There is a word that is used frequently in East Asian Medicine, qi (pronounced “chee”). The concept of qi is quite foreign to most people, but it’s really not as mystical as it may seem. The simplest definition of qi is the vital energy or life force that keeps the body functioning properly. There is much more to this though. Let’s explore qi a little more closely.
The qi in your body comes from two main sources. The first source of qi is inherited from your parents at conception. It is known as the “innate vital substance” and is stored in the kidneys. The second source is derived from essential substances in nature, such as the air we breathe and the food and water we consume. Both the inherited and the acquired vital energies are further processed and transformed by the organs. Every organ itself, has it’s own qi, or vibrational frequency range (measurable electricity) that, when measured, expresses a state of proper function or balance.
To make the qi required to live your daily life, the kidneys first send the innate vital substance (inherited qi) upwards, where it combines with food essence derived from the spleen (digestion). It further mixes with the fresh air from the lungs where it finally forms into the qi of the body.
To truly understand qi it is important to grasp the concept of yin and yang. Yin is that portion of qi that is cold, passive, solid, heavy, descending, moist and dark. It is the physical or brute side of the universe. Yang is ethereal. It is hot, active, dry, rising and aggressive.
It must be understood that yin and yang do not exist outside of each other, but they reside within each other and must be kept in proper balance. Form (yin) needs a function (yang); they are interdependent. It is this balance that defines and creates good health and balanced emotions.
As with yin and yang, qi needs to be balanced in order to maintain good health. If there is an imbalance of qi, illness can arise, with varying symptoms, according to the type of qi and whether there is a deficiency or excess of qi.
Think of the body as a freeway. When everything is balanced, the qi flows freely throughout the body and there are no accidents or blockages. When blockages start to occur, the qi is unable to flow and the substances that are needed throughout the body, start to pile up. This can lead to excesses in some parts of the body and deficiencies in other parts. Over time, this leads to disease and illness or even just poor functioning of the body. The whole system starts to fail.
Qi has six primary physiological functions – transforming, transporting, holding, raising, protecting and warming. There are also different classifications of qi – Yuan qi, Gu qi, Zong qi, Zhen qi, Wei qi and Ying qi. Here is what all of these classifications of qi do.
Yuan Qi (Primordial Qi) – This type of qi has its origins in the kidneys and the functions of yuan qi include:
- Moving Force: – It is the dynamic force that stimulates the functional activity of all the organs and circulates throughout the body in the channels.
- Basis of Kidney-Qi: – It resides between the kidneys, below the umbilicus at the gate of vitality, also known as the Ming Men. It shares the role of providing the heat necessary to all the body’s functional activities.
- Facilitates Transformation of Qi: – Yuan Qi is the “agent of change”, transforming Zong Qi into Zhen Qi.
- Facilitates Transformation of Blood: – Yuan Qi facilitates the transformation of Gu Qi into blood in the heart.
- Emerges at the Source Points: – Yuan Qi originates where the Ming Men resides, and then passes through the san jiao, spreading to the organs and channels. The places where Yuan Qi emerges are known as the source points.
Gu Qi (Food Qi) – The second form in the classification of qi is Gu Qi, which means “qi of grains” or “qi of food” and is the first stage of the transformation of qi. Food entering the stomach is digested and is transformed into Gu Qi by the spleen.
Zong Qi (Gathering Qi) – The third form in the classification of qi is Zong Qi, sometimes referred to as pectoral qi. It is derived through the interaction of Gu Qi with air. It’s a more subtle and refined form of qi than Gu Qi and its main functions within the body are:
- Warming and nourishing the heart and lungs.
- Promoting lung functions to control qi and breathing.
- Promoting the heart function of governing blood and vessels and promoting blood circulation to the rest of the body.
- It is responsible for controlling speech and the voice.
As Zong Qi is the energy of the chest, the area where it gathers is sometimes referred to as the “Sea of Qi” and it can be affected by emotional disturbances such as sorrow and grief, which deplete lung qi. If Zong Qi is weak or deficient, the hands and feet can become cold and weak.
Zhen Qi (True Qi) – Zhen Qi or true qi is the final stage of the transformation of qi. Through the action of Zong Qi, the Yuan Qi is transformed into Zhen Qi. This is the final version and refinement of qi and results in the qi which flows through the channels. Zhen Qi originates in the lungs and takes on two different forms: Ying Qi and Wei Qi.
Ying Qi (Nutritive Qi) – It is also known as Nourishing Qi and has the function of nourishing the organs and the body as a whole. It holds a close relationship with blood and flows through the vessels and also the channels.
Wei Qi (Defensive Qi) – The final type of classification of qi is Wei Qi. The word wei means to defend or protect. When compared to Ying Qi, it is more coarse. It flows in the outer layers of the body, in skin and muscles. As it resides on the exterior, its function is to protect the body from an attack of exterior pathogenic factors such as wind, heat, cold and dampness. It also controls the opening and closing of the pores while warming, moistening and partially nourishing the skin and muscles. Through these actions, it regulates both sweating and body temperature. Like Zhen Qi, it is also under the control of the lungs, and therefore weakness or deficiency of the lungs can result in a weakness of Wei Qi which can leave a person prone to frequent colds and / or the flu.
With all this information, it is easy to see how important qi is in the human body. East Asian Medical practitioners pay very close attention to a person’s qi and how it shifts with time and treatments. This is one of the reasons that EAM is so versatile. When a patient shifts, the medicine addresses those shifts and the treatments change accordingly. Customized medicine. What a concept! But seriously, qi is more than just your life force, it’s how your body and mind function. So pay close attention to how you feel and get the help you need when things start to feel off. It will make for a happier, healthier and longer life.