What is Shen?

In Chinese Medicine the “Shen” is our spirit and our spiritual consciousness,…

In Chinese Medicine the “Shen” is our spirit and our spiritual consciousness, dwelling in two locations: the Heart and the Upper Dan Tian (Third Eye).

The heart location of the Shen refers to our emotional experiences. Prolonged periods of strong emotions disrupt the Shen causing excess Yang and irritation. Surprisingly, even excess joy can cause irritation. We have all seen children who have been overstimulated and become sad or angry later.

The Shen is our soul and also spiritual energy. In Daoist cultivation it referred to the spiritual power of the upper Dan Tian, in Chinese Medicine we refer to the Shen residing in the heart; when we sleep the Shen rests there to restore our body.

What causes problems with the Shen?

Too much Yang (Heat) from excessive emotions, stimulants, spicy foods and late nights burns up the Yin, Blood, and body fluids, making our spirit restless and ungrounded. Not having enough Yin to anchor the Yang we experience restlessness, anxiety, palpitations, overthinking, manic behaviour and insomnia.

When the Yin is depleted we are more sensitive to external stimulation. This is because our body doesn’t have a solid foundation to lean on, causing mental/emotional stress to feel more overwhelming then it actually is.

How to nourish the Shen

Our Shen likes to feel calm, centered and grounded, these are all Yin qualities.

To protect the Shen from too much Yang and overstimulation; avoid excessive stimulants, late nights, alcohol, undereating and spicy foods.

Instead focus on building Yin, getting more sleep, eating regularly,  grounding yourself in nature, bringing the energy down with diaphragmatic breathing and doing some Yin yoga.

The third eye location of Shen is our spiritual consciousness

Our emotional disturbances are rooted in our spiritual consciousness known as “Xing”, which is how well we have developed a sense of reality.

Developing our Xing (our fundamental nature), is about growing our conscious awareness to a fuller interconnected state, dropping the subconscious conditioning that causes us to react emotionally and in so protecting our heart and our energy.

At home or at work we can find situations or people that drain our energy causing prolonged emotions of stress, worry, anxiety, and frustration. In Daoism, this is not inherently seen as a fault of the environment but a reflection of ourselves. We can’t always change our environment or situation immediately but can change our perception and action with practice.

Developing our Shen is a process of mentally letting go of our reactions to the environment. Reactions are trained responses, while actions are intentional. The first step of cultivating Xing is being able to soften our body and mind. The best practice is unforced diaphragmatic breathing.

To allow our body to relax gives us permission to let go and see the situation as it is. It naturally brings our energy downwards, balancing and calming the Yang nature of the Shen. Being able to do diaphragmatic breathing in a relaxed environment, is the first step. The second step is to allow your body to let go, in the moments you find yourself reacting.

To Start Cultivating the Shen

As with anything else, we need balance. If we are constantly thinking or under stress, all our energy rises to the head/ UpperDan Tian and it can easily become stuck.

To calm the spirit and protect the energy we need to harness Yin in our body.

Chinese herbal formulas will discuss their actions as “calming the Shen” for someone that is restless, anxious or irritable.

We can also anchor the Shen in acupuncture by stimulating the feet, especially the acupuncture point Kidney 1, to draw the spirit down if it becomes overactive or restless.

The best place to cultivate your Shen back into your body is by sitting or standing and breathing. Keep bringing breath and intention to the mind.

To quickly calm the Shen after stressful or restless times, soak the feet in warm water to pull the spirit down or get a foot massage. Going for a walk to move the stagnation and extra stimulation in the feet will pull the spirit down. If you have access to areas where you can walk bare feet, the negative ions that are heating can be dispersed into the earth.

Looking into natural environments is great for calming the Shen, the complex structures of trees and textures that are ever-changing remind us to let go of the stagnation.

Written by TCM Dr. Lee Smith (@lee_smith_natural_soul)

Yours in wellness,
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