"What is Qi?" is the most frequently asked question from clients! My explanation usually goes something like this:
Qi is the difference between being alive and being dead, there is no physical difference in terms of the matter you consist of. Only the energy to function is no longer present. Qi is like fuel. It is the force behind blood flow, lymphatic flow, electrical signalling, every function of the human body. Qi is in a constant state of change, flowing throughout the body in one continuous loop, via meridians or ‘channels’ enabling your body to function properly.
Zhuang Zhou wrote:
‘Where Qi accumulates, there is life, where it dissipates, there is death”
When things are not working, it is because there is dysregulated Qi. The main principle of Confucianism is to keep Qi in balance so we have clarity and make good choices.
The Chinese character for Qi is a combination of ‘gas/air’ and ‘rice’. Qi can be light and almost immaterial, like the steam that rises from cooking rice. Qi can also be solid, like the rice itself. We gain nourishment and warmth through food - in Chinese and many other cultures, rice is the main food staple that sustains life. In modern-day China, the word Qi translates as ‘vital energy’ in medicine and metaphysics.
Originally a Confucian principle, the existence of Qi was written about in 551–479 BCE. Then in slightly more detail by Zhuang Zhou in the ZuangZi (476-221BCE) and is further expanded on in detail by the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) and his physician in the HuangDi NeiJing (206 BCE–220 CE).
Where does Qi come from?
There are two sources of Qi:
Ancestral (“Pre-heaven/Prenatal”) Qi
Qi we are born with, we inherit from our parents and ancestors. This gives us our constitution, similar to genetics and epigenetics in Western medicine. We have a certain amount that can be depleted or conserved depending on our lifestyle, but not supplemented.
Acquired (“Post-heaven/Postnatal”) Qi
Qi we absorb from our food and the air we breathe. This can be depleted by poor diet, environment, and supplemented by diet, lifestyle, practices, etc.
Together, the Qi we inherit and the Qi we absorb from our food determine our general state of health and feeling of vitality.