What is the Tree of Life?

There is a term in Chinese Medicine for when your eyes are shining brilliantly – we call it Shen Ming (神 明), and it often translated as ‘the radiance of the spirits.’ This is the ultimate purpose of medicine, to help us live in our radiant nature.shen-ming

Shen Ming is a concept that appears throughout Chinese Medicine and philosophy that refers to the luminosity and radiance of our true Self. When you see someone whose eyes are shining brilliantly, like they are awake and filled with bliss, that is Shen Ming. We see it very often in babies, who for the most part don’t have much in the way of their pure joy in life.

The Tree of Life treatment is about the free-flow of Yuan Qi, which is Chinese Medicine jargon for ‘the movement of our authentic Self.’ Yuan (原) means source and qi (氣), in this sense, means the invisible life-giving force behind a seen phenomenon (Rochat).  Yuan Qi flows from deep within us and, without obstruction, permeates every aspect of our being. Sometimes ‘life gets in the way,’ so to speak and there are some obstructions in that flow.

Our goal for the Tree of Life treatment, and all treatments actually, is to enable the free flow of Yuan Qi, so that we can experience Shen Ming. Essentially, the Tree of Life is a metaphor for this biological and energetic mechanism that keeps us alive and vibrant. 

Sometimes, when doing the Tree of Life treatment, we’ll talk about ‘putting the Empress back on the thrown,’ a poetic reference to Su Wen chapter 8, one of the most important chapters in one of the foundational classics of Chinese Medicine. In this chapter, there is a poem about the twelve officials (organs) of the empire (body), and the Heart is listed first as ‘lord and sovereign.’

Each of the twelve officials (organs) are listed and given their charge of duty. “su-wen-8-heartThe heart holds the office of lord and sovereign; the radiance of the spirits stems from it” (Larre) is what is written about the Heart’s duty, her physiology. So, from this we deduce that when the Heart is upright, ‘the Empress is on the thrown,’ a person’s brightness will shine. Anything that gets in the way of this radiance ought to be dealt with either through personal practice, medicine, or both. This radiance, this Shen Ming, is our birthright. It is our nature.

Chinese Medicine is rich in history and poetry and there is more we can consider when understanding the Tree of Life. We can layer symbiotic poetic teachings on top of each other to give more gravity to the treatment.

The Tree of Life treatment involves six of the twelve organs, or ‘officials,’ and they are Lung, Heart, Pericardium, Liver, Spleen, and Kidney. The Heart has a double expression here – inner Heart,  and outer Heart, which we call the Pericardium. There is a fantastic book appropriately titled Double Aspect of the Heart, and if you’re interested in this idea, we suggest reading more.

These five (remember, the Heart is two in one) organs are described in other parts of the Su Wen and the medical canon as corresponding to different emotions, different aspects of our spirit, and many other correspondences. For the purpose of our Tree of Life treatments, we work with the poetry of Tibetan medicine and their teaching on the ‘virtues’ of these five organs.

The virtue of the Heart is wisdom, knowledge of our true Self.

The virtue of the Lung is aspiration, hope in action.

The virtue of the Liver is compassion, love in action.

The virtue of the Spleen is skillful means, wisdom in action.

The virtue of the Kidneys is power, will in action.

Su Wen chapter 8 finishes with a blessing, “…with these twelve honorable ministers working together, nothing is unobtainable or lost.”

Ultimately, the Tree of Life treatment is about rooting the Tree of Life, that part of us that keeps us alive. We are the Tree of Life. When the Tree of Life is rooted, we feel a beautiful harmony in the pulses and this is confirmed by the look in a patient’s eyes when they leave the clinic. Sometimes, this Shen Ming is achieved in one treatment and maintained for life. Sometimes it takes a little more work. It is our aspiration that we are able to live with this radiance and share this opportunity with our patients through this treatment, to allow for the free flow of all of our Yuan Qi.

The Tree of Life treatment comes from a classical tradition that is taught by Jeffrey Yuen, an 88th generation Daoist Priest and Master of Chinese Medicine and Philosophy. It was taught to us by our teacher, Tim Aitken, who has studied with Master Yuen for decades, and unites these teachings with Tibetan Bon (like Buddhist) practices and teachings. We take all of this and filter it through our own practices and understandings, and are honored to share this treatment with our patients, as we have already seen a glimpse into the potential of these twelve needles – to assist our patients existing in Shen Ming.


Rochat del la Vallee, Elisabeth. A Study of Qi. pg 9
Larre, Claude and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee. The Secret Treatise of the Spiritual Orchid. 

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