Acupuncture Science 2: Qi

Part 2:  Qi: Vital Energy, Life Force

In Chinese philosophy Yin and Yang are created by Tao (nature’s creative force). Within this also originates the flow of life force called ‘Qi’ (pronounced Chi). Qi is described as vital energy or life force that exists in nature and all life, in the form of movement and change. Every living process or organic function is an expression of the movement of Qi.  In the body Qi flows in channels (known as meridians) throughout the body, but gathers and becomes more focused in the organs.  The main functions of Qi are to;Qi

  • Enable physical activity of organs e.g. respiration, circulation, bowel movements.
  • Generation of heat for the purposes of keeping the body warm.
  • Psychic activity, consciousness and vitality (Shen, often translated as spirit).
  • Supporting organ functions, e.g. conversion of fluid and nutrients into blood and bone.
  • Protection of the body from negative environmental factors e.g. cold weather giving rise to illness (Protective Qi).

Depending on its intent or function there are three different types of Qi, which collectively make up ‘Jing Qi’.

  1. ‘Zong Qi’ or ‘Yang Qi’ is found in the lungs from the inhaled air interacting with the Nutrient Qi.
  2. ‘Nutrient Qi’ or ‘Yin Qi’ which originates from the digestion of food.
  3. ‘Yuan Qi’ is inherited from his/her parents and influences the person’s growth and development.

Together the three forms of Qi integrate and work as the ‘Jing Qi’, which is the Qi that flows through the channels. Jing is the body’s life essence and described as the ‘seed of life’ and ‘elemental reproductive force’. Thus the union of parental life essences gives birth to a baby’s primary or congenital Jing which determines their inherent growth and constitution.

Chinese medicine pathology links the development of an illness to the disturbance of the flow of Qi, usually an excess, a deficiency or stagnation of Qi in the relevant organ system and associated meridians.

  • Excess Yang conditions are represented by excessive organ functions e.g. acute pain, inflammation, fever, flushing, nervousness and hyperactivity.
  • Deficiency of Qi is characterised by Yin conditions e.g. dull pain, pallor, cold hands and feet, depression, hypoactivity and  general weakness and fatigue.  Stagnation of Qi flow is mainly found in the peripheral and superficial areas of the body.

Subsequent to the polar Yin and Yang theory, in the 3rd century the Five Element theory was introduced which helped to understand body as an interlinking system which controls body functions through stimulatory and inhibitory actions. This new theory introduced an abstract model that supported an understanding of the body organ systems and how they interacted with each other.

In Part 3 we will be examining the Five Element Theory.

Part 1: How Does Acupuncture Work?