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  • Writer's pictureDove Sprout

What is Qi?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient modality that began over 5000 years ago. While it continues to evolve some of the theories still stand true today even though the language surrounding it can be quite poetic in nature that requires some interpreting. As such, I consider myself to be a lifelong learner as the world continues to evolve. Still, I find it fascinating that some of the “new” discoveries that are being made and scientifically proven today are nothing new to these ancient medical systems. 

The concept of “Qi” (pronounced “Chee”) is one of the fundamental principles of TCM. It is usually roughly translated to mean “Vital Life Force” but Qi goes far beyond that. In ancient China, people had very little knowledge of electricity. They only knew from acupuncture that when an acupuncture pin was inserted into certain points on the body (acupoints), some kind of energy other than heat was produced which often caused a felt sensation. It was not until the last few decades, when the Chinese people were more acquainted with electromagnetic science, that they began to recognize that this energy circulating in the body, which they called Qi, might be the same thing as what today's science calls bioelectromagnetic energy. This bioelectromagnetic energy circulates throughout our bodies through what the ancient Chinese call the meridian system (a network or highway of conduit pathways that interconnect allowing communication between systems of the whole organism) and but can also extend and be sensed and felt far beyond where our skin begins and ends. The Heart Math Institute says that the magnetic field produced by the heart (Heart Qi) can be detected up to 3 feet away from the body, in all directions.

I had a college professor describe Qi as “the relationship between things”; you can’t see it, but it can be felt. You cannot see the wind, but you can see the effect it has on the leaves and the trees. You can feel it when having an interaction with another in how you feel in their presence. Some interactions leave you feeling happy and uplifted while others leave you feeling drained, sad, angry, or various other emotions. 

We are born with certain constitutions that we inherit from our parents (Original Qi). When we are young, ideally our skin is soft and supple, we have plenty of energy, we typically recover faster from illness if we have obtained that from strong, vital parents (genetics). As we age we can fatigue more easily, our skin and connective tissue loses its firmness and luster, and those pesky viruses can hit us a little harder.  While aging is inevitable, there are practices that help to preserve and even continue to build our Qi. Healthy lifestyle practices, such as whole food diets, exercise, healthy sleep patterns, mindfulness, meditation, Yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Qi, regular health promoting healthcare visits can maximize our genetic blueprints. Traumas or stressors from lifestyle choices (of our choosing) or external influences (things that happen to us) can have a draining impact on our Qi. Adrenal fatigue, autoimmune disorders, and mental health issues to name a few are at an all time high and are largely “new” illnesses mostly with chronic stress/trauma at the root.

How is your Qi? In your body, do you feel vital and strong, weak and tired, or something in between? This is a reflection of your own vital life force Qi energy. Do you ever notice that you feel better after eating some foods than others or when performing certain activities? You can tell certain foods, especially if grown organically with care, have more Qi as observed by its colour, firmness, smell, and taste. As it ages, you can see the lifeforce deteriorating. Packaged/overly processed food has very little Qi. Do you feel better after forcing yourself through a workout to whip yourself into shape or by performing activities that bring happiness and joy into your life? Are you more “productive” when you go-go constantly or when you take time to replenish your energy and gain some clarity/insight about what to do next. These are a couple of examples of how we are able to make choices that Nourish or Drain our Qi. 

The good news about choices is that you can never get it wrong. Life is about a set of experiences and wherever you go, there you are. Each moment is a new choice point. This is the power of the present moment. Instead of being hard on yourself for previous choices made (that just continues to deplete your Qi), recognize that there is power in the moment to make a new choice right now. Becoming aware of your patterns of thought (it can sometimes feel like our minds are controlling us) is the moment when you have the choice point power to change where the thought goes or to put your focus on something else entirely if you are unable to change those thoughts. Your Qi will continue to flow to whatever you are putting your attention and focus on and whatever that is will amplify in your experience. This is a practice that will become easier if you keep practicing. Neuroplasticity reminds us that new neural connections and thought patterns are always possible. We are not destined to be the same for the rest of our lives, but like a wheelbarrow tends to continue down the same worn in rut in the grass, it will take awareness and persistence to pull it out of the rut to form a new path.

Article Written by Dove Sprout, Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner (TCMP)

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