QI AND THE FIVE VITAL SUBSTANCES IN TCM FUNDAMENTALS

September 5, 2018

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a fundamentally holistic view towards health, honed after 2500+ years of refinement. TCM asserts that a body should be a system in harmony. Any pains, illnesses, diseases, and such are disharmony in the body. TCM practitioner’s job is to assess the disharmony in the body and restore the balance of Qi in its various phases or manifestations.

Qi (pronounced “chee”) can be thought of as “life force” in the body. One way to think of Qi is how it manifests itself as yin versus yang, and how a delicate balance is maintained. While one is born with some Qi (inborn/congenital qi), the rest of Qi is acquired through proper living.

Food and air are transformed by the body into “chest qi”, with inborn qi added, then transformed into “nutritive qi”, which nourishes the body, and “protective qi”, which provides defence against outside “evils”.


Qi shows itself inside the body in five different ways, which are collectively known as the five vital substances

  • Jing / essence — jing is associated with growth, core organs, and reproduction. Deficiencies in jing can manifest in a weak constitution or a weak mind
  • Qi / life force —  qi flows around the body, and imbalances manifest as fatigue and poor digestion (qi deficiency), or stress and insomnia (qi excess)
  • Shen / spirit — associated with emotions and mental condition, shen imbalances manifest as psychological illnesses
  • Xue / blood — blood nourishes the organs and the mind. Imbalances in xue manifest as fatigue and poor memory.
  • Jinye / body fluids — body fluids provide moisture and lubrication around the body, like tears and sweat. Imbalances interfere with the production of other vital substances.

In Part 2, we will discuss the “Zang fu” (the vital organs), how the five vital substances are produced in the organs and the body, and how to organs are linked.

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