The word Qi is not primarily representative of some mystical force, although it does have a wide enough scope of meaning to include aspects of our physiology and universe that we have yet to fully understand. The concept of Qi, is most notably used in Chinese medicine to mean function, animation, organization, bodily substances, nutrients, and oxygen. It is also used to describe “energy” the same way it is used in our common vernacular, such as, “I have a lot of energy today”, or “my energy is low today.”
Qi is the movement beneath everything in our universe as well as the substances themselves. The function of the word’s use in describing something dense like a table, or a rock is to point to the underlying reality that the table is not one object but trillions of tiny atoms and molecules in cooperative existence with each other. It is the vibration and interplay of particles from the dense material of rock or bone to the lightness of our breath. In Chinese thought, the word Qi, has so much range that it can even be used to speak of the essence and movement of thoughts, light, radiation and the electro-magnetic forces all around us. The concept of Qi reaches into the mystery of our existence, which is why the Ancient Chinese were able to use the word to speak about man and his universe in a way that was not limited by current discovery.
When you are too exhausted to laugh or cry, you do not have the Qi needed to perform those functions; If all of a sudden a tiger jumped out you would certainly pull Qi from deep within and run. This is an example of how Qi is used to describe our resources and how they are utilized in the body.
If we live a life where the proverbial tiger is always demanding we pull resources from deep within, our body becomes stressed and begins to breakdown. As our body, or health breaks down, disease and pathology can begin to be detected. In the example of the tiger we did not have enough of one kind of Qi, so we had to pull from another kind of Qi in order to survive. This type of Qi is known as “jing” which would correlate in very basic sense to the energy your body pulls when adrenaline is spiked, it is the utilization of bodily resources by any means necessary for immediate survival, even though often times it is just so we can stay up a bit later or work a little longer. In this scenario we had to take such dire measures because we did not have enough of what the Chinese call “Ying Qi”, which basically means nutritive Qi. This is all the energy we take in through the food we eat, the water we drink, and air we breath. If we had enough nourishment we could deal with the challenge of the tiger without using our deep resources. Our adrenaline would certainly still be activated but we would have gas in the tank, so to speak. Now, if we stayed up all night the night before we will have depleted those resources and again had to pull from deep with in. I should also mention another type of Qi the Chinese are concerned about, and that is our immune function, or “Wei Qi.” This is the force in our body that is supposed to buffer us from the external environment and repair any internal damage. If the air is cold it generates heat; If the air is hot it generates sweat; If we are exposed to external pathogens it creates a barrier of mucous or fluid and attempts to push it out. Obviously this system is more complex and intricate from a mechanistic perspective than the Chinese understood but the vitality in ones body needed to carry out all of the immune systems functions is the same. This vitality is also reliant upon our Nutritive Qi (ying qi). When we have the nourishment we need our immune system or defensive (wei) Qi is operational and keeps us healthy, but it also uses up our resources at a faster rate when it is working to maintain this homeostasis.
The problem arises when our body has trouble prioritizing its distribution of resources. Our body, left to it’s own devices should, for the most part, delegate in an organized way. However, there are other factors at play. It gets more complicated when we consider our mental Qi, emotional Qi, instinctual Qi, and spiritual Qi. What seemed like a well balanced system of processes, albeit, with programming bent on procreation and survival, is captained by a conscious being who has free will and a creative volition. Our active mind has it’s own preferences and concerns in how it would like to use our resources; Our instincts say procreate at any cost; Our hearts insist on purpose, meaning, love and significance. Our preferences lead us to desire pleasure over pain and discomfort even if sometimes that short term pleasure creates long term pain. Sometimes it goes the other way as well, we work ourselves so intensely to secure a pleasure in the future yet never slow down to actually ever enjoy the fruits of our labor.
The word harmony and balance are used frequently to describe the ideal state of these forces within us. They were concerned with how we balanced our intellect with our emotion or will, or our imagination with our conscious awareness. A very simple example of what this is describing might be the conflict one feels internally when an unhealthy romantic relationship has ended abruptly; The intellect understands that this is a very good thing; Emotionally, we hurt and want the person back; Our vision for the future asks us to consider our path and our instinct still says lets procreate. There are endless versions of these conflicts. Another might be a job you can’t stand but feel you cant leave. These are just a few examples where conflicts within play a role in creating a breakdown in how our body manages it’s resources. The word, in Chinese medicine, used to describe this breakdown is blockage or is described as blocked Qi. It basically means the functions in our body have been compromised. The western description of this is stress.
The job of a Chinese Medicine practitioner is to help find the direction Qi needs to move in order to re-establish harmony or balance in a persons inner being so that the organisms natural healing powers can work. So, here we mention Qi in an abstract way; “What direction does Qi need to move?” All we are asking, is what seems stuck in a persons life, and what type of Qi (way of being) can we offer that is helpful to them. If someone is really angry and we offer a “brighter-side message” does their anger resolve? What if we get angry with them? Does this allow them to get it off their chest and then relax? What if we acknowledge their anger? Does this help them feel understood? What works for one persons can certainly make things worse for another. Here we see again how the word Qi is used as the underlying force behind our actions. It is our function, our way of being in the world. Acupuncture is just one way of stimulating a persons internal organization system to reestablish balance.
We derive energy from the health of our cells; Our cells get energy from our water, food, and air, which all have their own process of cellular, chemical, and subatomic functioning. We utilize and cultivate these resources and, our access to them, in the world around us using the Qi we obtained. Using one word, Qi, to describe this force acknowledges our inherent connection with everything around us. This is what is meant when Qi is explained as our life-force or vital energy. It is the fundamental quantum material and movement between and beneath everything in our universe. Our life force, simply put, is the intelligence within the network of cells that make us up.