Qi often spelled Ch’i or Chi (pronounced ‘TCHEE!’)

If you’re alive, keep your qi in good working order and you’ll enjoy life. Even when you’re dead, there’ll be some left!
Hot Spring - Life energy
Hot Spring - Life energy - Photo by Ashley Knedler on Unsplash

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? 

There are an infinite number of different aspects of qi.

What is Qi in our Health?

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 so we should respect their ideas. 

Normal or Zheng qi

Normal qi is also called ‘upright’ or ‘true’ (Zheng) qi. It arises or is created in our bodies through the interaction of three factors:

  1. Our inherited qi (which is also called Yuan qiSource qi or Congenital qi), is said to exist in the area between our kidneys
  2. Qi from food we eat (also called grain qi, or Gu qi, from the essence within food)
  3. The qi in air we breathe.

Once created within our bodies,  qi takes many forms. 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

For more about this flow see diagram below under Checks and Balances.
2/ The qi that flows along the meridians or channels (jing luo), giving life to all parts of the body. See below the path of the Large Intestine channel. You may be surprised that the pathway goes nowhere near your large intestine. (Actually, it does go to your colon, but via an internal path.)
Large Intestine Meridian
Large Intestine Meridian


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), like our immune force. This circulates 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.


Checks and Balances
The Natural Direction of Flow of Qi

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!


Direction of Energy Flow In Healthy Energy Organs
Direction of Energy Flow In Healthy Energy Organs


What do you do? Either you let it out assertively or you calm yourself down with a few deep breaths. This makes your Lung qi descend more strongly, taking with it all that rising tension.

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 ascend to nourish the ancestral (Zhong) qi in your chest. So you’ll feel weak and perhaps breathless.

Where you are having problems often suggests which zangfu organs are acting ‘wrongly’.

That can narrow down the field very quickly.


Qi Problems

Energy problems take many forms, for example:

  • Stagnant: stagnant qi doesn’t move properly. This may be because of deficiency or because of a blockage, which could arise from physical or emotional factors. 
  • Qi Stagnation is such a common, and big problem, that I’ve written a book about it.
  • Collapsed: qi fails to function, usually because of severe deficiency. If this extends for too long, death ensues.


These problems cause an imbalance between yin and yang.

You could say that this entire website, indeed, all Chinese medicine, is about this imbalance.



5 Elements?

Another method of using Chinese medicine is the Five Elements. They also assess qi but from a different perspective. Worth a look!

You consult me? I assess your Qi!

When you visit me one of my first jobs is to assess your Qi and where there may be weaknesses.

The consultation may be short or long, but that basic diagnosis is vital if I’m to plan a good treatment.

There’s no point in shortening the appointment if doing so stops me making the right diagnosis.

To book an appointment click here.


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