Shen Energy: One of Five Types of Energies in Taoist Five Element Theory

The Taoist five element theory illustrated showing the five energies and associated organs, colors and elements.
The Taoist five element theory illustrated showing the five energies and associated organs, colors and elements. | Source

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the body is seen as a universe of interrelated energies. These energies form an internal cosmology that explain how the internal organs relate to each other. TCM five element theory is illustrated by the simplified chart shown above, which shows the elements, yin organs, colors and the names of each energy.

Within the body, all of the yin organs (liver, lungs, kidneys, spleen and heart) are interconnected by energy meridians. There are also energy channels for yang (empty) organs that are associated with each of the yin organs. Via these channels, organs provide energetic feedback (either nourishing or insulting) to the other organs.

Shen energy is the energy of the heart, which corresponds to the fire element in TCM. Heart energy exists in direct relationships with the energies of the liver and the spleen. Shen is nourished by Hun energy from the liver, while the shen nourishes the spleen. More about these interrelationships are discussed below.

Shen and the Three Treasures

According to TCM theory, Shen is one of the Three Treasures (sanbao) we have as corporeal beings. Shen is our spirit which connects to the ethereal Tao and the Mind beyond mind. The other two treasures are our Qi and Jing. Qi (chi) relates to what animates a being, and it is related to the breath and our vital energy. Jing is the energy derived from what we eat, thus making up our physical essence. Shen derives from Qi and Jing, and Shen energizes the Qi.

Two Sources of Shen and the Five Elements

We derive our Shen energy from two sources. First, there is the Shen with which we are born. It is also called Prenatal Shen. It is this energy which connects with the Tao, or eternal aspect of the universe. Through knowing it, we can connect with the Mind of Tao. It never leaves, it is our eternal soul, but it can be difficult to recognize due to our conditioned mind.

Another aspect of Shen is derived from the Jing and Qi developed after birth, or the Postnatal Shen. Our habits, conditioning and environment shape this type of Shen. It is affected by our thinking processes and behaviors. Excessive behaviors, including too much thinking, can lead to spiritual exhaustion and disconnection from one's Prenatal Shen.

The Five Elements

The Shen is housed in all of the five organs, but principally in the heart. All of the other internal organs and their associated energies affect the state of the Shen. This is because each organ houses an aspect of our being that affects our overall psycho-spiritual state of being (shown in the diagram to the right). Thus, efforts towards balancing all of these energies is important for maintaining a healthy, happy spirit.

Balanced and Unbalanced Shen

As an energy of the heart, balanced Shen energy helps maintain a balance between it and the mind; emotions temper the use of reason. Therefore, one could say that it governs one's consciousness. It also serves as a gateway to one's spirit and is a quality that sets humans apart from animals. A person with balanced Shen easily follows the laws of nature and universal rhythms. With a healthy Shen, there is joy.

Unbalanced shen is evident when there is excessive emotion which is uncontrollable. The challenges of life lead to excessive nervous tension, anxiety and sleeplessness. The predominant outward emotional characteristic of a person with an unhealthy Shen is sadness. The mind is restless and the body is weak from fatigue.

Balancing the Shen

Regular meditation practice helps one reconnect with Postnatal Shen, or the Mind of the Tao. Sleep and prayer also helps to reconnect with inner space that is both tranquil and empowering. In a sense, it helps maintain the spirit or "house" the shen. Many different practices have been developed that help in this regard within many different traditions, whether it be Taoist or Buddhist meditations, centering prayer developed from fifth century monastic practices or Yogic meditations.

Herbs can also be used to help balance the Shen. Chief among these are the reishi mushroom and gotu kola. These are discussed in the video below, as well as another herb that you can try.

Tonic Herbs for Raising the Shen

Shen and Energetic Relationships

As indicated in the diagram above, the Liver provides the Hun energy that nourishes the Shen. Other energies within the Five Elements have a different relationship to the Shen. Zhi energy from the kidneys can have an detrimental relationship on Shen, as it relates to the body's vitality, or Jing. If you have a life that wears away you body's vitality, it wears on the Shen. Balancing all five energies helps balance the spirit.

The Monkey Frolics Qigong for the Shen

Qigong Meditation: Embryonic Breathing
Qigong Meditation: Embryonic Breathing

This book by a leading teacher in the United States translates ancient texts and makes these ancient qigong breathing meditation exercises accessible to the modern reader. Embryonic breathing connects one intimately to one's Shen.


Energetic Practices That Help Support the Shen

Of the animal frolics qigong exercise, the Monkey Frolic focuses on the heart. The movements help massage the heart and the tissues that surround it. It also improves the relationships of Qi-derived movement of the blood (Xue) through the vascular system. As it is said in TCM, the Qi moves the blood. Other aspects of the movements relate to liver and kidney function, which help in calming the spirit. A video of someone performing this particular qigong exercise set is shown below.

An acupressure point that helps calm the Shen is called the Shen Men, or Spirit Gate (Ht 7). As indicated in the photo below, it is located on the wrist below the pisiform bone.

And, as mentioned previously, meditation practices support reconnecting with the Prenatal Shen. I have reviewed various mediation practices from different traditions in another article.

Diagrammatic view of the bones in the hand showing the location of the HT 7 acupressure point for calming the Shen.
Diagrammatic view of the bones in the hand showing the location of the HT 7 acupressure point for calming the Shen. | Source

Comments 2 comments

mperrottet profile image

mperrottet 3 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

I'd like to learn more about traditional Chinese medicine, and I'm glad I ran across this interesting hub. Voted up, interesting and useful.

Randy M. profile image

Randy M. 3 years ago from Liberia, Costa Rica Author

Perrottet- I am writing a complete series on the five energies and have written many articles on qigong. This has long been an interest of mine. Thanks for the complement!

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