What is Qi?
By Brian Benjamin Carter
This alternative medicine journal article
reviews: Is Qi energy? Those who are fatigued, or always
tired, will be particularly interested in Chinese Medicine's
views on qi.
This is one of the most common questions
Americans ask about Chinese Medicine, and not an easy one to answer.
Qi (pronounced "chee" and sometimes spelled 'chi') is
possibly the most essential and the most controversial aspect
of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Biomedicine often
feels it can quite easily dismiss parts or all of TCM by maintaining
that modern science cannot verify the existence of qi. The false
idea that qi is an 'energy' like electricity has worsened this
Is Qi Energy?
Some TCM practitioners say qi is 'energy.' This is not
too bad of an explanation. But don't go away thinking we
believe there are electrical circuits running through your body!
Some scholars (D.E.
Kendall, and Paul
Unschuld) maintain that the idea of qi as 'energy' was a mistranslation
from the Chinese.
Then What is It?
In terms of basic TCM ontology ("what exists"),
Qi is one of the four basic constituents of the body:
Consider this convenient car-engine analogy: Yin
is water from the radiator to cool the engine, blood is oil, qi
is the force that moves the pistons, and the engine can be said
to be in a yang state when
operating. Perhaps the explosion itself is yang, while the
force of the explosion is qi. We can also say that the gas
contains a qi that has yet to be utilized.
(In the actual chinese character for the word, qi is the steam
rising from a cooking pot of rice. I hope that explanation
made sense to ancient Chinese, because it doesn't make much to
me! To be fair to the ancient chinese, we can think of the steam
coming from the rice as being less substantial, more yang than
the rice itself, but still...)
What Happens Without Qi?
Another way to understand things is by their absence (darkness
is defined as the absence of light). Without sufficient
- your digestive system cannot break down food or transport
nutrients to the rest of your body
- you become easily fatigued and are always tired
- you lose your appetite
- your limbs are heavy
- you might wake up frequently at night because you need to
- academic/organizing thought is difficult or impossible
- everything is overwhelming (you cannot 'digest' what is going
- you tend to worry (the emotional component - TCM is a holistic
medicine that does not separate body and mind)
How Do I Get More Qi?
- The proper diet goes a long way. TCM
dietary principles are too complex to cover here (I must
say though that it is surprising to many patients, perhaps because
vegetarianism is thought to be synonymous with alternative medicine,
that TCM advocates eating meat and mostly cooked foods).
- Herbs that increase the qi include ginseng,
- Avoid activities that drain the qi - Be sensible about your
energy expenditure by living a balanced life; don't be
too sedentary or too active. If you are a couch potato,
your qi can't flow without exercise. If you are a type-A
personality, relax and don't use yourself up too early in life
- you may live to regret it!