Acupuncture & OM News

It Takes Five Spirits to Be a Human Being

Image courtesy of Lilla Frerichs and

On the weekend of July 20-21th AIMC Berkeley had the privilege to host an internationally known scholar of Chinese studies, Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée, on the Five Aspects of Spirit. In the context of Daoism and Confucianism ‘the five spirits’ (wu shen五神) form basis of human psyche and are correlated with the five internal organs (zang fu). The five spirits are the Hun (ethereal soul), Po (corporeal soul), Yi (Intellect), Zhi (Will-power) and Shen (Mind).

The spirit of Hun resides in the Liver and is responsible for plans, projects and life goals. Po governs our feelings and sensations and belongs to the Lung. The spleen’s spirit, Yi, manages our thinking, memory and concentration and Zhi from the Kidney, determines will-power, drive and determination.  Shen, the spirit of the heart and is responsible for our consciousness, thinking and affections.  Through the lens of the classical Chinese literature, Elisabeth re-interpreted an understanding of these spirits as forces of nature.

She expanded the traditional definitions of Hun and Po to include the qi and blood or the yang and yin expression of the human soul; Yi and Zhi, intent and will, as the ways the mind constructs reality; and Shen or Jingshen, as intelligent spirit that enters a human in his/her continuous efforts to live virtuously. As acrobats walking on a tightrope, we strive to achieve a perfect balance in life by working with the five spirits to come closer to our true nature, to become more human, more spirit-like. We are the mediators between the Heaven and Earth. With our ‘spirits’ of intellect and will penetrated by qi and blood, we can create lives that can flourish beyond our physical reality. This physical reality, whether it is our body or environment, only exists because first, we were inspired by spirit.

As Elisabeth noted from the classic Chinese text, Zhuangzi, in the Great Beginning things came to life called virtue. Before they took on forms, they held spirits within them, each with its own characteristics and limitations.  The goal of life is to integrate these spirits, achieving a virtuous state. This state at its highest, is equivalent to the Beginning, the emptiness. Perfect balance among all five spirits that can help us to achieve this state. Welcome to philosophy behind Traditional Chinese Medicine and enjoy its benefits for a long and healthy life!

Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée is a Dean of Studies at the European School of Acupuncture, a well-respected lecturer of Chinese studies in Europe and North America as well as an author of multiple translations, books and transcripts of classical Chinese medicine and Chinese philosophy (especially, on the Daoist texts: Zhuangzi, Laozi, Huainanz). She was an apprentice of Father Claude Larre for 30 years with whom she completed the Grand Ricci Dictionary – the most comprehensive bilingual dictionary of Chinese in the Western world. She believes that understanding Chinese medicine classics deepens practitioner’s clinical skills, loves what she does and wishes to continue as long as she can.

If you are interested in studying with Elisabeth, check our continuing education classes at AIMC Berkeley at or visit Elisabeth’s website for her teaching schedule at

Article by Lucia Foltanova

Lucia Foltanova is an entrepreneurial Product/Service Developer in the complementary medicine arena. With a strong affinity for languages, Lucia specializes in the professional translation of several European tongues. Lucia is also passionate about helping people improve their quality of life. In her free time, Lucia volunteers with several health and poverty-alleviation organizations in both the San Francisco Bay Area and Central Europe. She currently studies Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at AIMC Berkeley.

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