Qi Explained?


What the heck is qi?

I’d like to throw some thoughts out there about qi. I hope this will start a discussion that could deepen our understanding. 抛砖引玉

Is qi real?

It seems as though many practitioners in the west believe that qi is something like the picture above (a human hand with electricity coming out of it): Something akin to electricity but necessary for human life, something “real” with an independent objective existence. I’ve studied Chinese Medicine for 25 years, and I’m still not sure if most western practitioners believe that it is a certain wavelength on the electromagnetic spectrum, or a special type of particle. Even though science can detect and measure the entire known electromagnetic spectrum it can’t seem to find or detect qi. Might qi mean different things depending on context?

I seriously doubt that qi will ever be “discovered” because I think the ancient Chinese used it as a catch-all phrase for things they couldn’t explain given the level of technology that they had. For example, one type of qi that flows along with the blood in the principal blood vessels (the jingmai) sounds exactly like oxygen (see “read your f’ng textbooks).

Qi in modern China

What is the way that the term qi is mostly used in China? It means air. I like to tell my patients how when I was studying in China there were signs on the side of the road that said “qi”. It meant a bicycle repair place where you could use a pump to fill up your tires! And they don’t fill their tires with energy, they use good old fashioned air. Or when the Chinese say “xi qi” (吸氣) and “hu qi” (呼氣) it means inhalation and exhalation. In these cases, it is clear they are talking about a particular substance; air. So qi means air! Wait hold on, only in some cases!

Stomach air?

How about in TCM when the qi of the organs is mentioned? Is Stomach qi air that is inhaled into the stomach? Is Kidney qi air that is inhaled into the Kidney? When Stomach qi rises, is the air from the Stomach rising? Isn’t Kidney Qi deficiency really alluding to a hypofunctioning aspect of the Kidney?

In Chinese mythology the pixiu attracts “cai qi” (財氣), literally wealth qi. Is that the same qi that is in the Kidney?

I hope you are seeing that qi in these examples is something else. I would like to put forth a tentative definition. That the meaning of qi varies on context. It can mean a particular substance or something more general like a pattern, process, function, or feeling. Please comment below to add what you think.