The Five Spirits Series Part I: Heart Shen

Shen can be translated to mean “spirit” and implies our consciousness, mental functions, and vitality. The best base for an understanding of this concept is the fact that Shen is the meeting place of heaven and earth. This meeting place is man, where heaven is the spiritual aspect of man and earth is the physical aspect. Life is produced when heaven and earth interact. The state of Shen can be seen in the eyes – the brighter, the healthier. The duller the eyes are, the more disturbed the Shen is. With this, there are five types of Shen in Chinese medicine: Shen, Hun, Zhi, Yi, and Po.

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Shen is the spirit of the heart. At night Shen retires in the heart and if there is a disturbance, there may be insomnia. The heart is known as the emperor because it is affected when all of the other organs are affected. The emperor communicates with the organs making sure that they are balanced and harmonious. This balance makes for a well-functioning body. The heart’s element is fire and has the direction of south. Mars is the planet that rules this organ. The emotions most associated with the heart are joy and grief.

Fire is associated with the season of summer and corresponds with clarity and passion.

Too much joy can scatter the energy within the body. Too much of a good thing can throw the balance of the body into imbalance. Grief can cause blockages (can show up as pain).

In certain divination practices, south signifies being present and in the moment.

Mars symbolizes our being honest with ourselves and forces us to confront our deepest and darkest secrets. Mars also allows us to renew our understanding of who we are by repeating certain themes or unlearned lessons in our lives.

Li Leyi says, “The heart and mind with frightened and distressed thoughts and anxiety can result in injury to the spirit.”

Part II will continue with Hun Shen which is the spirit of the liver.

Article by –

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“Mars Symbol and Mars Meaning.” N.p., n.d. Whats-your-sign.
Reninger, Elizabeth. “The Five Shen.” N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2015. <>.


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