Qi (pronounced “Chee”) is a fundamental concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It comes from an ancient Chinese notion which is difficult to translate and describe: everything in the universe is made of qi; everything that happens is a result of a change or movement of qi. “Qi is the pulsation of the cosmos itself… Qi is the thread connecting all being… Qi is the potential and actualization of transformation.”* Many translations explain qi as vital energy, or the life force. This is an oversimplification, but suffices as a brief definition.
What is qi?
The concept of qi in TCM theory is essential to understanding and interpreting the function, wellness and illness of the human body. All of the physiological activities, changes or movements in the body are explained by qi. A balanced flow of qi allows a smooth integration of all organ systems and tissues in the body and well-being is thus preserved. An imbalance of qi in the meridian network leads to symptoms such as pain, disease, or emotional disturbances.
Different types of qi exist in the human body. The two main categories of qi are referred to as congenital qi and acquired qi. They are interdependent of one another.
Congenital or Primary Qi
Each person is born with qi that they inherit from their parents. This is known as primary or yuan qi. This qi takes its root in the kidneys and is responsible for the function of the organs and tissues in the body. Congenital weakness or protracted illness can impact this kind of qi.
Qi must be maintained and fueled throughout life. Acquired qi supplements and stokes the fire of the congenital qi in the human body. Food, water and air are the essential sources of nourishment and once consumed by digestion and inspiration these materials are transformed into energy that the body can use. Acquired qi can be further divided into subcategories of qi:
Pectoral or zong qi- made from the qi of food essence and air inhaled by the lungs; it helps the lungs breathe and facilitates the heart’s circulatory functions.
Defensive or wei qi- defends the body against pathogens, and is similar to what we think of as an immune system.
Nutrient or ying qi- made from the qi of food essence; it produces blood and circulates with it throughout the body.
Congenital qi promotes acquired qi, and acquired qi nourishes congenital qi. As you can see, no matter how strong or weak your congenital qi, you can still affect your body’s health and longevity by cultivating qi throughout life. Diet, exercise, sleep and stress management are key influences that can either foster or debilitate your qi and your health depending on the lifestyle you choose.
*(Kaptchuk, Ted. The Web That Has No Weaver. Chicago: Contemporary, 2000, pp 43-44.)