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The Essence of Qi - An Introduction to the body's vital energy

Published on 22nd March 2018

By Mandy Williams, BSc (Hons) Acupuncture

Your body and everything around you, organic and inorganic, has its own Qi (pronounced ‘Chee’) or ‘vital energy’. In Chinese medicine, Qi is one of the vital substances in the body, the others being ‘Blood’ and ‘Body Fluids’. Qi is gleaned from many sources and can take different forms. From the food we eat – Grain Qi (gu-qi) to the air we breathe – Natural Air Qi (kong-qi), and possibly most importantly the Original Qi (yuan-qi) also known as Prenatal Qi which is that obtained from our parents – our constitution.

The functions of Qi are many and varied. Qi protects the body from illnesses, helps transform and transport the food and drink we consume to the necessary parts of the body, holds things in place to avoid blood loss and excessive sweating, and warms the body. While Western medicine sees the body as a collection of tissue, cells, proteins and various other chemicals, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views the body very differently, considering the whole rather than the part. Everything is connected and an imbalance in one part of the body affects others. This is the holistic view of TCM.

The Qi of the body constantly interacts with the natural forces, or Qi, of Heaven and Earth. Diagnosis in Chinese medicine is closely linked to the environment in which a person lives. This is why a practitioner will go through a full history with you and ask you seemingly strange questions such as ‘Are you easily irritated’ or ‘Do you see floaters’ even if you have come in for a dodgy knee! When we are tired or run down, we are lacking in Qi and when we are irritable and easily riled our Qi is stagnating and needs encouragement to flow more freely. Acupuncture points (sometimes referred to a ‘Qi holes’) can be stimulated by needles or pressure to affect a person’s Qi. One of my colleagues described acupuncture needles as being like signposts to guide the Qi to where it needs to go and I feel this is a great analogy. When we insert needles into the body we are looking to obtain a de-qi sensation which is sometimes described as a fish tugging on a line, or possibly even the Qi grabbing the signpost (needle) to know which way to go.

A patient once asked me if Qi is a material thing. I’m not sure of the answer I gave at the time but looking back I would now describe Qi as being like the wind. We cannot see wind under a microscope but we can feel it on our skin and in our hair. We cannot weigh the wind but we can see its effect on the world around us and in us. So it is with Qi – tangible and measurable and in a constant state of flux. With a healthy diet and an active lifestyle our Qi flows smoothly. But if Qi is deficient or stagnating try acupuncture to help restore balance and feel great!





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