The Qi of Life


Red Qi character

What exactly is Qi? There have been many interpretations over the millennia. Qi, for the most part, can be defined as “force” or “vital substance” that animates and controls the observable functions of [life].[1] The concept of Qi is the basic foundation of Chinese medicine (as well as other traditional medicines, and known by different names). It is understood as a vital substance that flows through the body via meridians/channels/ internal pathways and connect all body organs as well as with mind and spirit.

We make Qi by combining food (Gu Qi) and air (Qing Qi). Our ability to make Qi (Zheng Qi or “body right Qi”) will depend partly on our physical constitution, partly on our lifestyle (diet/emotions). In its simplest sense, our Qi is our available energy (constitutes both Yin and Yang aspects). We need energy for all the body’s activity: for movement, for digestion for warding off illness, to get through the day, and to sleep peacefully at night (and all the way through).

When Qi itself is weak, this means that we are under-functioning in some way. How this manifests will depend on our individual strengths and weaknesses (emotional, physical, and spiritual). For some, a particular organ may lack the power to do its job well. For others, insufficient Qi may cause lethargy or the immune system may become weak and a person may be more susceptible to External Invasion (external pathogens like viruses, bacteria).

We can increase our available energy through breathing (Qi Gong, Yoga styles), physical exercise (movement = Yang = Qi flow), and postural alignment (flow of Qi through the spinal cord, known as the Du Mai, or Sea of Yang, and to and from the brain, known as Marrow Shen). Conversely, we can lower our available energy through shallow breathing, sedentary lifestyle (sit down jobs, “couch potatoes”), and distorted posture (slouching).

Qi levels may also be reduced by environmental factors such as electromagnetic fields or geopathic stress (see The Hidden Energies Behind Feng Shui). In some natural environments, the quality of Qi is particularly high (for example, waterfalls and negative ions found at the bottom of the fall), which we often experience as a sense of uplift. Our core beliefs and mental attitudes will also help determine our Qi level, as life-affirming and self-valuing beliefs help to give us fuller access to our vitality.

Qi easily becomes stagnant when its circulation in the body is restricted by tension. Relaxation is a major key to the liberation and formation of Qi. According to Chinese medicine theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi is blocked or becomes unbalanced (referred to as a “disharmony”). There is a famous Chinese proverb that says:

Bu tong ze tong, tong ze bu tong,” which means “free flow, no pain, no free flow: pain.”

In other words, any type of pain or illness represents some form of obstruction of Qi (and other vital substances).

SUPPORTING QI THROUGH OUR FOOD

To support and increase our Qi, we need to eat foods which release energy steadily into our system over a long period of time. In the West, this is often referred to as complex carbohydrates, which provide a sustained source of energy.

It’s also important to eat foods whose Qi has been interfered with as little as possible by processing, transporting, or irradiation. We need to include as much fresh, local organic food (short farm-to-table ratio) in our diet as possible. Microwave cooking also significantly depletes the level of available Qi in our food.

Foods that tonify (increase the amount of) Qi tend to be sweet, and often warm (since Qi is mainly Yang). Some foods that strengthen Qi:

Beef Cherry Chicken
Coconut Date Eel
Fig Ginseng Goose
Grape Ham Herring
Lentil Licorice Longan fruit
Mackerel Micro algae Molasses
Oats Octopus Potato
Rabbit Rice Royal jelly
Sweet potato (any) Mushroom Squash
Sturgeon Tofu Yam

Foods that increase circulation of Qi (these are said to “invigorate” the Qi and have a different mechanism from foods that tonify Qi) tend to be warming (more Yang in nature), pungent (ascending in direction, which is Yang in nature), and outward moving (dispersion, a Yang function). Some of these are:

Basil Caraway
Cardamom Cinnamon
Garlic Ginger (dried)
Orange peel Tangerine peel
Pepper (cayenne, black, etc.) Marjoram
Clove Coriander
Mustard leaf Turmeric
Star anise Oregano

[1] Definition excerpted from Qi (chee), n., Acufinder, 2007.

[Article reprinted from my main website.]

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