Qi, pronounced "chi," is a Chinese name describing all types of human vital energies. The top part of the Chinese character of Qi, 氣, represents energies such as air, and the bottom part represents food such as rice.
In ancient Chinese medicine, this character indicates two sources of Qi the human body needs to survive and thrive: air and food.
We may take it for granted that our life starts with our first breath of air and ends with our last, but air is vital. We have to keep eating and breathing to stay alive, develop, reproduce, and function. Therefore, the appropriate translation of Qi could be vital energies in parallel with vital chemicals that the body needs, such as vitamins.
Protect the Source of Your QiOur respiratory system brings air in and out of our body. Our cardiovascular system circulates the oxygen we breathe in, so it is utilized by our organs and tissues, and brings carbon dioxide to our lungs to be exhaled.
Our digestive system digests and absorbs food. It metabolizes absorbed food into a form of energy in a process known in modern biochemistry as the Krebs Cycle.
The Qi one obtains from air and food is called postnatal Qi.
However, our lives start when we are conceived. The vital energy that initiates the conception and growth of a fetus comes from a mother's egg fertilized by a father, and later by the Qi of the mother during pregnancy. This is called prenatal Qi, which is critical to support the initial development of a child. Therefore, a parent’s health is very important to the health of their child.
Studies have shown that advanced paternal age might be associated with a slightly higher risk of miscarriage or stillbirth, certain rare birth defects (including defects in the development of the skull, limbs, and heart), autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, and childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. And of course, if parents smoke or drink, it can seriously affect the health of the fetus.
Be Aware of Status of Your QiQi, like air or electricity, is invisible to the human eye. However, one experiences the functions of their Qi as long as they live. The temperature of one’s body is one of them. When Qi is balanced and sufficient, the body’s temperature is in the normal range and can self-regulate against the change of climate. When the body’s temperature is one degree higher or lower than normal, one feels very uncomfortable. Higher body temperature may indicate infection; a lower body temperature may result from insufficient thyroid and adrenal functions.
Heartbeat is another critical function of Qi. Our heartbeat moves blood to every part of the body, including skin, muscles, internal organs, extremities, and the brain. We call it Qi of the heart. When we measure the electronic activity of the heart using electrocardiograms, we are actually measuring the Qi of the heart. When the Qi of the heart is deficient, one may experience poor blood circulation, shortness of breath, and in more serious cases, heart failure. When the heart Qi is stagnant or blocked, one may experience pain or angina in the chest. This can be a precursor to a full-blown heart attack.
Good digestion involves motility of digestive systems, esophagus, intestines, and gallbladder. These are another function of Qi. These organs can become paralyzed when Qi is deficient.
Neurons communicate through electronic transmissions in the brain and nervous system. This process depends on the Qi of every internal organ to function normally. Each internal organ system contributes specifically to the unique function of the brain.
For example, the kidney and bladder help with coordination, and cognitive functions such as memory, concentration, and motivation; these organs help with hearing and experiencing fear in dangerous situations. The liver and gallbladder help with executive functions such as planning, strategizing, prioritizing, organization, and decision-making. This combo helps regulate sleep, vision, and experiences of anger in unjust situations.
The Qi supplied to the brain by all the internal organs can be measured through quantitative electroencephalogram (qEEG) and a deficiency of this energy can contribute to several brain and mental dysfunctions, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD), dementia, attention deficits (ADHA), and sleep disorders.
The Qi of the internal organs also provides nutrition and immune function to the entire body. When you get an infection or feel unwell, you need to look into what has compromised the Qi of your internal organs, especially in the area of emotional distress and lifestyle deficits.
When you have a clear picture of your Qi, you can much better take care of it. The reason people say that you are what you eat and think is because they contribute to your Qi. Here we shall add: you are also what you breathe. In one word, you are your Qi!
Dr. Jingduan Yang is a neurologist, psychiatrist, and an expert in acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and integrative medicine. He founded Yang Institute of Integrative Medicine, Tao Clinic of Acupuncture, and American Institute for Clinical Acupuncture. Dr. Yang has co-authored two books: “Facing East: Ancient Health and Beauty Secrets for the Modern Age” and “Clinical Acupuncture and Ancient Chinese Medicine.”