Qi Whiz!


When asked how acupuncture works, I begin with an explanation of qi and its effects on the human body and psyche. Sometimes I’m met with a puzzled stare. And other times I get a skeptical eyebrow raise.

Which brings me to this blog post. What, exactly, is it?

Qi (pronounced “chee”) forms the foundation of Chinese medicine, a philosophy based on a very simple principle: Any system in harmony tends towards health, well-being, and sustainability while a system in disharmony tends towards illness, suffering, and collapse.

Qi generally refers to some type of vital force. Hawaiians refer to it as mana. Yogis know qi as prana. Modern medicine often equates it with metabolic function. Qi, quite literally, means ‘air, breath’ in Mandarin. But it’s much broader than that. Qi embraces all manifestations of energy, from the most material — the earth beneath your feet, an apple, a human being — to the most immaterial (i.e. thought and emotion). For examples of the latter, simply consider the oomph of enthusiasm or the lethargy associated with depression. You may not see qi, but you can definitely sense when it’s present…and when it’s not.

A healthy — and happy — human being is a dynamic but balanced mixture of multiple types of qi, an amalgam that’s constantly changing. Wei qi protects us from outside pathogens (think seasonal allergies). Gu qi is nourishment derived from food and drink. Da qi comes from air. And Yuan qi is our essence/DNA. Each major organ — heart, liver, lungs, spleen, kidneys, etc. — has its own qi, too.

Before beginning my studies in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), I used to describe individuals who possessed that intangible something extra as “charismatic” or “having that x-factor.” Now, I recognize their allure for what it is: good qi.