Often translated as “vital energy,” Qi (pronounced “chee”) broadly describes the energetic force that composes, connects and sustains all things in the universe. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and its healing practices of Qigong and Tai Chi, redirecting and optimizing the flow of Qi opens us to our highest potential for physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
According to TCM, all things, experiences, and beings are permeated with qi — which is essentially the invisible “glue” between mass and matter. It’s the energy that occupies the space in between, so it’s also paradoxically everything and nothing!
This vital life force energy is both individual and universal, equally shaping our unique personal experience and the collective experience of the human whole.
Balancing opposites: Yin and Yang
The terms Yin and Yang describe the seemingly opposing qualities of Qi. Yin is the branch of Qi that makes up our tangible world: it’s material, substantial, solid, moist, and cold. The substances that nourish and sustain us — like food, water, and air — are manifested forms of Yin’s energy.
Yang, on the other hand, is the branch of Qi that embodies immaterial energy that often works behind the scenes. Shapeless, it encompasses the subtlety of thoughts, feelings, and vital bodily fluids and functions. Yang is kinetic, hollow, dry, expansive, warm, and light. It animates us from within, powering inner processes such as contemplation, blood circulation, and nerve function.
Yin and Yang are inseparable and in constant flux. Yin always contains a seed of yang and yang a seed of yin. Understanding the interplay of Yin and Yang, we can consciously harmonise their dynamic qualities to elevate our total health and experience of daily living.
Qi in the human body
As humans, our qi is derived from four primary sources.
- Yvan Qi: also known as Parental Qi or the “innate vital substance,” this manifestation of qi is inherited from our parents at conception and stored in our kidneys. Throughout our lives, this innate qi is nourished by the essential substances we take into our body: food, water, and air.
- Zong Qi: also known as Pectoral Qi, this manifestation of energy is stored in our chest and is a product the air we breathe.
- Ying Qi: also known as Nutritional Qi, this manifestation of energy uses fuel from the food we eat to circulate nutrients throughout the body via our bloodstream.
Wei Qi: also known as Defensive Qi, this manifestation of energy uses fuel from the food we eat to defend the body against illnesses. Acting through the connective tissues, glands, sweat, and our abdominal and thoracic cavities, Defensive Qi is the Yang energy of Nutritional Qi.
How Qi functions in your body
- Actuation: Qi provides the active energy needed for our bodies to grow, develop, and perform essential physiological functions. Qi drives our metabolism, circulation, and body fluid formation.
Impact of Imbalance: growth and development are impeded, while the optimum
functioning of our organs, meridians, circulatory system, and
tissues are weakened. These broad reaching effects on our vital functions and
substances can create a host of physical and mental issues and imbalances.
- Warming: a source of heat, qi is responsible for regulating body temperature and creating conditions for our essential physiological functions to take place.
Impact of Imbalance: as body temperature lowers, we experience cold hands and
feet, slowed physiological functions, and an intolerance to cooler environmental
conditions. In the case of excess heat, we become prone to “hot” emotions, such
as anger, jealousy, and greed.
- Defending: akin to the immune system defined by Western medicine, Qi protects our bodies against the pathogens and environmental hazards that lead to acute illness and chronic disease.
Impact of Imbalance: as our defenses are weakened and lowered, we are more
vulnerable to bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other serious diseases.
- Containment: Qi binds mass and matter and works to keep our organs and bodily fluids in the right place. It encourages our blood to flow within the vessels, regulates the secretion of sweat, saliva, and urine, and suspends our organs in their proper place. The function of Containment compliments the function of Actuation to create healthy circulatory, metabolic, and digestive systems.
Impact of Imbalance: when the containing qualities of qi are deficient, we lose both
our involuntary and voluntary control of bodily fluids (for example, haemorrhage,
premature ejaculation, and urinary incontinence), in addition to the prolapse
(sinking) and malfunctioning of our vital visceral organs.
- Transformation: possessing the energy of transformation, Qi works to transform food, water, and air into vital essences (for example, digestible food is transformed into blood and energy while indigestible food is excreted as waste).
Impact of Imbalance: incomplete transformation of essential substances can lead
us to experience low energy, inadequate nutrition, and a build-up of undigested
food and waste. As with all other qi imbalances, a weakened capacity for
transformation impacts our overall health and quality of life.
How to manage your Qi: Qigong
Balancing Qi is a focused practice of the mind and body. It’s a discipline that requires steady visualisation, intentional respiration, efficient movement, and the ability to direct your mind.
Managing Qi for optimum health and vitality is at the heart of Qigong, the Chinese science of human potential and development. Qigong has been refining its approach for over 5,000 years and offers time-honoured techniques to activate our natural physiological and psychological capacities for homeostasis, self-repair, healing, and recovery.
You can learn all of this and more as a student of White Tiger Qigong. If you’d like to learn a little more about the benefits of Qigong, check out our blog here. Alternatively, if you’re interested in becoming a student of White Tiger, feel free to take a look into our teacher training sessions.