Qi is no longer a strange word to many in the West, thanks to people like Dr. David Eisenberg. His book, titled “Encounters With Qi,” describes his experience as the first American physician allowed to visit China after President Nixon’s efforts to open communication between the United States and China.
Bill Moyer’s TV series exploring healing arts in the East has also contributed to Western awareness of the concept of qi.
Still, many people have asked me, “What does qi really mean?” Well, in the Chinese language, qi has multiple meanings.
Definition of Qi
First, it means the energy that circulates around us. For different seasons, different qi is dominant. For example, there is wind for the spring, heat for the summer, dampness for the late summer, and dryness for the fall. In the winter, we feel there is a cold qi in the air.
Second, it refers to the energies that manifest inside our bodies. We can feel them. Blood and fluids circulate in the body as if there is wind moving them around. Some people feel coldness in their extremities, sometimes to the point that they have to wear socks to sleep.
Some people feel heat as if they are having a fever, menopausal hot flashes, or the heat that follows chemotherapy for breast or prostate cancer. When people have too much dampness in the system, it manifests as swollen joints, a thick greasy coating on the tongue, diarrhea, or a sense of heaviness in the body.
Third, qi means emotions. When someone is very angry, we say this person has a “sky-rocketing anger qi,” and when a person is very happy, we say he is bathed in the joyful qi. Indeed, the emotions are forms of energy, and therefore forms of qi.
Fourth, it means the air. When people breathe, we say they breathe in qi and breathe out qi.
Fifth, it means the energy that maintains the functions of every organ. Therefore, the heart has the heart qi, the liver has the liver qi, the blood has the blood qi, and the digestive system has its qi. When it moves in the right direction, sufficiently, and with balanced properties, we have a healthy body and a peaceful mind.
Trouble With Qi
When qi is in trouble, the body gets sick and becomes dysfunctional. For example, when qi moves in the wrong direction or becomes rebellious, people may feel nauseous and short of breath, or they may vomit, wheeze, and cough.
When qi is collapsing, people may have trouble controlling their bowels and bladder, or have prolapsed organs. When the properties of qi are out of balance, people experience all kinds of symptoms, including chills, fever, tremor, swollen joints, night sweats, high blood pressure, depression, mania, or agitation and anxiety.
Qi circulates in every level of our bodies, from the surface to the inside; it reaches everywhere and leaves nothing untouched. It moves inside channels that we call meridians. The structure of meridians is still too microscopic to be visible using modern technology.
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