example, that a woman has reached her 5th milestone at age 35, while a man reaches it at age 40, given the same expenditure of energy. God is fair. In many ways, women run circles around men, and we all know it. Here is the list of gender trade-offs that we touched on in class :

Men Women
Age slower, but have shorter lives Age faster, but have longer lives
Free from having to give birth Give birth, using up Pre-Natal Essence (Jing)
Orgasms use up Jing Orgasms are “free”
“Age better” Develop faster

But 7/8-year cycles of what? Every cycle, each person gets an “infusion” of Jing (from the Kidneys, where Jing is stored). Think of it as a big withdrawal from your savings account every 7 or 8 years. You use this “money” differently depending on your age. In your younger years, you’ll be using it for growth (the second cycle is puberty), but in later years, the withdrawals are smaller, and you’re using it mostly as fuel to maintain your body. I didn’t get a clear answer on this in class, but I imagine it to be more of a “smoothened sawtooth” wave rather than a pure sine wave, diminishing over time (note to self: needs further research).

I can imagine that all this may not come as good news to both men and women reading this, but “it is what it is”. For the men : some of you may remember this Internet meme. I guess it’s not too far off from the truth in the sense that this is not a “free” transaction. Now before you come at me with the pitchforks, also know that in TCM there is a “recommended schedule” (to be covered in a later class) for men so that you don’t burn up your Jing too fast, which means, abstinence isn’t the rule (in case you were concerned).

Also, some people are endowed with more Jing from the get-go (in terms of quantity as well as quality) (millionares, we call them), explaining how some women can have 20 kids and still be more than fine. Not all is lost, however; even if you started out with a small Jing bank account, you can still do a lot and go far by generating and living off good Post-Natal Qi with a healthy lifestyle, according to our instructor. Related idea : parable of the “talents”.

Here’s what’s written in the Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine) (I plucked this off somewhere; needs verification) :

Female Jing Cycles of Seven

A woman’s Kidney energy becomes prosperous at seven years of age (1×7).
Her menstruation appears as the ren (sea of yin) channel flows and the chong (sea of blood) channel becomes prosperous at the age of 14 (2×7).
Her Kidney qi reaches a balanced state, and her teeth are completely developed at the age of 21 (3×7).
Her vital energy and blood are substantial, her four limbs are strong and the body is at optimal condition at the age of 28 (4×7).
Her peak condition declines gradually. The yang ming channel is depleted, her face withers and her hair begins to fall out at the age of 35 (5×7).
Her three yang channels, tai yang, yang ming and shao yang, begin to decline. Her face complexion wanes and her hair turns white at the age of 42 (6×7).
The ren and chong channels are both declining, her menstruation ends, her physique turns old and feeble, and she can no longer conceive at the age of 49 (7×7).

Male Jing Cycles of Eight

A man’s Kidney energy is prosperous, his hair develops and his teeth emerge at the age of eight (1x 8).
His Kidney energy grows and is filled with vital energy, and he is able to let his sperm out at the age of 16 (2×8).
His Kidney energy is developed, his extremities are strong, and all of his teeth are developed by the age of 24 (3×8).
His body has developed to its best condition, and his extremities and muscles are very strong at the age of 32 (4×8).
His Kidney energy begins to decline, his hair falls out and his teeth begin to whither at the age of 40 (5×8).
His Kidney energy declines more, the yang energy of the entire body declines, his complexion becomes withered and his hair turns white at the age of 48 (6×8).
His Liver energy declines as a result of Kidney deficiency; the tendons become rigid and fail to be nimble at the age of 56 (7×8).
His essence and vital energy is weak, as are his bones and tendons. His teeth fall out and his body becomes decrepit at the age of 64 (8×8).


More nuggets we picked up in yesterday’s class :

Menopause is classified as a Yin deficiency.

In order of Yang to Yin, it’s : vodka, red wine, white wine, then beer. Beer has both Yang and Yin components. Too much beer causes a beer belly due to excess Damp.

Yang-excess and Yin-deficiency are similar, in that Yang overpowers Yin. However, in Yang excess, Yin is near the normal absolute; in Yin deficiency, Yang is near the normal absolute. Both conditions are similar but because Yang-excess is higher-energy, the symptoms, although similar, are greater in magnitude. Some differences though : Yang-exc gulping vs. Yin-def sipping (thirst), Yang-exc heat symptoms throughout the day, but Yin-def mostly in evening and night. For both conditions: rapid hunger, thirst, constipation, sweating, irritability, scanty/dark urine, preference for coolness. Hmm, this gets me thinking… in Western society we say someone is “cool” — maybe because they are really full of Yang fire (a positive trait in Western society) but are also balanced with “coolness” (a calm demeanour?) — the magnitude of their Yin reflecting on the magnitude of their Yang?

The flip side of the coin are the “cold” conditions : Yang Deficiency and Yin Excess. Similar symmetry relative to each other; general symptoms are : feeling cold, low energy, needing to sleep longer, poor circulation, poor digestion, anemia, paleness, soft stools or diarrhea, no thirst, abundant urine, preference for warmth. Yin Excess is more rare but symptoms are more serious and usually involve pain (Qi blockage).

Kidney beans are good for the kidneys. For both kidney Yang, Yin, and Jing. The “doctrine of signatures” seems to apply here.

Continuing from last week, the 4th principle of Yin and Yang is its constant transformation. For example, in the food chain, grass is Yin, eaten by a deer, which is Yang relative to it. The deer is Yin to a lion, which is more Yang. When the lion eats the deer, it is satiated and becomes more Yin, feeling relaxed (also 3rd principle of mutual consuming-supporting). But when the lion dies, it becomes Yin, providing nourishment to Yang decomposing bacteria (its Yang energy also gets released to Heaven, or back to Source). So as we can see, Yin and Yang are constantly being transformed, its balance continually shifting within any one “actor”. This principle also applies to one’s actvities during their daily cycle — which ties into the importance of “winding down” the day as mentioned earlier (shifting gears, not Yang all the time).

Best time to exercise is around 5pm when Kidney Qi is strongest. Kidney supports physical strength. This is similar to the Base Chakra’s function in Pranic Healing. I’ve also read about the 5pm peak from other articles on circadian rhythm.

Qi energy in TCM organs follows a specific direction — each organ has a prescribed direction. For the Stomach, it is downward. During an imbalance, if it flows upward, it is considered “rebellious” and nausea is a symptom.

Different foods are cooling (Yin), warming (Yang) or neutral. An imbalance in your diet will cause you to become closer to one pole, which will also affect your behavior (e.g. aggressive, high-energy vs. calm, low-energy). Cultural diets in most cases support (cause?) cultural expectations of behavior. However sometimes you’ll have people whose inborn traits make them a misfit in their society (anti-war vegan at a UFC barbecue or punk rocker born to Zen priests?). Well whaddaya know… meat is Yang, and vegetables are Yin. Which culture eats more of each?

Jing energy is vital for health in old age — think of it as your pension fund. Jing-poverty in old age means weakened teeth and bones. The kidneys store Jing so any kidney impairment will also affect Jing supply.

Jing is considered a Yin energy. If you think of a seed, it is dormant (yet has great potential). It is small. It belongs to the earth. All Yin qualities. It should also make sense that semen is Yin (in fact it is), as it also is a type of seed, and it carries Jing essence. Semen is also carried in an external pouch designed with the main purpose of “cold storage” — and Cold == Yin. Also, tying back in to the Pranic Healing world, the lower chakras (Base, Sex chakras) are considered “lower” energetically and are of lower vibration/frequency. Being “lower” is also a Yin quality.

What a great class !!


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