Qi (pronounced “chee”) is usually translated as “life force energy.” That’s only part of the story. Qi is matter-energy, as understood by modern physics. It is matter,energy, and information. In a sense, everything is qi. However, there are a few different ways we use the term qi in Chinese Medicine. Here is my own personal take on qi.
One important use of the word Qi is to describe a functional system. For example, when we say Heart Qi, we are referring to all of the functions of the heart. As a mind-body-spirit medicine, heart qi includes not only circulatory system functions, but also our ability to connect with other people, have clarity of mind, and experience joy in life. If someone receives the diagnosis of Heart Qi Deficiency, this means that the heart system isn’t functioning properly because there is a lack of nourishment, circulation, or substance.
There are 10 functional systems, named after the organs, that exist in specific relationships to one another. They provide an extremely useful way of understanding and treating the whole person.
Another way we use the term qi is to refer to life force energy. Qi activates, protects, and warms us. We take in qi from the air we breathe, and the food we eat. In my Nutrition Basics article, I wrote that we should choose foods that are filled with life and qi. This goes beyond vitamin content. It is energy from the sun. Imagine shopping for groceries in February, and picking out a tomato or a peach. It may be the right color, or slightly anemic looking. It has no smell. The taste and texture are just okay.
Now, imagine shopping at a farmer’s market in the middle of summer. You pick up a tomato or peach, and it smells like a summer garden. You taste it, and are overwhelmed by the nuances of flavor. It’s delicious. It’s vibrating with life. This is qi. And living with vitality is like being the farmer’s market peach, buzzing with life.
I mentioned in the beginning that qi is information. It’s easy to understand that energy is information. Invisible waves are everywhere, beaming wifi to our devices. We, too, have built in antennae to pick up information from our environment. The clearer our channels are, the more in-tune we are with our intuition and life’s purpose.
Our channels connect us to the earth and the universe, and they deliver information throughout our bodies. Each acupuncture point we needle sends a different message to the body. Multiple points can be chosen to send a specific message. For example, there is a point on the hand, LI4, that tells the body “stop pain.” We can combine that with a point on a painful part of the body, like the shoulder. Now the message is “stop the shoulder pain.” Of course, there is more to acupuncture than that, but that is a little taste of how we can communicate with the body using qi.
I hope this opened your mind to this vast concept, and showed you how it is relevant in daily life. With practices like Tai Qi, Qi Gong, meditation, and acupuncture, you can directly experience and feel Qi. You learn to go with the flow, and let this intelligent universal energy guide you through life.
My understanding of Qi is constantly evolving. If you would like to learn more, read “The Science of Qi” by Andrew Miles, LAc & Xuelan Qiu, PhD for a fascinating biological explanation.