Understanding the nature of Qi is the cornerstone of understanding TCM
18 Feb 2015

Extract from Dr Zhai’s book How to get pregnant

 

Vital energy: the nature of qi

 

Yin-yang also encompasses the body’s metabolism and describes the balance between anabolic functions (that build up body tissue) and catabolic functions (that generate physical energy). Healthy physiology and metabolism depend on a steady supply of vital energy or qi (pronounced ‘chi’) that flows through the body.

 

Understanding the nature of qi is the cornerstone of understanding TCM and it is a concept that doesn’t really exist in Western medicine. Qi energy serves to ‘warm’ the body, protecting it from external causes of disease, generating and distributing body fluids and blood. Each vital organ has its own qi for carrying out its special function.

 

The qi flows along set routes or pathways known as meridians (sometimes called channels), and it is these meridians that are mapped by acupuncturists when they insert needles to unblock the flow of qi or increase its power. There are 12 main meridians, each related to a specific organ (see pages 38–52).

 

• Qi that motivates and warms is classed as yang – and is energy related.
• Qi that nourishes and moistens is classed as yin – and is blood related.

 

Functions of qi

 

• Protecting
• Warming
• Moving
• Transforming
• Holding
• Raising

 

For example, Spleen qi holds the blood in the blood vessels, while Liver qi ensures the smooth flow of qi throughout the whole body and in all directions. If one of these functions becomes impaired, qi ‘disease’ presents itself. Common examples are qi deficiency manifesting as tiredness, or qi stagnation (applying mostly to qi of the Liver) manifesting as premenstrual tension.

 

The role of qi in TCM

 

In TCM, qi is an invisible energy force that flows freely in a healthy person, but when it is weakened or blocked, a person becomes ill. Specifically, the illness is a result of the blockage, rather than the blockage being the result of the illness. This holistic approach to medical diagnosis differs considerably from the Western approach, and so the treatment method is also quite different. Conventional Western medicine tends to remove blockages surgically or aims to prevent or cure symptoms by means of synthetic pharmaceuticals. In TCM it’s believed that qi is the fundamental essence of the human body and that the movement and transformation of qi can explain all physiological behaviour. TCM works with the body and uses plants and roots to unblock or transform the qi so that the body disperses the symptoms. Traditionally, the herbs used were wild; nowadays, some are still wild and some are farm grown.

 

TYPES OF QI

 

Qi has been variously translated as ‘energy’ or ‘life force’, but within that there are various types of Qi:

 

• Ancestral qi (yuan qi) is inherited from our birth parents. There is a finite amount which, once depleted, cannot be regenerated. Its origin is in the Kidneys.
• Postnatal qi (hou tain qi) is absorbed from the environment, via the air, water and other elements.
• Defensive qi (wei qi) protects the exterior of the body.
• Nutritive qi (ying qi) nourishes the interior of the body.

 

Each of the organs of the body also has its own qi.

 

QI AND BLOOD

 

In Chinese medicine, Blood is a very dense material form of qi, with qi infusing life into Blood. In terms of yin and yang, qi is yang and Blood is yin.

 

Blood is mostly derived from the ancestral qi stored in the Kidneys and from qi derived from ingested food and drink transformed by the Spleen. Thus, Blood and qi have a very close relationship, of which there are four aspects:

 

• Qi generates Blood, as qi is essential for the production of Blood. A deficiency of qi will eventually lead to a deficiency of Blood.
• Qi moves Blood, as qi is the motive force of Blood. So if qi stagnates it cannot move Blood, leading to Blood stasis.
• Qi holds Blood in the blood vessels, preventing haemorrhages.
• Blood nourishes qi and provides the basic material for qi.

 

In TCM it is said that, ‘Qi is the commander of Blood and Blood is the mother of qi.’

 

Traditional Chinese Medicine recognizes three basic Blood disorders:

 

1. Deficiency of Blood That is, when not enough is produced (see page 109).
2. Blood stasis For example, due to internal haemorrhage caused by a trauma, or due to qi stagnation or Cold (see page 105).
3. Blood Heat is mostly due to Liver Heat. For example, as a result of long-term Liver qi stagnation due to emotional repression or innate constitution (see page 106).

 

An insufficient volume of Blood in the body, or Blood deficiency, can cause illness and diseases. This could result from excessive blood loss through childbirth, an operation or injury; or could be a malfunction of the digestive system, failing to absorb the fine essence from foods that transforms into Blood. It may also be the result of a failure to eliminate stagnant Blood and to produce new Blood.

 

BLOOD STASIS

 

This refers to impaired Blood circulation or the local accumulation of stagnant Blood. The main signs of Blood stasis in women who are having trouble conceiving are: endometriosis, ovarian cysts, painful periods with blood clots and a purple tongue and lips.