The Nature of Qi
Qi is the body’s vital life force; it is the formless aspect of life which disappears at death. Often referred to simply as energy, Qi is really much more than our understanding of energy. It can also be perceived of as Light.
The concept of Qi is fundamental to Chinese medical thinking. In fact , ordinary members of Chinese society know and understand the idea of Qi. There is, however, no English word, phrase or even idea that can adequately capture it’s meaning. Although we use vital life force or energy to gain an impression of the Chinese perspective, it still does not fully convey the concept as the character for Qi would to a Chinese person [particularly one educated in classical Chinese]. The character is made of two parts: one part is the character for rice and the other, reflects the notion of steam rising from cooked rice; this combination gives the imagery of something light, etheric and potent coming from nourishing food.
Chinese see everything in the universe, organic and inorganic, as being composed of and defined by Qi. Therefore, everything in the universe is seen to be the result of the movement and changes in Qi. As stated by Ted Kaptchuk in his book “The Web That Has No Weaver”, “Chinese thought does not distinguish between matter and energy [Qi], but we can perhaps think of Qi as ….. energy at the point of materialising.”
Thus, Qi just is and always has been. It is perceived by what it does, and how it functions. Yin-Yang* are expressions of the Qi of anything. So Qi is always seen as being composed of two polarities, continuously moving and adjusting to remain in balance with one another.
*Yin-Yang like Qi cannot easily be explained, however if you think of positive and negative poles of a magnet or electric current you can gain an impression of what is understood by this term. Bear in mind that the original meaning of these words was: Yin – the shady side of a mountain; Yang – the sunny side of a mountain; and these always change according to the position of the sun. This will give you some comprehension of the movement of Qi as well. Nothing is contstant; it can only be defined by its reference to something else.
Western science, which is based primarily on the principles of Newtonian Physics, views energy as an inanimate and impersonal force. The traditional Chinese view is much more aligned with the modern theories of Quantum Physics. Both these systems know that Qi-energy cannot be studied without taking into account the mind’s influence over it. [Chinese Medical Qigong Theory, by Dr J. Johnson].
Now this last point is vitally important because it brings us into direct relationship with our own Qi-energy, and to the first most important rule or principle of Chinese medical philosophy, which is:
Qi controls the body and mind controls the Qi.