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In English we pronounce qi 'TCHEE'. The Japanese pronounce it 'Kee'. You may often see it spelled as Chi or Ch'i.
It literally translates as air, breath, steam.
Originally derived from the Chinese character for steam rising over boiling rice, the concept is fundamental in Chinese medicine.
Translation: life force or life energy - but that implies that inanimate objects and vacuums contain none of it, which they do, because they exist.
If you are religious, might you regard it as being the ‘breath of God’, that enables the universe and everything within it to exist?
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring
© Geoffrey Kuchera
Dreamstime Stock Photos
There are an infinite number of different aspects of qi.
As regards our health, traditional Chinese medicine regarded it as being what enables life to exist within us.
With it, we live!
Without it we do not live - although what remains as our body after we die continues to be represented as matter until it changes into something else through deterioration or destruction.
The rest of this page gets a bit technical, meaning lots of Chinese words and explanations.
However, the Chinese have spent 3000 years thinking about our health and ill-health from this point of view and we should respect their ideas.
Normal qi is also called 'upright' or 'true' (Zheng) qi. It arises or is created in our bodies through the interaction of three factors:
i/ Our inherited qi (which is also called Yuan qi, Source qi or Congenital qi), is said to exist in the area between our kidneys,
ii/ Qi from food we eat (also called grain qi, or Gu qi, from the essence within food)
iii/ The qi in air we breathe.
Once created within our bodies it takes many forms of which five are important:
1/ The qi of our internal organs (zang fu). For example, heart qi, kidney qi, lung qi, stomach qi.
(The qi of each of these internal organs works in different ways.For example, in health lung qi, heart qi, kidney qi, stomach qi, large intestine qi, small intestine qi and bladder qi should all descend, spleen qi should ascend, and liver qi should ascend and enable all the others to flow smoothly. In addition, the steam and water from the Kidneys should ascend. See diagram below right.)
2/ The qi that flows along the meridians or channels (jing luo), giving life to all parts of the body. See the meridian path of the Large Intestine meridian on the left. As you see, and may be surprised to read, the pathway goes nowhere near your large intestine. (Actually, it does go to your colon, but via an internal path.)
3/ Nourishing qi (Ying qi) which travels within the blood to nourish the body and all its parts
4/ The qi that defends us (wei qi), which circulates also at an outer level of the body defending it against external disease-forming factors
5/ Ancestral qi (Zhong qi). This is created in the chest and nourishes mainly the lungs and the heart.
However, qi also takes lighter or more tenuous forms, such as thoughts, ideas, and heavier, thicker forms, such as blood and bones.
In health there are checks and balances in how qi moves.
Lung qi descends and Liver qi ascends: they balance one another.
But if you get angry, more (Liver) qi ascends. You feel this as tension in your shoulders and neck, the tightening of your jaw and facial muscles, the constriction in your chest and the desire to argue, even shout - or grit your teeth!
What do you do? Either you let it out assertively or you calm yourself down by taking a few deep breaths to encourage your Lung qi to descend more strongly, so sending it all down.
If you let it out destructively, then there was no moderating counter-balance from your Lungs.
If you realised what was happening and contained the energy until dealt with constructively, then your Lung energy steadied you.
Stomach qi descends and Spleen qi ascends.
If Stomach qi fails to descend, you’ll be nauseous and won’t want to eat.
If Spleen qi fails to ascend, you’ll get diarrhoea but more than that, the essence of food won’t be sent up to nourish the ancestral (Zhong) qi in your chest.
So you’ll feel weak and perhaps breathless.
Qi problems take many forms, for example:
Qi problems cause an imbalance between yin and yang.
You could say that this entire website, indeed, all Chinese medicine, is about this imbalance.
If you live in the Edinburgh area of Scotland, where the author of this site (and of the books described below) works, click on Edinburgh Acupuncturist.
If you live elsewhere, click on BAcC.
3000 years of Chinese being stressed, and at last, here's a book showing how all that experience can help you!
By the author of this website, it explains in simple English how to use stress to improve and enhance your life.
NB You can also order 'Qi Stagnation - Signs of Stress' from your bookseller.
Please note! The Kindle editions are less easy to read! Although the paper editions cost more, they are much easier to read and to refer back and forth to the contents and index. But ... there is no paper edition of Yang Deficiency as yet.
Here are some of the books Jonathan has written:
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