Substances: "fluids" that circulate

The term Substances is used to refer to a particular set of components that help keep the body alive and in balance. Their main characteristic is that they are mobile, unlike the fixed functional structures of Viscera, tissues and sensory openings. Substances connect, stimulate, protect, nourish and moisturize organic structures. Some of them, less dense, feed higher functions such as psychic functions.


Substances include :

  • Blood (Xue);
  • Organic Liquids (JinYe);
  • Spirits (Shen);
  • Breaths (Qi);
  • Essences (Jing).

Let's first look at the more subtle substances (Spirits, Essences and Breaths), and then look at the characteristics and functions of the more tangible substances (Blood and Body Liquids).

The Three Treasures of Life: Spirits - Essences - Qi

Vitality depends first of all on three elements, the Spirits (Shen), the Essences (Jing) and the Breaths (Qi). Together they are called SanBao or the Three Treasures of Life. These three Substances are invisible, but we perceive their presence through various physical and psychic manifestations. Let's think of breathing, which manifests the presence of the Lung Qi, or speech, which manifests thought, an activity of the Spirits.

The Spirits. They are presented in greater depth in a card dedicated to them. Let us recall all the same that their strength is manifested in the brightness and liveliness of their gaze, the clarity of their ideas and the coherence of their speech. Spirits animate our state of consciousness and are manifested by :

  • Thought, which receives our intuitive visions and perceives our desires, elaborates them in an intelligent way into coherent propositions, and imagines the means to reach our objectives and to satisfy our desires;
  • the will, which allows us to act, to act firmly, to support and to concentrate our actions towards the goals we are pursuing.

From the consolidation of the Spirits will come the desire to heal, the will to modify one's lifestyle and the clarity of mind that allows us to recognize the path to follow and to commit ourselves to it.

The Essences. They are, in a way, the plans and specifications that weave the material fabric on which the Spirits and the functional activity of the body rely to manifest themselves. As the Essences have an innate aspect and an acquired aspect, it is advisable to make the part:

  • of what belongs to the inescapable determinism of the Prenatal Essences (also called Essences of the former sky);
  • of what derives from the postnatal Essences (of the posterior sky), which depend on the hygiene of life and the richness or the deficiencies of the environment.

The Essences can be preserved, nourished, reconstituted and strengthened by means of an adequate diet, physical and respiratory exercises, healthy sexuality, quality of rest (sleep and meditation) and by a purification of the Air and Food consumed. They are stored in the Kidneys which also take care of their preservation. (See Heredity.)

The Qi. Translated as Vital Energy or Breaths, the Qi is one of the keystones of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Its quality is reflected first in general vitality and then, more specifically, in the different forms and functions it takes on. If some Breaths are weak, unable to circulate normally or are looking for pathological ways to escape, various means will be used to strengthen or reharmonize them, in conjunction with the work on Spirits and Essences. (See Tools.)

Qi is manifested by the presence throughout the body of a dynamism that activates the different physical structures of the body and allows, at more subtle levels, the expression of emotions and psychic life. Qi is described as a malleable substance that runs through the body in different material forms (Blood and Organic Liquids) or is stored in the Viscera in the form of Essences, waiting to be mobilized by the original Qi, the YuanQi. The concept of Qi is described in the card that bears its name. We will linger here to describe its multiple faces, its functions and its pathologies.

The different Qi

Qi is always dynamic and changing. We qualify it differently according to the place where it is and according to its function of the moment:

  • YuanQi. Coming from a symbolic place - the Gate of Destiny (MingMen) located between the Kings - YuanQi is an original Energy received from our parents. It rises first in the Triple Heater, then gradually reaches the periphery to embrace the whole body. It is the energy that constantly stimulates the triggering of physiological and psychological processes. It is innate, but must be maintained by the Acquired Energies (ZongQi) drawn from the Air and Food; these external contributions have a direct impact on the capacity of expression of the YuanQi.
  • ZongQi. A complex or ancestral synthetic energy, it comes from the combination of Qi extracted from Air and Food, and is produced in the thorax. It is an acquired Qi, compared to the innate Qi that is YuanQi. Its function is to support the activity of the Lung and Heart Wrap, and to rhythmically circulate the Substances through the respiratory movement and cardiovascular pulsation. Moreover, it returns to MingMen, to maintain the original vitality at its source.
  • ZhenQi. Result of the fusion of the innate Qi (YuanQi) and the acquired Qi (ZongQi), ZhenQi constitutes the true or vital Energy which runs through the whole body and all the Meridians, and which includes the activity of the Viscera, the tissues and the Sensory Openings. When the components of this Energy are used to fight against pathogenic factors (Perverse Energies or XieQi), they are called Correct Energies (ZhengQi).
  • GuQi. Transient energy produced from Food, it is part of the composition of ZongQi. The quality of GuQi depends on the diet and the vitality of the Viscera responsible for digestion, mainly the Spleen/Pancreas, Stomach and Small Intestine.
  • QingQi. Assimilated from the Air, this Energy combines with GuQi to produce ZongQi. QingQi is dependent on breathing and the quality of the ambient air. Breathing is first of all the activity of the Lung, but also the support of the Kidneys which provide strength and efficiency to the respiratory movement (what TCM calls the receiving capacity of Qi).
  • WeiQi. Defensive function of the ZhenQi, this Energy circulates in the membranes, the skin, the muscles and even in the Viscera. When we are active, it concentrates its activity on the surface of the body and intensifies exchanges with the outside world. WeiQi then promotes the adaptation of the body to environmental fluctuations. When we are at rest, and the organism takes advantage of this to repair or develop its components, WeiQi goes deep to help the internal organs balance their spheres of influence. Although it follows broad lines of distribution, WeiQi is highly mobile and less dependent on the paths of the Meridians than its counterpart, the YingQi Nourishing Energy.
  • YingQi. This Nourishing Energy is manifested by the ability of the Blood to transmit nutrients to Viscera, Tissues and Sensory Openings. It follows very defined paths according to an arborization that spreads from the main Meridians to the whole body territory thanks to a multitude of ramifications called JingLuo. This Energy joins the layers of the Defensive Energy (WeiQi) to which it provides assistance. It circulates in a precise order and according to a particular rhythm: we speak of great circulation and small circulation, and we identify energy tides where the Energy reaches more particularly certain Viscera at certain times of the day (see Meridians).

The production and toning of Qi depends essentially on three Organs :

  • The Lung, through breathing, renews the Qi from the Air (QingQi) and participates in the synthesis of the acquired Qi (ZongQi).
  • The Spleen/Pancreas, through digestion, renews the Qi from Food (GuQi), which maintains the Nourishing Energy (YingQi). The Spleen/Pancreas gives the Qi the necessary tonicity to control other Substances and keep the Viscera in place.
  • The Kidneys, in conjunction with MingMen, support the innate Qi (YuanQi), which in turn supports all activities and productions in the body.

The functions and pathologies of Qi

Qi, in its multiple facets, controls several functions:

  • It is responsible for all the movements in the body and all the transformations that take place in the viscera and tissues.
  • It is responsible for warming the body and defending it.
  • It exercises control over the other Substances (both Blood and Essences as well as sweat and urine).
  • It helps to keep the Viscera in their right place.

Thus, any deficiency of Qi can slow down the circulation and interfere with essential transformations inside the body. For example, a weakness in the Qi of the Viscera involved in digestion will often lead to bloating and swelling, as well as difficulty in adequately transforming Food to extract the active ingredients and nutritional components.

It is also possible that the Qi cannot circulate properly, that it stagnates or knots. These problems may be caused by factors other than low Qi. For example, certain emotions can disrupt its circulation, the cold can slow it down, too much food can oppress it, etc. If the Qi has the capacity to do so, it will fight its state of stagnation by "rebelling". If Food Stagnates in the Stomach, the Qi Revolt will manifest itself by regurgitation or vomiting. If mucus clogs the Lung and affects the Breathing Qi, it will revolt by causing coughing and possibly asthma.

There are many manifestations of weakness, Stagnation or Revolt of Qi. For example, when the Qi Control function weakens, there may be unexpected sweating, drops after urination, spontaneous hematomas, and many other phenomena where the Qi temporarily loses Control of the flow of Body Fluids or Blood. A too low Qi can also cause problems such as organ failure, hemorrhoids or varicose veins.

Regenerate Qi

In TCM, and more particularly in acupuncture, treatments are essentially aimed at correcting the state of Qi. Needle placement and manipulation of the acupuncture points aim either to reinforce the Qi, to release their Stagnations or to restore their normal movements. Through the Meridians, the acupuncturist can act at a distance, on the internal movements of the body and on the Viscera.

The Blood (Xue)

Blood is a condensation of Nourishing Qi (YingQi). It circulates in the vessels to carry fluids and nutrients to all tissues of the body, allowing them to maintain their respective structures. It maintains the material base necessary for the activity of Qi and the manifestations of the Spirits (consciousness, memory, thought, sleep, etc.). Blood nourishes the tissues, carrying the Essences to the Organs, bones and Marrow; it nourishes the muscles and moistens the skin and hair; it carries sweat and provides an important component of the menstrual flow (the celestial dew); it brings the acquired part of the Essences that nourish the fetus; it nourishes the Brain and the Sensory Openings, supporting the activity of the senses. Moreover, it roots the Spirits by nourishing the structures useful for psychic activity and serves as a vehicle for these same Spirits; it therefore has an important energetic component and is not strictly material like the blood of Western physiology.

Blood depends on many Organs. When it circulates in the vessels, it is under the guidance of Xin, the Sovereign Heart. It is stored, released and controlled in its flow by the Liver, which preserves its quality. It is regenerated by the Energy from Food and Liquids made available through the entrails (Stomach, Intestines) and the digestive system (Spleen/Pancreas). Finally, the Blood is enriched by the Bone Marrow which belongs to the Kidney Sphere.

Chinese medicine recognizes a close link between Qi and Blood (Xue). The expression QiXue refers to the vascularization of the body. This vascularization influences in particular the tone, intensity of color and texture of the tongue where the quality of Qi and Blood can be assessed. Taking the pulse - which goes far beyond the count of beats per minute - also makes it possible to evaluate the quality of the Qi pulsing in the Blood. Depending on the dilation or contraction of the vessels, and according to characteristics such as its strength, the regularity of its movement, its "presence" under the skin, the pulse can be described as fast, slow, regular, superficial, deep, strong, weak, supple, tense, etc.. (see Palping).

The functions and pathologies of the Blood

In the Yin Yang theory, the Blood is Yin: it controls, channels and makes the Yang activity of the Qi (the functional activity of the body) and that of the Spirits more harmonious. When the Blood weakens, the Spirits become agitated (anguish, anxiety, insomnia, emotional instability, irritability...), and their activities are less efficient (memory, concentration, planning disorders...).

Several pathologies can affect the Blood, impairing its function of nourishing and moistening the body, and altering its ability to properly root the Spirit. The main affections of the Blood are Emptiness, Stagnation and Heat of the Blood.

A Blood Void can be caused by a multitude of factors, ranging from a poor or unbalanced diet to excessive worry, the inability of the digestive sphere to adequately process Food, excessive menstruation, or a problem with the Bone Marrow. In addition to the pallor and psychic disorders already mentioned, the Blood Vacuum can generate symptoms such as a lack of breast milk, dizziness, drops in pressure, as well as tics, spasms and tremors that are observed when the muscles are malnourished.

Blood Stagnation often comes from Cold (climate, cold baths, air-conditioned work environment, cold storage). Trauma (sprains, fractures, contusions) can also cause a slowing of Blood circulation or Blood Stagnation and, in conjunction with other conditions, the appearance of clots or masses of Blood. Stagnations cause numbness and stinging pain, and Blood clumps can be particularly painful with acute sensations as if the tip of a knife were pressed into the site of pain.

Finally, the very state of the Blood can be altered by a pathogenic factor called Heat, creating a Heat of Blood. A large number of conditions can result from this: internal bleeding (nose, lungs, stomach, intestines, uterus, kidneys); dermatological conditions (boils and abscesses, eczema, skin rashes accompanying fevers or diseases such as measles); and even psychological disorders (agitation, delirium).

Regenerate the Blood

Thanks to acupuncture, by activating the circulation of Qi and by heating or dispersing Heat, or by using plants that stimulate the circulation of Blood and defeat Stagnations, TCM can treat various disorders related to Blood such as menstrual problems (dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea), postpartum pain, swellings, after-effects of trauma and fractures, bleeding, abscesses and various wounds.

Body fluids (JinYe)

Body fluids include all the fluids in the body: secretions, sweat, urine, blood serum and plasma, cerebrospinal fluid, interstitial fluids, etc. The TCM considers that all liquids derive from the processing of Food. The process of settling liquids depends first on the Kidneys and the original Qi, the YuanQi. However, it is in the Triple Heater, also called the Water Path, that the separation of the liquids, which are said to be pure and impure, actually takes place (see Physiology). The impure liquids go down to be evacuated by the Bladder while the pure liquids go up to be distributed by the Blood and circulate with the Nourishing (YingQi) and Defensive (WeiQi) Energies to their respective destinations. The Spleen/Pancreas, which manages the digestive sphere, is the Organ responsible for this decantation along with three of the Bowels: Stomach, Small Intestine and Large Intestine. As for the circulation of liquids towards the surface of the body, and then to their final destination in the Bladder by the Triple Heater, it is under the control of the Lung.

The Organic Liquids (JinYe) are of two types:

  • The Jin are very fluid. Constantly circulating from the Triple Heater, they are used to humidify and temper the skin, among other things through perspiration; they will eventually be eliminated in the form of urine.
  • The Ye, viscous substances rich in nutritive components, are distributed mainly to the Marrow, the Brain, the joints and the five Major Organs. The latter, through their Meridian Systems (JingLuo), are responsible for providing the appropriate secretions to the sense organs: the Lung secretes the fluids from the nose, the Spleen/Pancreas and Kidneys control the production of saliva, the Liver controls the production of tears, and the Heart controls the production of sweat.

Functions and pathologies of Organic Liquids

The main function of Organic Liquids is to humidify and nourish the body. Their production can be disrupted in many ways. If the proper functioning of the Spleen/Pancreas is compromised by diet (food allergies, too much raw and cold food or dairy products) or by certain drugs (such as antibiotics), the production of the Liquids will become pathogenic and may lead to the appearance of Perverse Energies such as Internal Moisture or generate harmful mucus or phlegm. If the Kidneys and the original Qi (YuanQi) are low, water retention problems and urinary disorders will occur, as liquids are poorly drained. On the other hand, profuse sweating, repeated diarrhea, hemorrhaging, lack of water intake, and an environment that is too dry can create a weakness in body fluids accompanied by signs of Dryness.

The consequences of a deficiency of Organic Liquids can be very numerous. Their Stagnation can create retention and oedema. If mucus invades the Lung, it will promote asthma; if it reaches the openings of the Heart, it will cause psychic disorders, confusion, manic and compulsive disorders. Exaggerated humidity will give symptoms of tiredness, lassitude, heaviness of the head and limbs, congestion in the chest and abdomen, and will lead to a propensity to infections and inflammatory phenomena, such as small fevers at the end of the day.

Organic Liquids are the Substance with the most varied pathogenic forms. There are TCM publications dealing exclusively with these pathologies. They can manifest themselves in secretions, perspiration, urine, oedemas, internal humidity, and in multiple mucus and mucus. The latter may be either visible, such as pathological secretions from the Lung, or hidden, such as certain cysts, masses or deposits that can be perceived by swelling of the tissues or following palpation of the Viscera or abdomen.

Regenerate the Organic Liquids

Restoring the normal physiology of body fluids usually requires modifying the diet and using pharmacopoeia along with acupuncture to stimulate circulation in the Meridians, toning the functions of the Viscera involved in the management of the Liquids and eliminating pathogenic forms.

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