Qi is probably the single most important element of Chinese medicine. The translation is impossible to capture in just one word. Some interpretations include: “energy”, “vital energy”, and “life force”. Qi is the vital life force that runs the body and heals the body. It provides function in every aspect in the body. Every living thing is a function and expression of the vital energy – Qi. The Qi accumulates in the body in the internal visceral organs and bowels (Zang Fu) and flows through the meridians (Jing Luo). Within each human, Qi sustains life by providing energy, warmth, retaining bodily fluids, protecting the body from disease, and allowing all movements, just to name a few. There are many functions that Qi carries out. The main responsibilities are movement, warm the body, protect the body, provide function to the organs, and has a holding or retaining function. Let’s look at these in more detail...
This includes the voluntary movements like walking and involuntary movements like the beating of our Heart. The Qi is constantly in motion, ascending and descending to nourish and promote an active balanced state.
All movements in the body are a result of Qi.
As we have already established in the discussion of Yin and Yang, Yang is the connection to heat in the body. However, the maintenance of the heat and normal body temperature is the work of the Qi. Qi is said to have a warming action. Qi deficiencies will lead to cold symptoms.
Qi warms the body
The Qi, specifically Wei Qi, guards our defensive system. The Wei Qi is a defensive shield that protects us from the exterior. Environmental factors such as wind, heat, cold, and dampness can invade the body causing dis-harmony and disease. This protective Qi also shields out pathogens like bacteria and viruses. When our Wei Qi is down or impaired, the body’s immune system is weakened and is more prone to colds and flues.
Qi protects the body
All transformations in the body are a direct result Qi. The body’s source of Qi after birth is from the food we eat and the air we breathe. Qi carries out this transformation, specifically the Spleen Qi. Blood is also a product of transformation catalyzed by Qi. It is safe to state that Qi fuels all physiological processes.
Qi is the source of transformation in the body
Qi provides a holding or retaining functions
Qi also has a very vital role of holding things together. It is like the glue for the body. The Qi is responsible for holding all the internal organs, vessels, and tissues of the body allowing for their proper function. When the Qi is impaired, some of its holding functions are compromised. Symptoms such as prolapsed uterus and anus can arise.
Forms of Qi
In TCM, Qi is divided into various types that depend on their source and function. The original Qi is the Qi that is passed down to us from our parents. This Qi is referred to as Yuan Qi or Prenatal Qi. After birth the body must rely on it’s own mechanism of producing Qi. This is a transformation that is carried out by the internal organs, specifically the Spleen, Lungs, and Kidney’s. The two main sources of postnatal Qi are from the food we eat – Gu Qi and the air we breathe – Kong Qi. The Kong and Gu Qi mix and gather in the chest where it forms Gathering Qi – Zong Qi. Then the Zong Qi interacts with the Yuan Qi to form True Qi – Zhen Qi. This is the Qi that flows through the Meridians and provides the all bodily functions. Zhen Qi takes on two forms – Wei Qi and Ying Qi. The Wei Qi was described earlier as the protective QI or defensive Qi. The Ying Qi is the Nutritive Qi. This Qi nourishes the internal organs and the whole body.
The Qi in the body has specific direction in which it moves. The Qi inside its respected Meridians will ascend or descend. These movements are crucial for optimal function and health. It is important to note that the QI will flow in both direction in the Meridians, but has a main direction it flows.
Lung - Descending
Liver - Ascending
Kidneys - Descending and Ascending
Spleen - Ascending
Heart - Descending
Movement of Qi
Disharmonies of Qi
Qi should flow throughout the body unrestrictively and abundently. When Qi is impaired, it presents four patterns of disharmony. Pathological Qi will be deficient, stagnant, sinking, or rebellious.
Deficient Qi (Xu)
When Qi is weakened, it is said to be in a deficient state. This will lead to insufficient energy to properly carry out processes in the body. A whole array of symptoms may arise. Some symptoms include breathlessness, fatigue, weak voice, spontaneous sweating, lack of appetite, loose stools, and weakened immunity.
Stagnant Qi (Zhi)
When the Qi is impaired and doesn’t flow properly in the Meridians, it may be caused by blockages in the Meridians. These blockages lead to stagnation of Qi. Some of the symptoms of Qi stagnation are feeling of distension, pain that moves from place to place, depression, irritability, and frequent mood swings.
If the Qi isn’t strong and is deficient, it’s holding function may be compromised and may start to sink. This is seen in the prolapse of internal organs such as uterus and anus. Other possible symptoms include feeling of bearing down, depression, and tiredness.
Sinking Qi (Xian)
Rebellious Qi (Ni)
If the Qi is blocked it starts to stagnate. If not corrected, it can start to flow the wrong way. This is referred to as rebellious Qi. An example of rebellious QI is in the case of Stomach Qi. Stomach Qi normally flows downward to send impure Qi to the intestines. When it gets an excess of heat inside it, it may flow the opposite direction. This will lead to symptoms such as heartburn, hiccoughs, and acid reflux.