What is Qi?

This is one of the most important topics on this website.

Qi (also written chi) is a complex Chinese term that has a number of meanings. It is most often translated as “breath” or “energy“, but can also refer to the weather, the mood of a certain day, things having to do with air, oxygen, or gas, and a persons attitude. This relationship between qi and breath points to the critical role of breathing when getting in touch with qi. The ancient Chinese character for qi is said to pictographically represent the steam that rises and falls from a cooking pot of rice.

In Chinese metaphysics, everything in the universe is a manifestation of qi. The universe even “before creation” itself was still qi. Qi is the universal substance of which all matter and space is composed. It is the substrate of reality itself.

This notion of a universal substance – qi – brings ancient Chinese philosophy in resonance with a formidable idea that permeates much of ancient history and still feeds a powerful undercurrent within both scientific and popular philosophy today – the notion of vitalism. Vitalism is the belief in a universal life force that penetrates all matter and animates all life. In English we might call it a “universal life force energy” or simply a “vital force”, but this very concept has taken so many forms throughout history that it would be quite a challenge to make an exhaustive list. However, here are a few: qi (Chinese), prana (Vedic), reiki or ki (Japanese), ruach (Hebrew), od (Norse), pneuma (Greek), mana (Polynesian), elan vital (French),¬†the Force¬†(Star Wars – just kidding but kinda not really) and many more.

The philosophy of vitalism used to play a fundamental role in the mind of the physician. It wasn’t until the 20th century that vitalism was almost entirely stamped out from the philosophical education of physicians in North America. The medical profession used to be much more based in faith in the body’s natural healing process rather than in the power of drugs and surgery. The ancient Greek notion of “vis medactrix naturae” or the “healing power of nature” drove the idea that, if given enough time and support and proper nourishment, the body has a way of bringing itself back into balance on it’s own. This underlies the idea that there is an intelligent life force that drives the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the individual. The adherence to this philosophy is, I believe, the most fundamental factor that divides the approaches of mechanistic biomedicine and holistic medicine. Western medicine was actually founded on this idea by the ancient Greek physicians such as Hippocrates and Galen, but this theory as well as many of the physiological understandings of the ancient world are considered obsolete in the eyes of conventional materialistic science.

This idea of an all-pervasive life force energy isn’t accepted by the mainstream scientific community. However, contrary to popular opinion, this is not for lack of evidence. Our world is replete both with scientific evidence and with anecdotal evidence. Quantum physics tells us that at the super sub-atomic level, the universe is an incredibly dense sea of literally pure energy (see my article on MakingtheMedicine.com). The phenomenon of psi is actually a well-supported fact with decades of research demonstrating it – telepathy, psychokinesis, and remote viewing all have tremendous support in scientific literature (see Dean Radin’s work or the book The Field by Lynne McTaggart). There are a number of phenomena that point to the existence of bioenergetic fields surrounding the bodies of living organisms, especially around humans (Kirlian photography, biophoton emission, etc.). The beneficial effects of faith healing, prayer, and Reiki are also well-supported. The laying on of hands of Christians and of ancient Greek followers of Asclepius are ancient examples of healing using this knowledge. The sensation of qi is common to many people who practice energywork or do taichi, qigong, or yoga.

What’s so important about this article is that to take the notion of qi seriously is to awaken to an entirely different worldview with entirely different possibilities than the ones we’ve been handed by Western materialism. It gives solid foundation to the idea that we are indeed deeply connected and that the substance from which we are made – pure energy – is the same everywhere.

Now that you’ve read up on qi, consider learning about how to use it through Qigong.

If you are interested in taking this discussion deeper, check out this website..

Three Treasures – Jing, Qi, & Shen

In Oriental Medicine (OM), the body is composed of three major parts – jing, qi, and shen. These are referred to as the Three Treasures (sanbao).

Jing is most often translated as essence or vitality. Jing is your genetic integrity and the ability of your cells to replicate. It is described as the blueprint your body uses to live and to grow, which you were given at birth from your parents – sounds a lot like DNA, right? I think the ancient Chinese were on to something.

Qi (sometimes written chi) is an increasingly common word in the English language. It is often translated into English as breath, but this does not encompass the entire concept implied by the word qi, as qi can also mean weather, mood, air, attitude, and other things. The translation agreed upon by most practitioners of OM is vital force or life force. As recently as the 20th century, the philosophy of vitalism, or the belief that there is an invisible energy that animates all life, was an accepted idea by medical professionals all over the world – an idea which has its roots in ancient natural philosophy. If you are looking for a similar concept, it is believed to be synonymous with the Vedic notion of prana. To learn more about qi, see this article.

Shen is translated as spirit. This entails both a person’s individual spirit and their access to the source spirit of the universe (call it what you will). We assess a person’s shen by the look in ones eyes. We believe that having a healthy shen is one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy state of being and in a good prognosis in the case of illness. If one’s shen is strong, he or she has a much greater likelihood of faster healing and longer life. When the shen wanders, mental illness or depression can develop.

The strategies handed down in OM work to keep these Three Treasure optimized and in balance. We use herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion, magnets, and other therapies to supplement and harmonize these fundamental components of the human being.

To learn more about bodily substances and how they be brought back into balance, check out these articles: