What is happening to our essence?
This is an updated version of the original post made in 2013. Please comment if you have any responses to my questions!
One of my students asked me how much of our “ vital force” or “energy” (Jing/Essence) we lose each time we are pregnant. In Chinese medicine it is said that with each child we give some of our energy to them. Surely, they asked, because we are having fewer children these days than our grandparents, then we should have more energy. But is this in fact true? This is hard to measure, but many women I work with are experiencing stress and exhaustion, especially after giving birth and while they are looking after young children.
So how much does having children take from our energy or does having children in fact somehow increase our energy?
What is our Essence?
Jing is what the Chinese refer to in their traditional healing systems as “ancestral energy”: you could think of it as our energetic DNA. It is the energy which is transmitted at the time of our conception: the uniting of the egg and the sperm. The Chinese don’t just see this as inheriting physical characteristics, but emotional and spiritual energies as well. They see this as being not just the energy of the mother and father, but their parents and grandparents: the family energy. If this seems a little vague to you, just remember that the egg which produces the new life was actually present in the womb of the mother to be when she was forming in the womb of her mother: the new baby’s grandmother. There is a very tangible maternal connection: but there is a paternal connection too. Development of sperm is also influenced by the father’s environment, which includes his ancestry. This energy is then influenced by our environment as we grow. Essence flows in cycles of 7 years for women and 8 years for men, showing how it changes with time, but also how it is influenced by how we live. Many of the changes in our life happen around 7/8 year cycles e.g. childhood (first cycle), puberty (second cycle), declining fertility ( 5th cycle i.e. 35/40), menopause (7th cycle = 49).
Epigenetics and Essence (Jing)
Interestingly science, particularly the science of epigenetics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics is tending towards this view. Bruce Lipton’s book The Biology of Belief offers an accessible understanding of epigenetics as do books by Nessa Carey (The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology is Rewriting our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance and Junk DNA). Epigenetics is about how the nature of our environment affects our development. Our DNA is not fixed as genes can be turned on and off, depending on the environment. For the Chinese, and indeed for epigenesists, our initial energy, the Jing, is a huge, rather than a limiting energy. It is our potential. For the Chinese, it sustains us during our life time and we use it to grow, to reproduce and when it is used up, we die.
How much Essence do we use when we have children?
So how much do we use each time we have children? And surely we should have more these days as women are having fewer children? This is where it is interesting. Jing is not just used when we have children but is also used during ovulation and menstruation. Energy is required to produce and release eggs. During pregnancy we do not ovulate or menstruate. This means that the Jing which would have been used for that, can now be used to support the pregnancy. Postnatally, Essence is used to produce breastmilk. When women breastfeed exclusively, this delays the onset of ovulation and menstruation. So while in the past, women might have had 10-15 children, it meant that they would not be ovulating and menstruating as much in their life time as women who have only 1 or 2 children. We must also remember that not all the children survived and that children would look after each other and help with the housework. Another important factor is that most women would not be working outside the home in the way that modern women do: juggling family and work. I am not trying to say that it was easier in the past, but that it was different. It is hard to compare how much Essence women were using then, compared with now.
Effects of hormones
Another big difference women experience from our ancestors, which has happened only recently, is the hormonal suppression of our fertility. Many women spend much of their fertile life suppressing their fertility by using artificial hormones to suppress ovulation. What is the effect of this on the Jing? We don’t really know.
Of course hormonal contraceptives have the positive aspect of allowing women to control their fertility and to choose not to be bound to the house and having children: however is there a cost to the body? Hormonal contraceptives disconnect a woman from her natural cycle and from the energy of ovulation. After suppressing this energy, often for most of her reproductive life, it is not always easy to then express this energy and become pregnant. In a way we should not be surprised that there is a decline in fertility. There must surely be some effect to having suppressed it for so long. However, often women then have to take yet more hormones to boost their fertility again. What is the long term effect of this on the body? Who knows? We are in quite unknown territory.
This unknown territory continues into the menopause, when many women take yet more hormones, to regulate a natural change. Why is this natural change causing so many problems for modern women? The Chinese refer to the menopause as the “second spring “: a time when a woman can be freed of her menstrual cycle, to express her Jing in a different way. As she gets older, she needs to use the Jing to support herself and not the creation of a new life. This time of life is often considered a time of the flowering of wisdom: when the woman is less tied to the material world through her periods and can express herself more fully. These positive views of the menopause differ greatly from modern views.
Extraordinary Vessel support for hormones
I have found that Chinese medicine is relevant in all of these situations where women are having issues with their menstrual cycle, supporting fertility, pregnancy and the menopause. For me, the basis of this work is the Extraordinary Vessels. These are the channels which are most directly connected to regulating the brain and reproductive organs, along with our kidneys and heart. This means they have a direct effect on hormonal regulation in our body. These Vessels are lesser known and if you would like to learn more about them please read my blogs: Coming into Being and Whole and Self contained . You can receive them within a shiatsu session or by doing some exercises with them. They offer powerful tools to deepen your connection with your body.
I have made a YouTube video on exercises to support your Second Spring – your menopause.
I am aware that I have raised more questions than given answers, but for me these are important questions to ponder. I would welcome further discussion on these topics based on your own personal experience or that of women you work with. I will post more on this topic soon.
Another great blog, Suzanne. I find the same things with the women I work with and ponder the same questions. I think the points you make when you compare women’s lives in the past and now are really important. Some assume we ‘have it good’ nowadays with our ability to change our normal monthly cycle, and others that we should return to the ‘good old days’ as it was all more natural.
I also come across a lot of sexual abuse and this affects the flow of Qi in the pelvis which in turn affects fertility, menstruation and menopause.
I know in my own BodyMind that the comments you make about focusing on ourselves etc at menopause are hugely relevant. As my daughters grow up and leave home and my role as mother/carer changes, I feel a strong urge to re-discover myself and other forms of creativity.
Thanks for those thoughts Tamsin..Yes I agree that sexual abuse, which is widespread, also has a big impact on the flow of energy in the pelvis. And I also feel that the menopause is potentially a very creative time and a liberating one too!