What is Qi?

Updated: Dec 3, 2017

In Chinese theory, life energy is called Qi (pronounced “chee”), it permeates the whole universe; it is the operating force of all life.

In the body Qi flows in channels, called Meridians, and supplies energy to all the organs, body tissues, and the mind. Qi is found in our environment, our food and our breath. Taiji Qigong uses gentle movement, intention and breathing to direct Qi though the Meridians and specific points on them, affecting the flow of Qi so that it moves freely and evenly through the body. The distribution of Qi within your body has profound effects on all aspects of your well-being – the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual, as well as the physical. Chinese medicine considers all pain and disease is caused by imbalances and blockages in the flow of Qi. When your Qi-flow is balanced you feel relaxed, confident and full of energy and enthusiasm. You are free from stiffness or aches and pains, and are full of vigour – you “sparkle” with energy. Most of us know this feeling, but experience it only too rarely. 

Qi is Life's Energy

In terms what Qi is when referred to as ‘energy', it can be confusing and very often misunderstood. It is not nervous tension, nor a pretend state/figment of the imagination, or the ‘energy’ you get from drinking a sugary drink. It is tangible, subtle and powerful, and circulates continuously in one’s mental and physical self. Qi is open, free-moving, unburdened, basically indefinable through words. How do you explain the taste of a strawberry to someone, who’s never had one? It is life-force unforced, which then becomes smooth and balanced through practicing Taiji Qigong.

When we talk about Qi-flow, it can sometimes suggest loosely letting go, sloppy, mushy, self-indulgent ‘freedom’, which is really not the flow, we’re talking about. The Qi flows in the body meridians when a body and mind are balanced, healthy and natural. A person cannot force flow. Flow flows until we block it. Many physical and emotional factors impede the flow of Qi in the body and these can be divided into two broad categories: excesses or deficiencies. Excesses common in the Western lifestyle include stress, overwork, and over-eating, while common deficiencies are poor diet, insufficient exercise, and the lack of sleep. Societal pressures for success and reputation can create an imbalance between the output necessary to reach these goals and the input that will restore mind and body. Such an imbalance can lead to over consumption of sugar-rich foods and stimulants such as tea, coffee and the ever popular ‘energy’ drinks to enhance “output” and, of alcohol or increasingly, recreational drugs, as substitutes for relaxation.

Chinese medicine considers very strong emotions as excesses too. Joy, fear, anger, sadness, or anxiety all affects the harmonious flow of Qi in the body. Each of the body’s organ system is related to one particular emotion. For example, sadness affects the lungs, and may cause breathlessness and tiredness. While it is healthy to experience emotion, too much excitement can over-stimulate the flow of Qi, causing feelings of restlessness and insomnia for example; think of a young child who gets too excited before bedtime – they cannot settle!

Reading The Chinese Letters

The ideogram for Qi depicts rice (Mi) being cooked. Above the pot we see Yun, which depicts the vapours coming off the top of the pot.

The radical Chih represents the pot in which the rice is cooked, or the abdomen in which the liquid (blood) is heated. The vapours coming off the pot are Qi as an energy. They can also be viewed as clouds (earth's steam).

Our breath serves not only as a process for sustaining life (as cooking is to eating) but as a catalyst for producing energy (as cooking produces steam). In representing Qi as vapour or steam which drives pistons in powerful engines this ideogram clearly symbolises the energy and power of Qi.



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