Chinese character for Qi

If you’ve ever had acupuncture treatment or practise the various art forms or movements which employ Qi, such as Qi Gong or Tai Qi, you may be familiar with the concept of ‘Qi’. It’s a word that’s become increasingly familiar in our western world vocabulary.

As acupuncturists, we readily talk about Qi, and in our daily work, we try to manipulate it, with our needles – aiming to bring ‘Qi’ into balance.

But what is Qi?

As with many Chinese characters, there is no direct, single-word translation and so it can be an enigma to us in the West, even those of us who are trying to influence it. We often rely on the catch-all phrase ‘energy’ to explain it, but there is no single definition of Qi.….

In Chinese philosophy, Qi is all that exists and all things have Qi, are Qi and are expressions of Qi. If life is movement, Qi is what makes things move, and is the movement itself. So, it has come to be translated as life force, the vigour of motion, breath, steam, any kind of utterance, and so much more….

I like the breadth in the translation of Qi as “that which animates, transforms and maintains all life between heaven and earth” (Sandra Hill, 2015). So we can say that the life-giving forces of our body, constitution, manner, demeanour, temper, temperament, emotions are all manifestations of Qi.

In Chinese philosophy, Qi has numerous functions and differentiations. For instance, the principal functions of Qi are to animate, warm, protect, hold and transform. If, for example, our circulation is strong and appropriately responsive to changes in temperature, this is the defensive role of Qi, protecting us from a perverse or pathogenic factor such as cold or wind.

Now take a moment to notice your own Qi – can you feel it, internally and externally? What does it feel like? Or you may notice it when you look at yourself? What do you see? If you find this difficult to do, think about the Qi of an elderly person in contrast to that of baby. Or the Qi of Winter in comparison to that of Summer, or day and night …

An understanding of Qi, and our ability to perceive it, lies behind the various diagnostic techniques we use in the treatment room, from feeling pulses to inserting a needle. When we insert a needle, it is Qi that is affected.

If you are interested to read more about Qi, try the following books, or talk to me about it – I love to chat about Qi!

  • Firebrace P & Hill S (1988) A Guide To Acupuncture Constable
  • Hill, S (2015) Chinese Medicine From the Classics Monkey Press
  • Rochat de la Vallee, E (2006) A Study of Qi Monkey Press
  • Rochat de la Vallee, E (1999) Essence, Spirit, Blood and Qi Monkey Press

Houri Alavi

September 2015