Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a comprehensive diagnostic and treatment system primarily involving acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and nutritional therapy. These treatment modalities promote healing by moving, balancing, and enhancing the amount, function, and flow of qi (pronounced “chee”) through the body. Fundamental to any discussion regarding TCM treatment, diagnosis, or theory is the concept of qi. So what is qi anyway?
Qi is one of the 3 vital substances (Qi, Blood, Essence) of the human body and is the basis from which each of the other vital substances is formed. In it’s most basic form, qi can be thought of as ‘vital energy’ or matter and energy-kinetic and potential. It is the energy that animates all life on this earth. Without this energy circulating abundantly and smoothly, the form and function of the body’s organs and systems becomes imbalanced, manifesting as disease.
The terminology of TCM comes from the nuanced Chinese language where each character represents an entire concept, not just a single word, making a simple, direct translation of ‘qi’ an impossibility. The Chinese character for qi is a combination of the character for ‘vapor’ or ‘steam’ over the character for ‘rice’. This is an elegant representation of the dynamic nature of our vital energy, which can manifest anywhere from the substantial (physical organs and their functions) to the subtle (the refined energy of the organs).
Acupuncture works partly by using needles in acupoints to access and rebalance the qi flow within the body. Chinese herbal medicine and nutritional therapy operate on the foundational concept of qi, addressing disharmony by utilizing the unique energy and nature of herbs and foods. Qi takes on several different forms and functions in the human body and each organ has it’s own specific form of qi. Below is a BRIEF explanation of the nature of a few of the types of qi.
Yuan Qi– Original Qi
Yuan Qi is essence in the form of qi. It is the energy arising from the genetic material inherited from our parents. Essentially it is the ‘nature’ of the nature vs. nurture debate.
Gu Qi– Food Qi
Gu qi is the energy transformed from the food and drink we ingest. This is the ‘nurture’ of the nature vs. nurture debate.
Zheng Qi-Upright Qi
Zheng qi is a combination of all of the forms of qi that protect our body from exterior pathogens (germs). It represents the potency of our body’s ability to resist disease.
If these concepts seem a little slippery to you, then you’re on the right track. Due to it’s dynamic, mutable nature qi is a very difficult concept to hold on to. If you take anything from this post, just remember that qi is the life-force of all beings on this earth and the balance of this force within our body is the key to health and longevity.
“Water and Fire have Qi but not life; plants and trees have life, but not knowledge; birds and animals have knowledge, but no sense of what are rights.” – Xun Kuang