Before we dive into the actual theory of Qi, we must first define this mysterious concept. Translated literally, Qi is often referred to as "vital energy" or "life force". The ancient Daoist considered it to be the source of everything. Not only did they consider Qi to be the source, but it was the essence of everything in the cosmos; therefore, all phenomena were a representation of the transformation of that source Qi. If we equate this concept of Qi to the scientific equivalent of energy, in its broadest sense, we might be reminded of the first law of thermodynamics which states, "Energy can neither be created nor destroyed." (Albert Einstein) In the context of Qi theory this signifies that there is an endless cycle of transformation in which energy changes from one state to another. This is also in line with the Buddhist concept of a cyclic existence, in which all energy is transformed and transmuted until it returns to the source from which it came. Now, there are two ways to perceive Qi; as formless and as form. In other words, the formless state does not occupy any definite space, and is unstable. As form, Qi is just the opposite; it occupies space and represents a stable form. This perception of a form and formless state of Qi is very important, because it states that Qi can in fact transform from one state to another, from a solid to a formless state. Here we can give a clinical example of Qi transforming from a purely energetic and formless state into a solid state of a tumor, caused by an energetic obstruction. Don't worry, this is not the case with all energetic obstructions, this is just a clear example of a rare case that demonstrates the concept.
In Qi theory, it's important to understand that Qi is the energy and motive force behind are bodies and their physiology. Energy is all about movement. Take our bodies for example; our bodies need Qi to circulate smoothly through our system in order to promote good circulation, proper digestion, and evacuation. Qi plays many important roles in the smooth operation of our complex system. The following are some examples of the functions of Qi.
What are the functions of Qi?
Qi is responsible for the circulation of blood, the distribution and metabolism of body fluids, and for supporting the proper function of the organs.
Qi warms the body's temperature, and by doing so helps evaporate fluids.
Qi holds the line of defense against exogenous factors that might invade and get you sick.
Qi stabilizes the body's fluid system by not allowing an abnormal loss of fluid. Some examples of this might be: Polyuria, excessive salivation, or spontaneous perspiration.
Qi transforms bodily fluids. For example, the process of extracting nutrients from food and drink, then turning this into Essential Qi. This Essential Qi is transformed into Qi, blood and body fluids, which are then metabolized into urine, sweat and other bodily waste.
What's Qi Stagnation and Qi Deficiency?
Two concepts you might hear your practitioner say are: Qi stagnation and Qi deficiency. Qi stagnation is when the qi becomes blocked, usually in a specific area or channel, or in a particular organ. Qi deficiency is when there's not enough energy to support the normal functional activities of the organs. This usually occurs when there has been a chronic or serious illness, or severe exhaustion from overwork.
__ Everyone recognizes the Yin & Yang symbol with its black and white swirls and opposing dots in a circle. Some people think it only has to do with martial arts, while others only see the symbol as a representation of two opposites. Little do they know, there is a much more profound meaning inherent in this simple design, one that pervades every aspect of our existence, including the evolution of the cosmos as it unfolds through the rhythmical transformations of this great cycle. It goes beyond just a simple demonstration of opposites, and details the dynamic relationship between the two phenomena that are in opposition to one another.
This simplistic, but yet complex, idea of Yin and Yang has been an important part of Chinese culture and history for thousands of years, playing an important role in the daily lives of the Chinese people, and an integral part in their philosophical thought. Below, you will find the four attributes of Yin and Yang. These attributes describe the dynamic relationships of all phenomena.
1. Mutual Opposition
When we think about opposition, it's usually in the most simplistic of terms, such as:
Yin Yang Night Day Cold Hot Dry Wet Earth Heaven
As mentioned earlier, there is a constantly changing relationship between the opposing phenomena / forces / ideas / etc. So the simplistic view is actually more complex than we think, and this can be shown by the following laws of opposition:
Even in mutual opposition Yin & Yang are in unity.
Without opposition there can be no conflict, and without conflict there can be no unity.
When one is stronger, the other is weaker.
This changing strength of one vs the other creates a mutual restraint between the two, that is, in the struggle between Yin & Yang one is always stronger than the other, one is always attacking the other and by doing this it creates an equilibrium; one that is dynamic.
Ex. In the clinic, we can see this aspect at work physiologically when Yin & Yang become imbalanced in the body. A patient who shows signs of being predominantly cold has an abundance of Yang compared to Yin; whereas, a patient who reports being hot all the time would have an excess of Yin compared to Yang.
2. Mutual Interdependence
The interesting thing about this theory is that, even though Yin & Yang are in opposition, they are at the same time interdependent. The influence they have on each other's existence, as well as, their survival, is one of entanglement.
Yin & Yang rely on one another for their existence.
Each is a condition for the existence of the other.
They mutually assist one another, even though there activities are different, their actions are neither unrelated nor exclusive; they're harmonious.
3. Mutual Consuming
Things in opposition aren't necessarily static, but rather in a constant state of motion, or transformation.
In this situation, balance is relative and defined by the increases and decreases in Yin and Yang, or put another way, the strengthening or weakening of one or the other. If Yin becomes excessive, than Yang will become deficient; and the same is true if Yang increases, than Yin decreases. If we think about how the seasons transform one into the other, this would be a good demonstration of this concept. You have the cold winter represented as Yin, which transforms into the Yang of Summer via Spring. Throughout the end of Winter and in the beginning of Spring, Yin is in decline, while Yang is starting to ascend in the latter part of Spring and the beginning of Summer. Below, we can give another example which shows the physiological changes that occur in the body.
Ex. The bodies functional activities (Yang), consume nutrient substance (Yin); through this process of metabolism, functional energy (Yang) is expended. In a normal physiological state, this would be referred to as "dynamic equilibrium".
4. Mutual Transformation
Both Yin and Yang have the ability to transform into the other.
Ex. A disease that is cold in nature can transform into a disease that is warm or hot in nature; and vice a versa.
As an integral part of Chinese medical theory, the meridian system consists of a vast network of vessels that connect the organs, limbs, joints and tissues, and distribute energy throughout the body. This network allows the different parts of the body to communicate with one another, as well as, permitting communication between the interior and the exterior. There are 12 primary meridians and 8 extraordinary meridians. The focus here is on the 12 primary channels, which are more superficial than the 8 Extra channels. Due to the pathway of each of the 12 channels and their therapeutic qualities, each is associated with a visceral organ, that is, in a metaphorical sense. As we take a closer look at the different applications of the meridian system, it will become clear the vital and indispensable role it has in the practice of TCM.
1. Physiological The channel system forms a physiological infrastructure, which operates as a network that integrates every part of the body. The meridians act as conduits for the smooth flow and distribution of Qi and blood, which nourishes tissues, sinews, bones and organs. The network also aids in the regulation of Yin and Yang, and promotes the harmonization of visceral functions. One last important action of the meridians is to protect the body from exogenous pathogens that might enter the channel system via the pores on the skin.
2. Pathological From a pathological perspective, whenever the regulation of Yin and Yang is disrupted, or when there is an impairment in the circulation of Qi and blood, that is when disease can develop. When exogenous factors attack and enter the body, for example, catching a cold, the pathogen can follow the channels deeper into the body and find their way to the organs. This is what happens when you don't take care of a cold properly, and you end up getting sicker. The same can happen, but in the opposite direction, a disease that develops in the organs can follow those same pathways out to the surface of the skin. An example of this would be jaundice.
3. Diagnostic Due to the fixed pathways of the meridians throughout the body, and their passing through organs, when disease occurs it will most likely manifest along a corresponding channel. By using their knowledge of the pathways, acupuncturists can use palpation to diagnose meridians and their respective organs. Obstructions can be palpated along the meridian, which can be indicative of a diseased state. Sometimes when a pain occurs on a meridian, lets say a headache on the side of the head, this would represent the (Shaoyang meridians), which are the Liver and Gallblader channels. Using this same technique of palpation, specific points along a meridian can be tested for morphological changes. These changes might manifest as a tenderness at the point, a mushy deficient feeling or an excess resilience. These signs would indicate that there is a disharmony with the corresponding organ.
4. Therapeutic Another area in which meridians have an important function is therapeutics. Here, channel theory is used as the guiding principle for treatment. By stimulating specific points along the meridians with acupuncture or moxibustion, balance can be restored not only to the meridians, but also to the rest of the system as a whole. In the same way, in herbal therapy every herb has an affinity for a certain channel, so it's the channels that guide the herbs to the diseased organ or tissue.
5. Health Preservation Simply put, by regulating the meridians and keeping the system in balance disease can be prevented and health preserved. Research has shown that certain points can improve the immune system, increase white blood cells, increase the production of red blood cells, and regulate metabolism.