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Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Chinese temple on Tai Shan.

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Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Through out the ages, the Chinese have developed working constructs which serve to explain the observable phenomenon of the natural world. The idea of Qi is one of the most basic building blocks upon which the Chinese, of both ancient and modern times, conceive the universe. The concept of Qi is a fundamental stratagem in the practice of any Chinese art and is at the root of Chinese medical theory. This short investigation will focus primarily upon the latter and will show the sources of Qi and how they are manifested within the human body.

According to Chinese thought, Qi is an invisible energy-like phenomenon which is present in every animate or inanimate object in the universe. It is a difficult concept to explain but Qi can almost be thought of as an adheasive which holds the cosmos together; the inertia through which all is create and destroyed. The Chinese medicine practitioner, Dan Bensky, describes Qi as signifying, . . . "a tendency, a movement, something on the order of energy. . . as matter without form. . .[and]. . . also as a term for the functional, active aspect of the body."1 Shen Ziyin and Chen Zelin describe Qiís functional aspects as being, "active, dynamic, and invisible. It activates and warms the body. . . [and is] . . . the motive force promoting the physiological activities of all the . . . organs."2 In his landmark lay treatise on Chinese medicine, The Web That Has No Weaver, Ted Kapchuk writes of Qi as being, ". . . not some primordial, immutable material, nor is it merely vital energy . . . we can perhaps think of Qi as matter on the verge of becoming energy, or energy at the point of materializing.3 Ultimately, the idea of Qi cannot be solidified into an easily communicated construct; it simply makes up life force itself, isness, thusness, so much more and so much less. But this vagueness of distinction is not cause for concern, as the Chinese mostly define Qi by its function rather than its physical makeup.

Within the body, Qi has the function of, "warming, protecting, transforming, and raising"4 and is present in all active aspects of the body, so is considered to be a Yang substance.5 All Qi in the body is called Zheng Qi; which means Upright, Normal, or True (Zhen) Qi. There are three different origins of Zheng Qi: Yuan Qi or Prenatal Qi, Gu Qi or Grain Qi , and Kong Qi or Natural Air Qi.6 These different sources of Qi interact together to carry out the biological functions of the human body.

Yuan Qi is the obtained by a person from their parents at the time of conception and forms the personís basic constitution. The Yuan Qi that a person inherits is a combination of their parentsí Yuan Qi, Zheng Qi, and current physical and emotional state at the exact moment of conception, as well as the motherís general health throughout the gestation period. Many factors can increase or decrease a childís accumulation of Yuan Qi in the period leading up to conception and birth. Therefore, it is imperative for a couple to properly cultivate and care for their own Qi supply if they wish to conceive a healthy, strong child. After birth, a personís Yuan Qi needs to be nourished and cared for their entire life through, as there is no way to increase, improve, or tonify it. Yuan Qi can only be lost. Excessive sexual activity, exertion, and general poor maintenance of health are all ways that the human body can deplete its precious supply of Yuan Qi; and the total loss of Qi is what Chinese medicine refers to as death.

Gu Qi is harnessed by a personís body from respiratory food that they eat. The basic Qi constitution and nutrition of the food that is consumed combines with and builds up the general Qi constituency of the consumer. Every substance on the planet contains Qi, and food materials are no exception. The Qi Ďlevelsí in food is very similar to that of humans. Food that was grown in natural (in the evolution sense) conditions contain far more Qi than food that has been processed. Therefore, a wild boar that consumes only wild greens and other mountain food sources will contain a far greater amount of Qi than a factory farm chicken. Again, Qi levels are not something that can be directly measured; it is simply a phenomenon that is only observable by its function- better health, longer life span, general feeling of well-being etc. . . . Nutrition is also a fundamental source of Gu Qi which scarcely even warrants an explanation. Basically, foods with a higher amount of nutrition (as in food that the body needs and can efficiently use) will be transformed into a higher amount of Gu Qi. This type of Qi needs is fast depleting and needs to be replenished multiple times everyday. Any lapse is consuming foods that contain a high amount of Qi and nutrition will result in an equitable loss of Gu Qi in the body.

The third source of Zheng Qi in the human body is extracted from the air that we breath, and is called Kong Qi. This type of Qi primarily has to do with ones immediate environment and respiratory habits. Air that is fresh, free-flowing, and far from pollution sources will have a far greater amount Qi in it than the stifled, polluted air of a metropolitan area. To inhale smoke is also to stifle the natural Qi of the air. A personís natural environment is full of Qi that is Ďbreathedí into the body, and the more natural the surroundings the more Qi is present.

In point, the Chinese idea of Qi demonstrates the purveying inertia of the cosmosís ebb and flow. To live with nature, as nature, is to acquiesce with the pre-determined Qi patterns that have formed and conditioned the human organism. Basically, Qi is gained or lost at every interface of human existence. To live a life that is within the bounds of human evolution, close to nature and in accordance with her cycles, absent of many excesses and pollutants is to nourish the Yuan Qi, Gu Qi, Kong Qi, and, combined all together, Zheng Qi of the human body.


Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine
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