Qi (pronounced “chee”) is a fundamental concept in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that encompasses the vital energy or life force that flows through the body. It is a central principle in understanding health and disease in TCM. While there is no exact equivalent term in Western medicine, think of Qi as the energy that animates and sustains all living beings. Qi and energy fields play a vital role in health and healing.
In TCM, Qi flows through channels or meridians in the body, forming a network that connects the organs, tissues, and systems. This energy is responsible for maintaining the balance and harmony of the body’s functions and promoting growth, healing, and overall well-being.
Qi is not limited to the physical body but also includes mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. It integrates all of these elements and their harmonious interaction. According to TCM theory, Qi’s free and balanced flow is essential for optimal health, while its blockage, deficiency, or excessive accumulation can lead to various health issues.
Different Aspects of Qi
TCM recognizes different types or aspects of Qi, each with its specific functions:
Yuan Qi: This is the Original Qi inherited from our parents and is associated with our constitution and overall vitality.
Ying Qi: Also known as Nutritive Qi, it circulates within the blood vessels and nourishes the organs and tissues.
Wei Qi: This is the defensive Qi that forms a protective energy field around the body, guarding against external pathogens and helping to maintain the body’s immune system.
Zong Qi: Known as Gathering Qi, it refers to the Qi extracted from air and food through the lungs and spleen, respectively, and is responsible for producing the body’s vital energy.
Maintaining Good Qi Flow
Various TCM practices such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, Qi Gong (a form of exercise), Tai Chi, dietary considerations, and lifestyle modifications promote Qi’s balance and smooth flow. These practices aim to remove blockages, tonify deficiencies, and harmonize the Qi and energy fields to restore health and well-being.
It is important to note that the concept of Qi in TCM is deeply rooted in Chinese culture and philosophy and may not be directly compatible with Western scientific explanations. While the understanding of Qi may differ between TCM and Western medicine, the holistic approach of TCM emphasizes the interconnectedness of the body, mind, and spirit in maintaining health and promoting wellness.
Qi and Energy Fields
In the theory of TCM, Qi is a form of balancing energy that flows through the body. Qi keeps the body in harmony with the internal and external environment that brings together the overall well-being of a person.
Chapter 18 of Huang Di Nei Jing Ling Shu presents a detailed explanation of Qi formation. The production of Qi comes from the combination of food that we take and the air that we breathe. The stomach digests food, absorbs nutrients via the spleen, and then directs them to the lungs to form Gathering Qi. The Gathering of Qi assists the lungs in controlling Qi and breathing and enhances the heart’s function of governing blood and blood vessels.
Gathering Qi combines with Original Qi to form True Qi. True Qi is the final stage in the process of refinement and transformation of Qi. True Qi further divides into Nutritive Qi and Defensive Qi. The primary function of Nutritive Qi is to nourish the internal organs. Nutritive Qi is also related to blood and flows in the channels and blood vessels. Activation of Nutritive Qi occurs with the insertion of a needle into an acupuncture point.
As the name implies, Defensive Qi means to defend or protect the body. Unlike Nutritive Qi, it flows outside of the channels. These forms of Qi and energy fields work together to maintain our health and well-being.
Qi and Modern Molecular Medicine
In modern medicine, energy is the product of the metabolic degradation of food and nutrients. The process of energy formation involves a complex series of chemical, molecular, and cellular reactions. This metabolic process breaks down the food we eat, from protein into amino acids, fats into fatty acids, and carbohydrates into glucose by the enzymes of the digestive system.
The nutrients from food convert into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which provides the basic unit of energy required for all functions in the body. Cellular processes account for approximately 40% of the energy released in metabolism. The rest is converted to heat, some of which help maintain body temperature. ATP is also involved in muscle contraction and relaxation, inflammation, and the analgesic effect of acupuncture.
Energy and Information
Albert Szent-Györgyi was a Hungarian biochemist who discovered vitamin C and won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1937. He stated, “In every culture and in every medical tradition before ours, healing was accomplished by moving energy.” For Szent-Györgyi, “energy” meant a cloud of electrons held together by nuclei. His study of energy in biology overlapped with the role of purines and ATP as extracellular signaling molecules. Later, this would significantly impact the research of acupuncture, Qi, and energy fields.
James Oschman, the author of Energy Medicine, described the involvement of energy in the healing processes. The body can take in, store, release, conduct, and utilize various energy and information. Energy and information are also involved in the process of intercellular communication. This process involves action potential, the electrical signal conduction transporting data from one neuron to the next.
For example, an action potential occurs by sending electrical impulses to the brain through afferent nerve fibers, such as pain or injury. To carry the information from one neuron to the next, neurotransmitters require energy in the form of ATP. The stimulation of acupuncture needle insertion also triggers an action potential, which affects the brain’s neuronal network.
Acupuncture and Electrical Conductivity
In his book, The Body Electric, Robert Becker postulated that acupuncture meridians were electrical conductors that sent injury signals to the brain, which responded with the appropriate level of direct current to stimulate healing in the injured area. He also believed that the conductivity of the skin was much higher at acupuncture points.
Björn Nordenström, a Swedish radiologist, surgeon, and the author of Biologically Closed Electric Circuits believed Qi and energy fields were equivalent to the electromagnetic energy found in biologically closed electrical circuits. He compared its Yin and Yang components to the positive and negative electrical charges of closed-circuit ionic flow. For example, when a practitioner inserts an acupuncture needle through a normal muscle into an injured muscle, it acts as a circuit to enable the flow of ions. This action facilitates the healing of the injured tissue.
Understanding Qi – The Tip of the Iceburg
The more we understand how the body works through modern medicine, the more ancient theories of Qi make sense. The wonder is not how Qi energy works in our bodies but how the Chinese understood these complex mechanisms over two thousand years ago. The advent of quantum computing will likely further legitimize the validity of traditional Chinese medicine and its healing principles.
Try acupuncture if you are struggling with a stubborn health issue. Experience for yourself the powerful effects acupuncture has in promoting healing within the body.
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