What is Qi, introduction

Qi is a fundamental East Asian concept, embracing everything in the whole universe, including spiritual and material aspects of life

Qi arises in philosophy, cosmology, art, literature, martial arts, Qigong, Tai Chi (Taijiquan), and last, but not least medicine (see sectionWhat is Qi in East Asian Medicine)

Chinese character for Qi indicates that it is something both immaterial and material:vapor, steam, gas and uncooked rice, here presented as:

1) “rice” (mi) symbolises “essential nutritive substance
2) “mountain” (place where rice grows)
3) “rising vapours that gather to form clouds

* thus, Qi is interpreted as a subtle substance deriving from a coarse substance, just as steam is produced by cooking rice

* in the West, while interpreting the concept of Qi, it is common to reduce Qi to "energy", since energy seems to describe best the 'seemingly invisible transmission of effect'

* Qi, thus, has various translations: ”energy”, ”vital force”, ”life force”, ”vital power”, ”moving power”

* yet Qi is, in fact, substance (rice and vapour) as well as function (transformation of rice into nutritive substance)

* everything is composed of the same energetic substance - Qi

* Qi has versatile nature, it can assume different manifestations and be different things in different situations


* everything that exists, organic and inorganic, is the result of movement and transformation of Qi

* in finding a western biomedical equivalent of Qi one can come up with the following equation:
Sum of all energetic phenomena of an organism,e.g.:
Cellular respiration, anabolism, catabolism, electrical/chemical/mechanical signaling, transport and contraction, information coding, exchange, storage, and processing, etc.

* by way of example, blockage of Qi in the organism (or pain) = altered composition of a connective tissue matrix leading to altered signal transduction

* Qi moves vertically in channels called Jingvessels

* Jing in its simplified translation stands for pathway/meridian/channel that denotes some linear extent as that of a vessel

* Qi moves horizontally in channels called Luovessels

* the meaning of Luo can be limited to “small branch, collateral”, that connect the large vessels (meridians) to one another and to deeper tissue and the Internal Organs

* the goal of a TEAM practitioner is to achieve anevenflow of Qi, thus re-establishing the Ying Yang balance (homeostasis) in the organism.

What is Qi in philosophy?

* a natural attempt is to assume that Chinese model of Qi is the same as concepts or words that exist in other languages  and cultures, hence western mind strives to find an equivalent to Qi, and, nonetheless, a deep understanding of Qi is difficult to develop.

* so to identify what Qi is one has to examine the knowledge that has grown around this phenomenon for the past several thousand years throughout the supremacy of several Chinese Dynasties, starting from the  Zhou Dynasty (1066 BC – 770 BC) - where the earliest characters of the Chinese language were presented as pictograms –up to modern times.

* today,the Great Dictionary of Chinese Characters( Han Yu Da Zi Dian) lists 23 separate definitions of the word Qi:

* from intangible vapour rising to form cloud,destinymomentum, “weather, “style“ and “habitat“ to“utensil

* as one can observe by the variety of its meanings the concept of Qi is pervasive, showing that Qiis not only philosophical, but also a household word in China.

* there definitely exist similarities between Chinese Qi and ancient Hindu prana, the invisible “breath of life”, ancient Greek pneuma, often translated as “breath”, a substance with which people fill in their lungs and also as“vital substance” - life breathed into mortals by the gods.

* the concept of Qi, particularly with respect to its close relationship to Yin Yang, has another close parallel in ancient Greek philosophy

* democritus postulated the existence of atoms, inseparable elemental increments of matter from which all thing were composed (atomfrom Greek meaning “that which cannot be cut”).

* the concept of indivisibility is contained in the Chinese counterpart of the atom, the Tai Ji diagram 太極, which is a description of thephenomenon from which all matter was made of.

* the indivisible interpretation of Yin Yang gave rise to the primordial pulsing of Qi.

* for modern physicists Qi is energy, where Qi expresses continuum of matter and energy as it is now understood by modern particle physics.

* e.g. the closeness of the concepts of Qi and energy was highlighted by an article on the nature of Qi written by a professor from the Institute of High Energy Physics of China.

* e.g. according to Needham, 'Qi' also conveys modern scientific ideas of 'ethereal waves' or 'radioactive emanations'.

* in Cartesian philosophy Qi is something that is extended in space and persists through time, and is contrasted with mind.

* for sinologists Qi corresponds to 'matter', the material substance of the universe that has mass, occupies space, and is convertible to energy.

* however, 'matter' is not understood just  in a restrictive materialistic sense, as Qi can also assume very rarefied, dispersed, non-material forms.

* Qi has continuous aggregation and dispersion and at various degrees of its materialization, it produces infinite variety of phenomena in the universe:

* e.g. Qi arises in its solid, hard, tangible state as well as tenuous andnon-perceptible forms.

* thus 'Heaven' and 'Earth' are often used to sym­bolize two extreme states of utmost rarefaction and dispersion or utmost condensation and aggregation of Qi respectively.

* when it came to separation and differentiation; the pure [elements] formed heaven, and the turbid formed earth:

* e.g. Lie Zi, a Daoist philosopher who lived around 300 bc, said: 'The purer and lighter [elements], tending upwards, made the heaven; the grosser and heavier [elements], tending downwards, made the earth'

* the  most extreme aggregation of Qi  gives rise to actual form, 'Xing' including minerals, vegetables, animals(including human being) which  has an important applications in Chinese Medicine

* e.g.“Water and Fire have Qi but not life; plants and trees have life, but not knowledge; birds and animals have knowledge, but no sense of what is right”  XunKuang (c. 313-2 3 8 bc):

* the aggregation and dispersal of Qi equals  life and death:

* e.g.“Every birth is a condensation, every death a dispersal. Birth is not a gain, death is not a loss . . . when condensed, Qi becomes a living being, when dispersed, it is the substratum of mutations”

* e.g.Life is not creation from nothing, and death is not complete dispersion and destruction” Wang Fu Zhi (1619-1692)

* Qi produces the human body just as water freezes into ice. When ice melts, it becomes water. When a person dies, he or she becomes spirit [shen] again. It is called Spirit, just as melted ice changes its name. Wang Chong ad 27-97

* Qi also provides continuity between coarse, material forms and tenuous, rarefied, non-material energies:

* e.g. It therefore completely sidesteps the dilemma that has pervaded Western philosophy from the time of Plato to the present day, that is, the duality and contrast be­tween materialism and idealism.

* e.g.Western philosophy either considered matter as independent of man's perception, or, at the other extreme, considered matter as a mere reflection of ideas. Needham puts this very well:

“Both [the macrocosm-microcosm doctrine and organic naturalism] were subject to what I call ... the charac­teristic European schizophrenia or split-personality. Europeans could only think in terms either of Democritean  mechanical materialism or of Platonic theological spiritualism. A deus always had to be found for a machina. Animas, entelechiae, souls, archaea, dance professionally through the history of European thinking” G. Maciocia

* continuity of Qi forms the Great Voidouter space in general:

* e.g.Great Void consists of Qi. Qi condenses to become the myriad  things.

* things of necessity disintegrate and return to the Great Void. …'If Qi condenses, its visibility becomes effective and physical form appears

* e.g.'Qi in dispersion is substance, and so is it in condensation'. Zhang Zaiad 1020-1077

What is Qi in East Asian Medicine?

* the core of TEAM therapy is to treat Qi
* Since Qi is substance as well as function – Qi  is both anatomy and physiology in TEAM.

* Qi is what builds and rebuilds the body, and everything in the body, including the Internal Organs is the result of the expression and transformation of Qi.

* adapting this to Western physiology Qi = sum of all energetic phenomena of an organism, theses include:

* all chemical, physical and mechanical transformations, such as:

* cellular respiration, anabolism, catabolism, biochemical/bioelectrical signaling, information storage, exchange and processing, etc.
* vortex of Qi in its various manifesta­tions forms the Vital Substances.
* vital Substancesinclude Qi itself, Blood (Xue), Essence (Jing), Spirit (Shen) and Body Fluids (Yin Ye)
* vital Substances, in turn, are the basis for interaction between Bodyand Mind, thus, BodyandMindare nothing but forms of Qi.
* various states of aggregation of Qi also account for its manifestations at a physical and emotional-mental-spiritual level simultaneously.

* ultimately there is only one Qi that remains fundamentally the same.
* however, in TEAM practice it is important to be able to distinguish between the different types of Qi, according to its location within the body andto different functions it is assuming.

* by and large, Qi,in Chinese medicine, is used in two major ways, as:

1. Refined energy:

* is pro­duced by the Internal Organs
* nourishes Body + Mind

* takes several forms depending on its location and function in the body.

* Yuan Qi, Original Qi

* originates from the space between the Kidneys, it is a motive force of all physiological activities, flows in the Extraordinary Meridians, represents transformation power of Qi in all Internal Organs, and is responsible for person’s constitution, birth, growth, mental development, sexual maturation, reproduction, aging and death.

* Gu Qi, Nutritive Qi,  ( literally “Qi of Grains”' or “Qi of Food”).

* is produced by Spleen
* represents the 1st stage in transformation of food into Qi
* is not yet in a form that the body can use, but
* is thebasis for the production of all Qi + Blood

* Zong Qi, Gathering Qi

*  “resides” in the chest, nourishes Heart + Lungs

*  Wei Qi, Defensive Qi

* flows is the Exterior and protects the body

* Ying Qi, Nutritive Qiflows in the Interior of the body. Its function is to nourish, and it is denser than Wei Qi.

* it is Ying Qi that is activated whenever a needle is inserted into acupuncture point.

* Ying Qi can be called the Meridian Qi(in the West it is an equivalent of connective tissue biochemical/bioelectrical signaling).

* derangement of either Ying Qi or Wei Qi, for example, will give rise to different clinical manifestations and will require different kinds of treatment.

* ultimately, though, they are simply two different manifestations of the same Qi energy.

2. functional activity of the Internal Organs:

* here Qi does not indicate a refined substance as above, but simply is a complex of functional activities of any organ

* e.g. Liver-Qi does not mean the 'portion' of Qi residing in the Liver, but rather complex of Liver's functional activities, that is, ensuring “smooth flow of Qi”.

* Since Qi in the bodymanifests simultaneously on the physical and mental-spiritual level, thus Blood in Liver represents a dense, material form of Qi whilst emotional energy of Liver which manifest as  anger (a spiritual aspect of Liver) is also a form of Qi, albeit of a more subtle, non-material type.

* thus, in TCM, in a simplified version, a pathological process can be demonstrated as follows:

continuous exposer to cold conditions, lack of exercises, and /or poor breathing due to anger or stress →

* poor Qi and Blood circulation →

* excessive 'aggregation' or 'condensation' of Qi →

* Qibecomes pathologically dense →

* blood congeals/condenses →

* lumps, masses, tumors

* practitioner’s task is then to treat specific acupuncture points (and/ or prescribe herbs) that move Qi and Blood, as well as warm (using moxibustion) appropriate points (if the pathological condition occurred due to Cold condition).


functions of Qi

1) transformation function:

* is the change in the state of aggregation/ dispersion of Qi

* Qi (which is Yang in nature) is essential for the transformation of food and fluids (Yin in nature) into clear (Yang) and turbid (Yin) parts

* transformation is a process where material, dense forms of mattere.g. food / fluids need the power of Qi to be transformed into more subtle forms of matter

* stomach-Qi rots and ripens food

* spleen-Qi transforms food into Gu-Qi which in turn is transformed into Zong Qi

* kidney-Qi transforms fluids

* bladder-Qi transforms urine

* heart-Qi trans­forms Food-Qi into Blood

* lung-Oi transforms air into True Qi

2) transportation function:

* occurs in the process of transformation of various substances when Qi transports them in and out of various body structures

* happens in 4 directions: upwards, downwards, inwards, outwards

* constitutes Qi Mechanism, (Qi Ji) that is  ascending/descending + entering/exiting of Qi, e.g.:

* stomach-qi transports food downwards to spleen

* Spleen-qi transports food-Qi upwards to lungs + heart

* lung-qi transports qi downwards to kidneys + diffuses Wei Qi (defensive Qi) to space between skin and muscles + transports fluids to skin

* kidney-qi transports Qi both upwards to lungs + downwards to bladder to transform and excrete fluids

* liver-qi transports Qi in all directions

3) holding function:

* means that Qi (which is Yang in nature) holds Fluids + Blood (Yin in nature) in their proper places

* examples of the holding by Qi are:

* spleen-Qi holds Blood in blood vessels + fluids in proper Spaces

* spleen-Qi + Kidney-Qi holds Bloodin uterus vessels

* kidney-Qi + Bladder-Qi hold urine

* lung-Qi holds Sweat


4) raising function:

* is closely linked to 'holding' function

* Qi ensures that:

* body structures are held in their proper place:

* e.g. Qi is weak particularly in its raising function, it is said to be not only deficient but also 'sinking'

* spleen-Qi raises organs in general

* kidney-Qi raises uterus

* fluids + blood

* e.g.  conditions characterized by chronic leakage of mucus/blood, such asleucorrhoea, menorrhagia, holding function of Qi at fault but also its raising function

5) protection function

* is executed by:

* wei Qi (Defensive Qi) primarily

* irrigates space between skin - muscles, i.e. exterior energetic layer of the body

* is closely linked to Lungs, which spread Wei Qi it in the space between muscles and skin thus protecting the body from exterior pathogenic factors.

* Ying Qi + Kidney-Essence:

* determine our overall resistance to external patho­genic factors.

6) warming function:

* plays an essential rolefor all physiological processes, especially fluid (Yin) transformation/transportation/excretion which need Yang (warmth) to be activated and function properly

* warming function is provided by Yang-Qi,its source is:

* kidney-Yangalso called Minister Fire (Ming Men) - physiological fire, that is active from conception

* spleen/ Pancreas-Yang

* however, an organism derives its warmth primarily from Kidney-Yang