Shen is a concept that you may have heard us talk about, and which you may be familiar with from Traditional Chinese Medicine. Like so many TCM concepts, Shen is both energetic and physical, subtle and practical, fundamental and multi-layered. And, even though we work from a Western perspective, the concept of Shen is so useful that we want to be sure you understand it, too.
Shen is one of the three Treasures of life and the body, along with Qi and Jing. Qi is the best-known of the three, and relates to our personal energy, vitality, and potential for activity. Jing connects to our sexual forces of procreation, and to creative output of all kinds.
Shen is peacefulness, the Spirit of calm strength that resides in the heart, and it is the source of the other Treasures. At first this is counter-intuitive, after all, how could stillness and calm be the source of movement and creation?
If you think for a moment about the last time you were anxious, agitated, or over-stimulated, you will likely also remember that you had very little true energy at that moment. Sure, you could power through what you needed to get done with dynamic force, but you probably felt more depleted and tired after each burst of activity.
That feeling, of being charged and frenetic on the surface yet empty and weak at the core, is called “false fire”, and it is the result of burning the Qi (and eventually Jing) as fuel, allowing the Shen to empty out, unguarded.
This depletion of Shen creates many imbalances, starting with anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and headaches, and moving into deeper loss of vitality as the Qi is used up. Finally, the finite store of Jing is drawn off, bringing loss of sexual potency, creative force, and regenerative healing ability.
Life in general tends to deplete our Shen, even more so under times of stress, illness, or overwork. Fortunately, unlike Jing, Shen and Qi can be increased by our own actions, through eating good food, resting well, meditating and nurturing the self, and through the use of replenishing herbs.
We often think about having a reserve of energy in case we have a busy day, and we might take an herb like Ginseng to get and maintain that boost. But in our culture, we rarely think about having a reserve of calm to dip into in case we have a stressful day, even though such a well of peacefulness is very easy to create. The added benefit of this practice is that the spiritual aspects of Shen will also be able to manifest in us: compassion, love, kindness and generosity.
Here are a few of our favourite Shen tonics to support your peaceful heart:
Albizzia, pictured here, is unique among Shen tonics in that it uplifts the Shen and cheers the heart. While most people tend to get anxious with Shen disturbance, many get depressed, their energy going downwards into a withdrawn state. Our Albizzia Spiritualized Essence lifts heaviness in the heart and brightens the mind- we think of it as an emotional adaptogen.
Our Dragon Bone Alchymical Initiatic “fixes the Shen”, that is, it helps you be solid and steady in your own energy without bending to the influence of others’ will or emotional states. As we like to say “hold your own with Dragon Bone”
Waterfall Calamus helps the Shen be fluid and graceful, like a waterfall. If you get anxious or stressed by change and flux, Waterfall Calamus Alchymical Initiatic is a great tonic to help you move through life with ease and grace.
Antler Reishi is an overall tonic, balancing the Shen, increasing energy, and bringing health and longevity. Antler Reishi Spiritualized Essence is an excellent tonic for those who are tired and worn out by stress, as it both uplifts the body and calms the Spirit.
Sacred Lotus carries the reflective, peaceful and composed energy of the beautiful flower it’s made from, as well as Lotus’ ruler, Quan Yin. Sacred Lotus Alchymical Initiatic helps to balance compassion for others with care for the self, bringing discernment in energetic dealings and protecting the Spirit from giving all energy away.