Qi or Chi (pronounced ‘chee’) is an eastern concept used in traditional chinese medicine (tcm) and philosophies. In a literal sense qi means ‘gas’ or ‘breath’ but it is viewed as the force that gives form to life. It is more than the western concept of spirit because in Chinese medicine it has a profound and real effect on blood and the body and therefore is a lot more grounded than the western concept of spirit.

Qi is all around us and in us. It is the energy that ties the bodies organs in place. It is in the air we breath and the earth we stand on. It falls with the rain and shimmers with the sun. It is in our thoughts and emotions. It is the ‘vital energy’ of us and life.

Feng shui deals with organising our surroundings to attract positive qi into our lives and to deflect or decrease negative, stagnant or blocked qi,

This vital energy is in constant motion. In a healthy system it flows continuously, changing from one form to another. We take in qi from the air and food we eat for example, use qi in our daily lives and expel spent qi in our actions or waste. Problems arise when qi is blocked or stagnant, when qi is too hot (yang) or too cold (yin). In traditional Chinese medicine, the healer seeks to rebalance the flow of Qi.

Cultivating Qi through movement such as Tai Chi
Cultivating Qi through movement such as Tai Chi

In western medicine, because there is no qi, the focus is always on the symptom rather than the whole balance of the body. If we have a pain in our stomach for example, the solution for a western doctor lies in masking the pain (painkillers) or treating the stomach with drugs or surgery. For a practitioner of traditional chinese medicines, the solution lies in rebalancing the whole body. We may have a weak body and normal stomach fire or a normal body and extra-strong stomach fire. Both wold produce pain in the stomach but both are treated differently (i.e. the focus is on yang or yin treatment or a combination).

Read More: Qi Circulation

By understanding the flow of qi around the body and the influence of the environment on it, ancient chinese practitioners believed they could manipulate it to heal the body and mind of illness.

There are two types of qi a person possesses in life – acquired qi through breathing and eating and congenital qi derived from parents. These can be further broken down into:

Jing qi is the essence of a person. It is a combination of the qi derived from parents and that derived from eating and breathing. Its function is growth and repair and is stored mainly in the kidneys.

Yuan qi is derived from jing. It promotes the functions of the organs and also contributes to the production of zhen qi. it pools at the yuan source points in the meridians.

Gu qi is derived from food and is created by the action of the spleen on the stomach. Some gu qi is transformed into blood.

Kong qi is derived from air. Combined with gu qi it forms zong qi. Kong qi is distributed from the chest.

Zong qi is a combination of gu and kong qi. It primarily feeds the heart and lungs but is also necessary for the lungs to circulate energy throughout the body.

Zhen qi is the type of qi that circulates in the meridians and feeds the organsu. Iit is a composite of ying and wei qi.

Ying qi feeds the organs and helps in the production of blood. It flows within both the meridians and blood vessels.

Wei qi is the qi that defends the body and regulates the body temperature. It circulates on the surface of the skin or close to it but not within the meridians themselves.

In traditional chinese medicine there are four states of qi that can arise;

Deficiency of qi leading to fatigue dizziness and a weak spirit

Qi stagnation producing pains that are not fixed in the chest

Sinking qi brings the patient down with prolapse of organs or a downbearing sensation in the abdomen.

Rebellious qi produces all the symptoms of rebellion – coughing, belching and vomiting being the main ones.

The basic premise of qi is that free flowing qi is good for the body and mind and results in health. If blocked poor flowing or stagnant the lack of qi causes problems in the body which can be solved via manipulating the qi in the meridians to restore its natural and balanced flow. We should not think of qi as some mystical form of energy – it is a real ‘life force’ within the body composed of various nutrients, oxygen, minerals and fluids.

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