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What is Qi in traditional Chinese medicine?

Henry McCann, DAOM
Alternative & Complementary Medicine

Qi (pronounced "chee" and also written "Chi") is one of the most important concepts in Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and Chinese herbs. While most people think of Qi as "energy," it is much more than that. When an acupuncturist says that someone's Qi is "weak," they are really referring to the body's normal ability to function.

In the body, Qi is everything from the ability of our lungs to breathe to the ability of the stomach to digest food. Ultimately, Qi is the traditional Chinese way of describing all of your body's normal functions. When someone who practices Chinese medicine uses needles or herbs to treat "Qi," they are really just trying to bring everything internally back into a proper state of balance.

Phil Veneziano
Alternative & Complementary Medicine

Qi (pronounced "chee") may sound like a foreign concept, but it's a vital part of Chinese medicine, says licensed acupuncturist and Chinese medicine expert Phil Veneziano. Find out what it means by watching this video.

Janet Tsai
Alternative & Complementary Medicine

Qi (pronounced Chee) means energy or the force of life, and is the animating force behind all forms of life. You may also see it spelled "Chi", or "Ki" (in Japanese), but they all share the same meaning. The basic foundation for Oriental medicine is that there is a life energy flowing throughout the body which is called "Qi". Qi, or energy, flows through the body via  meridians that connect all of the major organs. When Qi flows normally, the body is healthy, when there is blockage or stagnation of Qi, there is pain and disease. Through acupuncture, stimulating and balancing the movement of Qi can help to heal the imbalances that can cause pain and other health issues.

In traditional Chinese culture, qi (also chi or ch'i) is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as "energy flow", and is often compared to Western notions of energeia or élan vital (vitalism), as well as the yogic notion of prana and pranayama. The literal translation of "qi" is air, breath, or gas.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) asserts that the body has natural patterns of qi that circulate in channels called meridians. In TCM, symptoms of various illnesses are believed to be the product of disrupted, blocked, or unbalanced qi movement through the body's meridians, as well as deficiencies or imbalances of qi in the Zang Fu organs. Traditional Chinese medicine often seeks to relieve these imbalances by adjusting the circulation of qi using a variety of techniques including herbology, food therapy, physical training regimens (qigong, tai chi chuan, and other martial arts training), moxibustion, tui na, and acupuncture.

Along with yin and yang, Qi forms the basis for Chinese healing, or external Qi healing, as it encompasses the meaning of all vital activities and substances in the human body. Qi is the "Life Force" of all living things and also represents all energy within the universe. It is the source of movements, ranging from blood flow to voluntary muscle action; it protects your body from external interruptions, and it generates warmth for the body.

Qi travels along twelve imaginary meridians (also called pathways or channels) in the body to keep the body nourished. These meridians start at your fingertips, connect to the brain, and then connect to the organ associated with the specific meridian. The twelve major meridians correspond to specific human organs: kidneys, liver, spleen, hearth, lungs, pericardium, bladder, gall bladder, stomach, small and large intestines, and the triple burner (body temperature regulator).

When Qi is blocked or thrown off balance, illness or symptoms result. If you have pain or “Bi” from a torn or injured muscle, the Traditional Chinese Medicine explanation is that the channel running through the damaged muscle has been physically disrupted, resulting in local pain or a disease of “Bi.” To treat this, the flow of energy through the channel must be restored using acupuncture, acupressure or other ancient therapies.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.