Cultivating the Shen, Energizing the Spirit
Nov 30, 2016 07:52PM
by Rene Ng, DOM, AP, L.Ac.
You’ve most likely heard the phrase “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” Well, in the Chinese culture, we have a similar expression––the Cantonese phrase “Ngarn Shen” which translates to “eye spirit”. This means the health of an individual’s spirit is reflected in their eyes. People in the Western world have also observed that when the eyes appear intense, listless, droopy, disinterested, scared or determined, that’s how the person feels inside. Our spirits play an important role in our lives, evoking fullness or emptiness, prosperity or deprivation.
Total health encompasses three components––the mind, body and spirit. The Mind is the control center which tells our physical selves how to function. The body is the shell that holds together our soft tissues, muscles, tendons, ligaments, internal organ systems, skeletal system and other components that create our anatomical structure. But the drive behind how we live is associated with the spirit. If our spirits are weak, we will become listless, depressed, fatigued, introverted and unmotivated. However, if our spirits are strong, we will exhibit ambition, passion, gregariousness, courage, energy and a general zest for life. Therefore, the spirit is essential to your whether you view circumstances as “half-full” or “half-empty.”
Over the course of several thousand years, the Chinese have developed a deep understanding of how the spirit operates. They have found the spirit is connected to the physical body, and its characteristics are even tied to the body’s organ health. According to the Chinese, the spirit can be separated into five different aspects: Shen, Hun, Po, Yi and Zhi.
Shen –– “The Mind”
In Five Element theory, the Shen is associated with the fire element and the heart organ system. It is tied to our consciousness, mental functions, mental health, vitality, thoughts and waking consciousness. The state of the Shen is visible in the eyes. Therefore, a healthy Shen produces bright, clear and shining eyes.
The Shen resides within the heart where, at night, it rests along with the mind and body. Therefore, if a person thinks too much and cannot sleep, insomnia prevails. In this case, the eyes will reflect a fatigued and disturbed Shen, appearing listless and dull. This is often perceived in people with long-term emotional disturbances.
In addition, manic behavior and panic attacks are frequently experienced by those with heart imbalances. Heart healthy foods like watermelon, bean sprouts and tofu can help relieve those symptoms. Lying motionless on on your back with the limbs spread out can also promote Qi circulation to calm the Shen. Individuals with mental disorders are deemed to be suffering from “Shen Jing Ben,” or “Shen Disturbance Sickness,” and are treated accordingly with Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture.
Hun –– “The Ethereal Soul”
Associated with the wood element in Chinese Five Element theory, the Hun is equivalent to the Western notion of “spirit.” It is not dependent upon a physical being for existence and continues after death. The wood element is connected to the liver organ system which governs emotions. Therefore, imbalances within the liver can impact the Hun, causing both short-term and long-term emotional problems. The Hun is responsible for relationships, love, kindness, empathy, compassion, tolerance, and awareness of suffering. The Hun also serves as a reservoir for ideas that infuse meaning into existence.
Imbalances that affect the Hun can result in anger, frustration, resentment, unkindness and depression. The individual can also feel detached from everyday life. Bipolar tendencies might also surface. To rectify the Hun, liver health must be addressed. A major cause of liver impairment is stress, so de-stressing through exercise goes a long way toward healing the Hun.
In addition, avoiding alcohol and sour or fatty foods can prevent the Liver from becoming imbalanced. Peppermint and chrysanthemum teas are also excellent for helping restore balance in the liver. Chinese Herbal Medicine like “Xiao Yao San,” when combined with acupuncture, is another effective means of returning the liver, and subsequently the Hun, to homeostasis.
Po –– “The Corporeal Soul”
The Po is associated with the lungs and exists only during physical life. In Five Elements theory, it is associated with the metal element. The fact that humans possess sensory abilities connected to the Po. This allows an individual to respond––both physically and emotionally––to circumstances, take actions, and gauge justice.
In Chinese Medicine, the lungs manage the immune system, and are tied to sadness and grief. These emotions can impair the lungs, therefore injuring the Po. This is why grieving people often experience breathing difficulties or shortness of breath. An individual with Po imbalance will likely show continuous signs of sadness such as sighing, forward slouched shoulders and listless eyes. The individual might also become prone to illness or allergies.
When the lungs are strong and balanced, the Po is too, and the individual will feel lively. However, when the lungs are weak and imbalanced, the Po reflects this as well. The most effective means of strengthening the lungs is to breathe ample fresh air full of oxygen. The Chinese frequently visit parks early in the morning to take long walks, while breathing deeply and slowly. They call this “Shen Wun” which means “Spirit Exercising” in Cantonese.
The lungs also detest cold and dryness, and avoiding ice cold drinks, spicy foods, smoking, and stale air can help prevent injured lungs. Foods that benefit the lungs include pears, strawberries, honey and loquat syrup. Cupping therapy, along with Chinese Herbal Medicine such as Dong Chong Xia Cao (Cordyceps) and acupuncture are also effective in addressing lung conditions, subsequently restoring the Po to balance and health.
Yi –– “The Intellect”
In the Western world, a primary goal of the mother and father is to foster and develop the intelligence of their child. This is no different from in the Eastern world. However, the Chinese further subdivide this into “Yi Zhi” which needs to be developed. The “Yi” refers to the intellect, while the “Zhi” (which we will discuss later) refers to the will. The existence of the Yi allows an individual to reason, analyze and debate. The Yi also enables the existence of creativity and problem solving.
The spleen organ system is connected to the Yi, and both are associated with the earth element in Five Elements theory. When the spleen is impaired, the individual cannot readily make decisions, causing pensiveness, worry and overthinking. The individual could also suffer from digestive problems. When the Yi is strong, the individual will exhibit a sense of confidence, intelligence, quick-thinking, creativity, action and decisiveness. The eyes will also appear sharp and energized.
The spleen is also responsible for producing Qi, so when the Yi is impaired, the individual will also present with lethargy and fatigue, showing tendencies of procrastination and indecisiveness. Raw vegetables and cold-temperature foods are not healthy for the spleen and should be minimized or even avoided. The spleen responds to warm, cooked foods––especially foods which are naturally sweet (not cooked with sugar). Raw ginger root and green tea, in particular, are ideal for strengthening the spleen and assisting with digestion.
When the spleen is healthy, the Yi also becomes stronger, and the individual will react with intelligence, creativity and energy. Moxibustion, Chinese herbal formulas like “Gui Pi Wan” and acupuncture are effective in keeping the spleen balanced, therefore producing a thriving “Yi.”
Zhi –– “The Will”
We have all encountered both strong-willed and weak-willed people. The will is connected to the Zhi and associated with the water element in Five Elements theory. In addition, the kidney organ system is essential to promoting healthy Zhi.
An individual lacking in Zhi will exhibit fear and hesitancy to make decisions. They can become fearful of taking action and risks, being present and visible, and ultimately exerting will-power. In China, when a child experiences fear or decreased will-power, Chinese Medicine will tonify and balance the kidney organ system. This will lower the child’s inhibitions, resulting in more confidence, action and will-power.
The kidneys also govern development, so an imbalanced kidney system will present with stunted bone growth, body development issues, back, knee, shoulder or foot pain, and spinal column concerns. The eyes will exhibit dark circles, and the body can become bloated, showing signs of edema. The kidneys can be strengthened by avoiding sitting or standing continually for an extended period of time. In addition, eating goji berries, almonds and seaweed have been shown to benefit the kidneys.
An individual with imbalanced Zhi will lack courage, motivation, introversion and antisocial tendencies, often showing fear in their eyes. With Chinese Herbal Medicines like “You Gui Wan,” “Zuo Gui Wan,” moxibustion and acupuncture, the kidneys can be balanced and strengthened, consequently reconditioning the Zhi and boosting overall confidence.
As you can see, the spirit is addressed differently in the East than here in the Western world. In order for the spirit to become strong and vital, an imbalance must be identified and addressed. Symptoms like depression, fear, lethargy, anger or irritability can help determine where these imbalances originate. Your board-certified, licensed Acupuncture Physician can assist you with making those connections, then develop a treatment plan to move your spirit in the right direction. The result is an improved quality of life and brighter outlook on your circumstances.
Rene Ng, AP, L.Ac., is a board-certified, licensed Acupuncture Physician and Chinese Herbalist in Sarasota. Depression, cancer care, multiple sclerosis, trauma, insomnia, thyroid issues and pain management are among the many health challenges helps patients with on a daily basis at his clinic near Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Ng is also a four-time winner of Sarasota’s “Favorite Acupuncture Physician” award. For more information, call 941-773-5156, email RNG@ChineseMedicalSolutions.com or visit ChineseMedicalSolutions.com.