The Chinese Concept of Qi

What is this thing called “Qi” (Also spelled Chi or Ki). 

In fact there is no such “thing” as Qi. Sadly the common translations and interpretations of it in English are woefully poor. It is never a static stand alone thing but a quality attached to any number of dynamics or other nouns. Let me explain….

Have you ever spent time with two people in a happy relationship? They were probably nice to be around, you could see they smiled, complimented one another, weren’t rude to the other…. Well, the dynamic between two people can be termed “marriage qi” or “relationship qi”. This is the health, balance, communication and quality between two people. It can be good or poor, really good, mostly good, a little bit poor, or downright abusive. This is exactly how the dynamic works in the body – because the body is a series of myriad relationships.

Picture a bruised rotted apple. Now a firm clean healthy one. Do the same for something like day old chips compared to a vibrant salad with fresh cooked scotch fillet steak. Which has more intrinsic health and vitality? Which is going to serve you better? Clearly the fresh apple or the steak and salad. In this medical philosophy, all food contains not just qi, but specifically coined “gu qi” or nutritional qi. These are the nutrients and freshness of food. Further, only when the qi of the stomach and other digestive organs is right, can you properly digest that food and pull the necessary nutrients from it. So we have gu qi inherent in food and wei qi as part of digestive function. The word “Qi” alone means nothing here unless attached to it’s associative nouns. Every digestive organ is going to have its own specific qi working both alone and in tandem with other corresponding organs – pancreas, liver, small intestine as well as enzyme and probiotic functions…

For a person with shallow breathing, asthma, COPD, recovering from a chest cold, we say the Lung qi is weak or damaged. It is actually named zhong qi in ChineseWhat do we mean? That the lungs are not working to 100% potential. So can “Qi” be measured? Of course! Check Oxygen saturation, listen for wheezing with a scope, scan for fluid or lesions… Or in our case we have additional ways of making this judgement through the pulse, tongue and asking pointed questions. That may also mean sending a person to their GP or specialist for further tests.

A person with swelling or oedema in the ankles might have what we term a deficiency in Yang Qi. Yang in TCM is something that rises, as opposed to yin that falls. Heat rises so heat is yang. Blood both rises and falls (has yin and yang aspects) to circulate properly in veins and arteries. So we might focus on “raising the yang qi” as our treatment. What does this mean? Improving circulation in the legs, possibly by applying heat, specifically for lymphatic benefit and venous return to the inferior vena cava and liver. Can lack of yang qi be measured? Of course! Looks for pitting or non-pitting oedema, check kidney and cardio, possibly liver functions. We associate it with other things like foggy thinking, fatigue, possibly weight gain. We might also suspect low thyroid function.

So when some uninformed idiot says there is no such thing as Qi,  or that it can’t be measured or proven, or my absolute least favourite: that it is somehow un-Christian… I roll my eyes, often not able to mask my disgust. As a patient it’s not your job to understand all the terms and construct of this medical system – that is my job. Just as most people wouldn’t know the organic chemistry behind the drug prescribed by a GP. But I am always willing to explain more for those curious and with questions. I was new to this medicine once too and know exactly how strange it can seem. Just don’t ever try to tell me it’s not real! 🙂