Adam Miramon, M.O.M., Dipl.Ac., L.Ac., Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist

Understanding Your Acupuncturist: The Three Treasures and The Vital Substances

Many of us may be familiar with terms like blood, oxygen, water, etc. as these terms are used by our physicians. In fact, our society has been bombarded with medical facts through television, print, and the internet, that virtually any person living in America has some basic understanding of terms used by their physician. On the flip side, those patients seeking acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine for the first time have a limited understanding of the philosophy, theory, and even basic Chinese medical terminology. The goal of this article is to present a basic knowledge of some of the fundamentals of Chinese Medicine to the public – empowering them to speak with their acupuncturist and ask appropriate questions.

This article will continue to build upon the foundation of a previous article which focused on Meridians and Qi. The conversation will focus on the substances in the body that are necessary for life to exist. These substances have a philosophical, theoretical, and clinical implication. Some of the body components discussed by your physician include red blood cells, white blood cells, adrenaline, glucose, etc. These are just examples of substances considered vital to the functioning of the body in western medicine. Practitioners of Chinese Medicine have a different set of terms for these types of components or materials. They are considered the Three Treasures and the Vital Substances.
The Three Treasures

The theoretical foundations of Chinese medicine are based upon substances known as The Three Treasures. Each treasure has its own responsibility within the body, and two of the treasures are also considered vital substances. It is for this reason that The Three Treasures and Vital Substances will be discussed together.


Qi (pronounced chi) is one of the body’s Vital Substances and it is also considered to be one of the Three Treasures. Qi can be defined literally as either air or breath, but in Chinese medicine, Qi is a person’s vitality. Therefore, the term “life force” is a better definition to describe the full concept of Qi. Prana, mana, and pneuma are all terms from other cultures to describe the concept of life force.

It moves through the body in lines of vital energy (a.k.a. Qi) called meridians which are like a system of streams, rivers, and oceans. Qi flows through the meridians to the organs and various parts of the body. The movement of blood through our system is the responsibility of Qi. There are different forms of Qi throughout the body that have different functions.

There are a few foundational points to understand about Qi. First, it is a vital substance. However, there are currently no scientific means with which to measure Qi, so an acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist are the professionals trained to measure and evaluate a person’s Qi. Secondly, the body requires an appropriate amount of Qi flowing smoothly through the channels. Lastly, the amount of Qi and the smooth flow of Qi can be influenced by diet, breathing, exercise, appropriately expressing emotions, etc. It is for this reason that many Chinese medical practitioners prescribe herbs, dietary changes, or exercise such as Qi gong or Tai Chi.


Another treasure is Jing. It is considered the essence of life and in some cases can be compared to genetic disposition. Jing is responsible for reproduction, development, growth, and a person’s constitution. Jing is a foundational component in the production of Qi and it also supports marrow production.

There are two forms of Jing: postnatal and prenatal. Postnatal Jing is the form of Jing a person builds through diet and exercise whereas prenatal Jing the amount a person has when they are born. Prenatal Jing is what a person gains from both of their parents. In most people, prenatal Jing reduces gradually over a person’s life. However, some forms of disease or lifestyles can quickly deplete an individual’s prenatal Jing. One example of a lifestyle that would quickly deplete a person’s prenatal Jing is drug or alcohol abuse or addiction.

Postnatal Jing is built through proper breathing, diet, and exercise. Postnatal Jing helps to offset over-usage of prenatal Jing. Suppose an individual has premature graying as well as other symptoms implying Jing deficiency, so he or she decides to enter acupuncture treatment. Their practitioner prescribes certain lifestyle changes and herbal supplements which the patient follows faithfully. It is possible that within 12-24 months, the premature graying or other symptoms have either halted or improved. This is a best case scenario, but it demonstrates how lifestyle changes and Chinese medical treatment can affect a patient’s growth and development.

There have been no documented cases of an excess of Jing. However, Jing deficiency affects a person’s growth and development. It will also impact their reproduction and cell regeneration. Jing deficiency appears either through genetic disposition or through harsh lifestyles.


Overall health is dependent upon the cultivation of The Three Treasures. Shen is possibly the most esoteric or etheric of these treasures, and it is most often translated as “spirit.” Other translations have included “mind” or “soul.” We will use the definition of “spirit” and evaluate the components and qualities of Shen.

Shen is composed of a person’s thought, consciousness, and emotions. It is also equated to the spiritual plane of an individual’s nature. In Chinese medicine, a patient’s spiritual health is just as important as their physical and mental health. The spirit is cultivated through ritual practices, Tai Chi, Qi gong, meditation, and other techniques that nourish ones spirit.

When the Shen is light and happy, it shines and glitters. The place Shen is most easily noticed is in a person’s eyes. One place that is often used to teach new practitioners about Shen is new born babies. Happy new born babies exhibit a glowing in their eyes that far outweighs that of an adult. This is their Shen – clear, uncluttered, unscattered, and unencumbered by the challenges, patterns, and stresses of human life. The eyes of newborns are a true look into the human spirit.

The Vital Substances

Just as The Three Treasures are Chinese medicine’s theoretical foundation, the Vital Substances are necessary for life to exist and thrive. Each substance has it’s own importance for the body’s health. There are a total of four vital substances: Qi, Jing, Xue, and Jin Ye. Qi and Jing are also two of The Three Treasures, and they have been already defined above.

Xue (pronounced shway)

Most of the substances we have discussed have been etheric. Xue is the term we use for blood in Chinese medicine. It can be seen with the human eye and touched with the human hand. This is one of the most important Vital Substances in the body because it is necessary for the development of organs, muscles, tendons, skin, nerves, and bones. Xue is also responsible for nourishing and moistening the body.

One of the theoretical qualities of Xue is that it “houses” or “anchors” the Shen. In other words, Xue acts as a root for the Shen thereby balancing the psyche. Another key principle of Xue is that it is interdependent on Qi just as Qi is interdependent upon Xue.

Jin Ye

Jin Ye is the term used for body fluids. These fluids include mucus, stomach fluid, saliva, sweat, breast milk, semen, and other fluids the body secretes. This Vital Substance is what moistens, lubricates, nourishes and protects the body.

Bodily fluids are broken down into two categories: Jin and Ye. Jin are pure, light fluids such as sweat and saliva, whereas Ye are dense, dark fluids such as sinovial or spinal fluid. The Ye nourish the joints, organs, bones, brain, and body cavities, and the Jin nourish the muscles and the skin. There is an interdependency between the Xue and the Jin Ye because they nourish and replenish each other. Also, they originate from the same source.

The most common pathology of the Jin Ye is dampness which is formed when the body is not transforming fluids appropriately. If dampness is allowed to progress, it can become phlegm. Just as one has phlegm in the nose from a cold, phlegm can develop in other parts of the body. Another pathology of the Jin Ye is dryness which happens when there are not enough fluids to nourish and replenish the body.

Chinese medical theory and philosophy has been documented for 3,000 years through the writings of Huang Di, Shennong, and many other masters. Although there are variations in the theoretical approach in Chinese medicine, the foundational components remain the same. Chinese medicine is deeply rooted in the culture of China and other Asian countries. Many of these philosophies and practices were first introduced to the United States during the 19th century with the migration of people from China and other parts of Asia. This form of medicine started becoming mainstream about 40 years ago, and now has thousands of practitioners as well as schools with Masters and Doctoral degree programs throughout the United States.

Patients can further educate themselves through articles, books, and internet resources. However, one of the best resources is their own acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist. By learning the underlying terminology, a patient becomes empowered in understanding the underlying theory and philosophy of Chinese medicine. This empowerment allows them to make quality decisions about their health and wellness as well as talk coherently with their Chinese medical practitioner.