What is Qi?

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.

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5 Responses to “What is Qi?”

  • fran says:

    I would like have contact with you I am interested in imagery and using it to deal with blood illness thanks

  • Carol says:

    This alone has brought so much what I believe into harmony and balance. Thank you!!

  • John Voigt says:

    Dear Sally Yasukawa,

    This is a request for you to consider submitting your article, What Is Qi? for publication in Qi Encyclopedia [http://qi-encyclopedia.com].

    Qi Encyclopedia is hosted by Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health & Fitness, commonly referred to as Qi Journal. [http://www.qi-journal.com.]

    This page offers more information:

    None of your text would be changed, although hyperlinks and graphics might be added, as was done with most our other entries.

    However, nothing would go public without your approval. The FAQ page given above should answer most questions that you might have.

    However, please direct any questions that you might have to me . And excuse my contacting you here — I didn’t have your private email.

    Thank you for reading this request, and especially thank you for the work that you have been doing.
    John Voigt, Editor Qi Encyclopedia

  • Angelika says:

    that is a great introduction to Qi! There are actually so many different yet nearly same definitions of Qi. I collected some of them, especially when talking about Taijiquan and Qi Gong. Have a look here:


  • Sally Yasukawa says:

    Hi Angelika, there are certainly many different definitions of Qi, but I prefer to follow the original Chinese meaning. You might also like to look at http://qi-encyclopedia.com?portal=Qi- which is associated with the American publication “Qi Journal”.

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