Qi and Blood (and Their Imbalances)

Chinese Medicine is both a physiological and an energetic medicine. We deal primarily with what we call bodily substances. These are Qi, Blood, Yin, And Yang. Bodily substances can take more of an energetic form – as in Qi or Yang – or they can take a denser form – as in the case of Blood and Yin.

This article will cover Qi and Blood, the signs and symptoms of imbalance, and some simple lifestyle choices one can make to correct their imbalance. When reading this article, keep in mind that all Chinese Medicine understands pathology first and foremost in terms of excess or deficiency.

NOTE: This is not an exhaustive list and does not address the finer points of pathology and diagnosis in Chinese Medicine. It is recommended that you consult a practitioner to aid you in meeting your health goals.

Qi and its imbalances

For an entire article on Qi, check out What is Qi? Qi is the animating life force that sustains and mobilizes the functions of the body. The functions of Qi are to transport (Qi is what moves the Blood), transform (turning food into nourishment), hold (keeping your organs and Blood in place), protect (keeping pathogens out), lift (keeping your body upright) and warm (keeping your body nice and cozy).

Qi Stagnation

When the Qi of the body is not moving properly, it can become stagnant. This is an excess characteristic. Common things that cause Qi stagnation are a sedentary lifestyle, suppressing one’s emotions, too much dampness in the body (excess Yin), or not having enough Blood for the Qi to move (that’s its job). Symptoms of Qi stagnation are agitation and frustration, bloating, sighing, and dull aching or throbbing pain. Ways to relieve Qi stagnation naturally are exercise, expressing oneself, and getting in the Sun.

Signs: Swollen tongue (up and down), tense or cottony pulse

Qi Deficiency

When there is not enough Qi in the body, we refer to this as Qi deficiency. Common things that cause Qi deficiency are overwork, poor diet (leading to blood deficiency), poor digestion, and sleep deprivation. Symptoms are weak and heavy limbs, general fatigue, getting sick easily, poor digestion (which is also a cause) with loose stools, dull pain that is better with pressure, arrhythmia, bruising easily, trouble staying asleep, spontaneous sweating, shortness of breath, and prolapse. Ways to tonify Qi are eating nourishing and easily-digested foods, rest, and getting your bare feet on the ground. Qi tonics like green tea are also helpful!

Signs: Pale or swollen tongue (side to side) with thick coat and scalloped sides, a pulse that changes amplitude, where the vessel walls feel diffuse or feel like a thinly rolled cigarette

Blood and its imbalances

Blood is that which carries nutrients to tissues and what, in Chinese Medicine, is responsible for housing the mind and storing memories. This is why after a profoundly Blood-moving treatment, patients can experience a resurgence of old memories. Consequently, most treatments geared towards treating trauma in Chinese medicine involve Blood invigoration. Qi and Blood are intertwined. In Chinese Medicine it is said that Blood is the mother of Qi, and Qi commands it’s mother. In other words, you can’t have Qi without Blood, but Qi is what tells Blood where to go.

Blood Stagnation

Blood stagnation happens when the blood isn’t moving properly. This ultimately leads to thick, clotty blood. In Chinese Medicine, Blood stagnation is the most pernicious of all pathologies, but often only occurs with age or with circulatory problems. Blood stagnation can lead to fixed, stabbing pain that is better with movement and worse with rest (as it is an excess condition). Varicose veins and high blood pressure can be signs of Blood stagnation. Blood stagnation can also be cause by toxicity or toxic exposure. Ways to relieve Blood stagnation are exercise, working through old trauma, and getting in the Sun.

Signs: Purple tongue with thick, engorged veins underneath, a choppy pulse that feels grainy or rough like sandpaper

Blood Deficiency

Blood deficiency is a common pathology, but can be quite pernicious as well. Blood deficiency happens when there is not enough blood to nourish the tissues or for the mind to function well. Causes of Blood deficiency are poor diet (lacking in blood nourishing foods, esp. animal products), poor digestion (being unable to transform food into blood), sudden traumatic loss of blood, heavy periods, and overthinking. Symptoms of Blood deficiency are weakness, pale skin, numbness, dizziness, scanty periods, being easily startled or frightful, and the feeling of being small. Ways to nourish Blood are to eat a Blood nourishing diet (rich in iron and animal products), abstain from giving blood, rest (conserving one’s Qi in order to make more blood), and to both get your bare feet on the ground and your body in the Sun.

Signs: Pale or small tongue (esp. with pale sides), a pulse that feels narrow or thin

I hope these concepts help you to understand some of the fundamentals underlying the practice of Chinese Medicine. This knowledge can empower you to create a lifestyle that brings your body better into harmony with nature and promotes your wellbeing.

What is Qigong?

Qigong is a form of energetic exercise that arises from an ancient Chinese tradition of martial arts and meditative movement practices. Qigong is actually a modern term that originated in the mid 20th century to describe the enormous variety of Chinese energetic exercises that had developed over the past several millenia. Taichi (or taiji chuan) is the more popular, more complex cousin of Qigong and is a true martial art. They both arise out of ancient practice of what is called daoyin, which is simply a “way of movement”, but encompasses any movement practice for health purposes, including self-massage and other physical exercises. Qigong is less of a martial art and more of a meditative practice intended to exercise the mind and strengthen and invigorate the qi. Qigong literally means “energy work” or “breath work”. One big difference between Taichi and Qigong is that there are generally more complex movements in Taichi and many of the movements involve the feet. In the majority of Qigong practices, the feet are often stationary and the hands do the movement. Some Qigong practices are simply meditative postures that don’t require movement at all. Sometimes people even make up their own energetic movements as part of their Qigong practice – this is called spontaneous Qigong.

The purpose of Qigong is to increase health and extend life. In Chinese medical theory, some believe that the only way to increase one’s pre-heaven essence is through Qigong – this is a profound statement. For some, sitting meditation can be difficult as it can be challenging to stand still for extended time. The practice of Qigong offers a fantastic alternative to sitting meditation in that it enables one to meditate while moving one’s body. This confers all the benefits of meditation plus the benefits of bodily awareness (mindfulness) and better postural practices. The same can be said for Taichi. Some Qigong exercises can be quite vigorous and either stretch and strengthen the muscles and joints or invigorate blood flow through the active movement of the body.

I have a saying that I often use in trying to explain the what I think is purpose of Qigong:

How strongly you can feel the qi in your hands is directly related to your level of success in your Qigong practice.

What I mean by this is to point out the importance of Qigong being first-and-foremost a mental exercise. It is a moving meditation on the life force energy that penetrates all of matter and encompasses the entire universe. To learn more about the nature of qi, click here.

The experience of qi can occur to different individuals in drastically different ways. This is due to your unique energy field and your relationship and role to play in the greater energy field in which we live. Generally, when one practices Qigong the experience of feeling the qi in one’s hands can be felt as

  • heat
  • cold
  • buzzing
  • tingling
  • numbness
  • heaviness
  • softness
  • magnetic (like your hands are magnets, either attracting or repelling)
  • electrical
  • flowing (like water)
  • spinning
  • pressure

and other sensations.

For some, this sensation comes easily and they might have profound qi sensations the first time they practice. To other, experiences the movement and the feeling of qi through Qigong takes time and work. Regardless of how it manifests for you – don’t give up. Every second you take out of your day to practice Qigong will improve your life.

The following video is one of my favorites to get people into the Qigong mindset:

I find Roger Jahnke’s work to be some of the very best. In my humble opinion, Roger Jahnke has “got it right” in his attitude towards the practice of Qigong. Regardless of one’s level of skill and regardless of what form (the particular set of exercises) one practices, we can always adopt the kind of attitude that Jahnke does – one of reverance,  meditation, and prayer – when we engage in the practice of Qigong. I think this will lead to deeper and longer lasting results.

There is much more to say about the practice of Qigong. Have a blessed journey in your practice of Qigong. I believe it is truly foundational in a deeper experience of life and will open up many doors to you.

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: