Qi or Universal Life Force as it is sometimes described is known as a Yang substance that warms, invigorates, moves and vitalizes all sentient beings. Yang substances are known to be intangible or immaterial versus their Yin counterparts. Blood, as we discussed last month, is a Yin substance as it has a material basis: ie. we can see and touch it. Qi is not. To date no one has been able to box Qi and sell it. And believe me, they would have if it were possible! In addition, the scientific world has been amiss over its inability to conjure up tests and hypothesis over Qi. Why? Simple, because it has no material basis for which to examine under a microscope.
“Not everything that counts may be counted” – Albert Einstein
Despite our apparent lack of proof that Qi exists, Traditional Chinese Medicine has been working with it for thousands of years. Qi is what flows through the meridians helping to warm the body, propel the fluids, and vitalize all the organs. To be specific we say that Qi drives the four primary movements that occur in the organs and meridians: upbearing, downbearing, outward, and inward. For those who study Tai Ji Chuan this may be an ‘Ah ha’ moment…
Now let’s talk about the five functions of Qi within the human body:
1. Activation – Qi is a highly active substance as it is unconstrained by material limitations. We say that Qi is the driving force behind all physiological activities including growth, metabolism, elimination, respiration, circulation and the like.
2. Warming – Qi keeps the body warm and provides the heat necessary for the myriad of functional activities of the body.
3. Defense – Qi fills the body from the inside-out to provide a protective barrier at the skin & intestinal surfaces to prevent external pathogenic influences from entering and expelling them when they do make it past the first line of defense.
4. Transformation – The conversion of food and drink into blood, body fluids, waste material, as well as transforming fluids into sweat or urine requires Qi.
5. Containment – Qi also has the critical function of helping to contain the blood, fluids and organs in their rightful places. Extravasation of blood, abnormal sweat, excessive urination, and prolapsed organs are examples of Qi failing to contain.
And here are four critical pathologies of Qi:
1. Qi Deficiency – Being the energetic force behind all the body’s functions, a deficiency of Qi will most notably result in low energy or fatigue. Weakness in the Spleen Qi equates to poor appetite and indigestion. Weakness in Lung Qi results in respiratory ailments like asthma, as well as easily catching colds as the Lung Qi rules the defensive Qi. Heart Qi deficiency results in poor circulation with cold extremities. Kidney Qi deficiency results in enuresis, seminal emissions, and overall lack of vitality as the Kidneys are the Minister of Health and Vitality.
2. Qi Stagnation – Qi is supposed to coarse smoothly throughout the body. When obstructed due to a variety of disorders we say that the Qi is stagnate. Qi stagnation results in pain that is of varying intensity and unfixed location. Mental or emotional disturbances are also often a sign of Qi stagnation leaving the person feeling irritable, angry or depressed. A good example of this is PMS, where the Liver Qi is intentionally stagnating in order to pool the blood and allow for a full menstrual flow. Many women report increased irritability, headaches, breast tenderness (pathway of the Liver meridian) and cramping with menstruation. As Qi moves the blood, a stagnation of Qi will eventually lead to a stagnation of blood too.
3. Qi Sinking – Severe or prolonged Qi deficiency can lead to a sinking of Qi that makes it difficult to uphold its containment requirements as noted above. Thus incontinence, loose stools, hemorrhaging, and prolapsed organs are examples of Qi sinking.
4. Qi Counterflow / Rebelling – Here Qi is moving opposite the normal pathway due to several possible factors. For example, the Lung Qi should be downbearing so when it counterflows we have cough or asthma. Stomach Qi should also downbear to send food and drink into the intestines. When Stomach Qi rebels we have acid regurgitation, belching, nausea, and vomiting.
So how do I keep my Qi strong and flowing smoothly? The three most important things are: eating right, exercising regularly, and having a calm spirit. Of course these sound obvious and even simple, but you all know the truth. In today’s world it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep these three things in line. I can tell you that the better job you do in these areas, the less you’ll need external interventions to correct imbalances. Some of us however cannot or will not make necessary lifestyle changes to correct our own Qi. In these cases, seeking the care of a licensed acupuncturist or other alternative healthcare practitioner can restore and enhance your Qi. While no blood test, X-ray or MRI will reveal this change; you will no doubt be able to feel it for yourself.