Joy Smiling

Do you love life? Do you enjoy people? Are you enthusiastic about what you do? Do you wake up excited for your new day? Do your eyes sparkle? Are you playful? Then you’ve got Shen.

If you currently don’t feel eager, excited, or joyful but you normally do, then this is natural. We all can swing into periodic contemplative, confused or unhappy states, for living in the world of polarity means we experience both ups and down. But if you feel a lack of will, dullness in life, have no sheen to your face, or spring to your step, then you lack Shen.

Shen reflects the entire physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health of your body. It includes the capacity to think and act coherently and appropriately, your personality’s magnetic force and the joy to live life. It is distinguished by the sparkle in your eyes, an overall vivaciousness and a will to live. Housed in the Heart, Shen is your enthusiasm, charisma, and innate vitality. Spiritually, it is the dynamic faith, vitality and force of your personality that is able to surmount obstacles and make things happen.

There are no disharmonies of Shen in and of itself, yet because it is connected with the Heart, Deficient Heart Qi or Blood can weaken it. This appears as a lack of joy or enthusiasm in life, dull eyes, dislike of talking, muddled thinking, forgetfulness, insomnia, lack of vitality, depression, unhappiness, confused speech, or excessive dreaming. Heart Fire or Phlegm misting the Heart orifices can also impair Shen, causing irrational behavior, incoherent speech, hysteria, delirium, unconsciousness, inappropriate responses to people or the environment, or violent madness.

However, if you’ve got any physical imbalance, then you won’t physically feel in top form and when you don’t feel good, your emotions and thoughts decline. If this continues, ultimately your Shen is affected, too. Because of this, it’s easy to understand why Shen, along with Jing (essence) and Qi (life force), is considered one of the three treasures in Chinese medicine, for it is integral to our health and well-being.

Whether or not you “got Shen,” you can bring back more joy and enthusiasm through several ways. Even one little thing can make a difference. Give your physical heart what it needs and this will automatically brighten your Shen.

So go for it: get Shen!

  • Change your posture: Shifting posture immediately changes how you feel. Turn the corners of your mouth up or genuinely smile, even if you don’t feel like it. You’ll instantly feel somewhat better. Now get out of your chair and stretch or go for a walk. Altering your facial expression or body stance immediately changes how you feel.
  • Laugh: Laughter is the sound of the Heart, the seat of joy and Shen in your body. Put on a funny movie or TV show. Laugh at a past memory, or good joke. Go see comedians. Make up your own jokes as if you were a comic. View life as a sit-com. Lighten up!
  • Be like an angel: “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”[1] Take yourself and your situation less seriously. When you lighten up, it in turn elevates your mood, then your energy, and thus the cascade continues until you feel better and better.
  • Daily attention: Do something you love every day, even if for just ½ an hour, or if you can, create a block of time. Schedule in moments of gratitude. Get sufficient sleep and rest as these alone can greatly improve mood and Shen.
  • Address emotional and spiritual issues: Find whatever helps you to appropriately express and release any stuffed, suppressed or repressed emotions. Try counseling, prayer, journal writing, meditation, movement, laughter, or play. Change jobs. Take holidays, which can even just be weekly hours set aside to do what you love.
  • Cultivate your heart’s virtues: These include laughter, open-heartedness, joy, compassion, beauty, pursuing your heart’s passions and desires, and following a spiritual path. Nourishing the virtues of your heart enhances your Shen.
  • Take herbs: Interestingly, there are several herbs with “Shen” as part of their names (which may well point to the various imbalances that can disturb the Shen – this is my idea and not yet researched!). Historically, the five main Shen herbs are ren shen (Panax ginseng), dan shen (Salvia miltiorrhizae), xuan shen (Scrophularia ningpoensis), ku shen (Sophora flavescentis) and sha shen (bei sha shen is Glehnia, while nan sha shen is Adenophora). Check the following out and see which are best for your physical needs: dang shen (Codonopsis pilosulae), fu shen (Poria cocos), ren shen (Panax ginseng), dang shen (codonopsis), hai shen (Stichopus japonicus), xi yang shen (American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius), and tai zi shen (Pseudostellaria heterophyllae).

In the next installment of this blog, we will explore some of the above mentioned herbs and others for the treatment of Shen disharmony.


[1] G.K. Chesterton; from the chapter entitled “The Eternal Revolution,” in the book, Orthodoxy.


  1. Funny thing about synchronicity. I just spent January 4th at a Laughing Yoga Workshop.I shared it with my parents today as part of a family qigong exercise. Happy smiling people make life lighter and healthier. We are healthier when happy causing us to shine from the inside out. Thanks for the information and explanation. I look forward to part 2.
    with gratitude.S

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