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Don F Gates
Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
   

Grand Acupuncture Center
3931 Grand Ave, 2nd Floor
Oakland  CA 94610
510-428-9430

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What is Qi?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions about Chinese medicine and, as you'll see, is rather difficult to answer. The Chinese concept of Qi (pronounced "chee" and sometimes written chi) is not easily translated into English. Variously described as "energy" and "life force," it is believed to be the most basic substance of the universe, that of which all things are composed. Although it is everywhere fundamentally the same, it's capable of changing both in form and in function, wearing a "different hat" in different places and assuming different roles. As such, Qi is perhaps better described by what it does rather than what it is.

Qi Promotes: The promoting, activating function of Qi is seen in the growth and development of our bodies, the activities of our internal organs, and the circulation of our Blood and Body Fluids. If Qi is weak and the promoting function impaired, our growth will be slowed, our organ-function weakened, and our circulation impaired. Thus we can see a malnourished child (one who has taken in less postnatal Qi, in the form of nutritious food) will grow to be sickly and weak, while a well-nourished child will grow quickly and with strength.

Qi Warms: Warming is the function of Yang Qi, and in particular of the Spleen and Kidney Yang. Without Yang Qi, the source of which is the Kidneys, the Spleen would lose its ability to transform our meals into Food Qi (Gu Qi) and we would become malnourished. People who tend to be cold and suffer from poor digestion (loose stools, abdominal bloating, cramping) may be diagnosed with a deficiency of Yang Qi.

Qi Defends: Defensive Qi (Wei Qi) guards us from the external pathogenic influences known as Evil Qi (Xie Qi), such as the common cold virus, by consolidating the surface of our skin and regulating the opening and closing of the pores. In addition, it warms, moistens, and partially nourishes the skin and muscles and regulates the body temperature.

Qi Lifts: Prolapse, or sinking, of the internal organs is preventing by the lifting power of Spleen Qi. If the Spleen Qi is weak, it may lead to prolapse of the uterus, stomach, or anus. Hemorrhoids is an example of Qi sinking combined (usually) with Heat and stagnation.

Qi Holds: The Qi of the Spleen is also the force that keeps Blood from extravasating (spilling from the arteries and veins), while the Qi of the Kidney and Urinary Bladder prevents urinary incontinence, wetting the bed, or waking up multiple times to urinate.

Qi Transforms: Spleen Qi transforms the food we eat into Food Qi (Gu Qi), some of which is then transformed into Blood by Heart Qi; Kidney Qi transforms fluids into useable Body Fluid and excretable urine. The Lungs transform the air we breathe into Pectoral Qi (Zong Qi) with the help of the Spleen and Kidneys.

Qi Transports: Spleen Qi transports Food Qi upward to Heart, where it becomes Blood; Heart Qi transports Blood to the rest of the body; Lung Qi transports moisture to the surface of the body and its own Qi down to the lower portions of the body. Liver Qi transports Qi in all directions.

Does Qi really exist?
That's an interesting question and can make for a heated debate, one that constitutes the main argument of those who feel they can deny the validity of Chinese medicine. Scientists can measure a difference in electrical conductivity on the surface of the skin at acupoints, but they cannot yet account for the pathways of the meridians nor, with any certainty, for the effects of acupuncture or moxibustion on areas distant to the points stimulated. (For instance, moxa on the point UB-67, Zhiyin, located beside the fifth toenail, is often used successfully to correct a malposition of the fetus, breach presentation, prior to childbirth.) Whether or not Qi exists as it was explained by the ancients—an uncertainty that leads TCM researchers and philosophers to use the term "TCM theory," rather than "the Laws of TCM"—the venerable, somewhat mystical-sounding-to-Western-ears explanations of the earliest Chinese philosophers still serve to guide practitioners of this medicine in directions that prove clinically useful. Until a better theory is introduced or (more likely, I believe) the current theories are scientifically validated, the ancient theories of Qi, its movements, and its meridians will continue to guide us in (and the martial artists, and meditators, and massage therapists) our practices.

The argument is far from resolved and will likely remain so for some time, perhaps eternally. For two interesting perspectives on the debate, both from acupuncturists, have a look at pulsemed.org's article Opposing Viewpoints on Qi.