Are you in Canada? Click here to proceed to the HK Canada website.

For all other locations, click here to continue to the HK US website.

Human Kinetics Logo

Purchase Courses or Access Digital Products

If you are looking to purchase online videos, online courses or to access previously purchased digital products please press continue.

Mare Nostrum Logo

Purchase Print Products or eBooks

Human Kinetics print books and eBooks are now distributed by Mare Nostrum, throughout the UK, Europe, Africa and Middle East, delivered to you from their warehouse. Please visit our new UK website to purchase Human Kinetics printed or eBooks.

Feedback Icon Feedback Get $15 Off

What is Qi

This is an excerpt from Theory and Practice of Taiji Qigong-4th Edition, The by Chris Jarmey.

Qi as a Universal Concept

Qi as a broad concept is the sub-strata of the entire universe. It includes everything in the universe from the most material to the immaterial. Therefore, within its broadest possible definition, we can consider a rock as Qi and we can consider an individual thought to be Qi. However, in practice, Qi is generally thought of as the invisible factors that bind matter together and activate all things, including those that are tangible but invisible to our senses. Visible and palpable things such as rocks are collectively known as Xing, whereas amorphous invisible phenomena such as wind, smell, heat, movement, or even happiness all fall under the general heading of Qi. Therefore to physically exist requires Qi, to move and feel requires Qi, and to think requires Qi.

You could say that Xing are all those things you can perceive and count, whereas Qi is all that which you cannot see or count. Another angle on this way of perceiving the universe is to consider that initially, things in the Xing category seem permanent, but the fact that all things are impermanent shows that they are constantly subject to change, however imperceptible that change may seem. The agents of change are those invisible factors called Qi.

Traditional Chinese philosophy considers the universe to be driven by three manifestations of Qi: Heaven Qi (Tian Qi), Earth Qi (Di Qi), and Human Qi (Ren Qi). Heaven Qi is the largest and most powerful of these forces, because it contains Earth Qi within it (the Earth itself being a planet within the heavens). Earth Qi is regarded as the aggregate of the earth’s magnetic field and underground heat, which is believed to produce a matrix of energy lines and zones across and through the planet. Earthquakes and volcanic activity are thus seen as the Earth Qi re-balancing itself.

From our point of view, i.e., as beings standing upon this planet, Heaven Qi is considered to be the combined forces from above that exert influence upon the earth. This includes energy, gravity, and light from the sun, moon, and stars; forces which in turn govern climate. Climate, like everything else, is subject to fluctuation. So extremes of weather, including tornadoes, torrential rain, and so on are seen as Heaven Qi trying to restore balance.

The interaction of Heaven Qi with Earth Qi can be observed in other examples, such as too much heat from the sun and too little rain causing crops to fail in a drought. Thus it can be said that Earth Qi absorbs Heaven Qi and is influenced by it. Human Qi (and also Animal Qi) is seen as a melding of the forces of Heaven Qi and Earth Qi (Figure 1). Human Qi is a type of energy field that draws Heaven Qi downward from above and Earth Qi upward from below. The balance of our Human Qi is therefore strongly influenced by the natural cycles of Heaven Qi and Earth Qi.

Figure 1: Human Qi as a melding of Heaven Qi and Earth Qi.
Figure 1: Human Qi as a melding of Heaven Qi and Earth Qi.

Harmonizing ourselves with the forces and cycles of Heaven and Earth is the core philosophy of Daoism from which Qigong developed. Daoists have observed that nature is a process of perpetual decay and renewal, and if you carefully observe nature, you can gain insight into the way nature cyclically re-balances its Qi. Daoist philosophy, within which the bulk of oriental medicine is rooted, is basically a way of describing and understanding how we harmonize with our environment. It is to do with understanding how all things are ultimately striving to maintain a level of inter-dependence.

Qigong therefore directly influences our Human Qi, which permeates and animates our body and mind, by way of harmonizing the entry and exit of both Heaven and Earth Qi, and by regulating the flow of Qi within us. Astrology and various forms of divination are attempts to explain the effects of Heaven and Earth Qi upon Human Qi. Qigong is an experiential realization and manipulation of the effects of those same external forces at work within us.

Qi as “Life Force”

In terms of our health, we can consider Qi to be that factor which animates us into life. Therefore, our vitality and “aliveness” is a reflection of our level and internal distribution of Qi. If we lack Qi, or its flow is impeded in some way, then we lack vitality and may become ill. Within this narrower definition of Qi, we can equate it to our “life force.” Thus, we can simply say that the difference between that which is alive and that which is not alive is the presence or absence of “aliveness,” called Qi in Chinese (also Chi in Chinese and Ki in Japanese).

Western traditions view our “life force” as an esoteric phenomenon generally accepted by us as a gift from greater powers. As such, westerners have not tried to understand it to the extent that their Oriental counterparts have. The Oriental traditions see our “aliveness” and therefore our energy and vitality as much more to do with our interaction with nature’s cycles.

While we are alive, Qi or “aliveness” permeates every part of our body, keeping each cell and every bodily function alive. Although cells are dying throughout our body, they are being constantly replaced. The replacement of cells declines as we get older until not enough of the essential ones required for correct organic functioning are replaced. At that time we malfunction and die. The more Qi that reaches the cells, the less prone to decay they will be, so that an abundant supply of Qi to a cell means a healthier cell. However, it is not simply a question of quantity, but also of movement. All living things exhibit more activity than their dead counterparts. Qi is flowing smoothly and abundantly in a cycle within healthy vibrant creatures. Unhealthy creatures are not vibrant, because their Qi is not flowing smoothly.

It may be that Qi is not present in adequate quantity to generate sufficient momentum to allow for a smooth flow, resulting in areas being starved of vitality while other areas stagnate and accumulate waste products; rather like insufficient water failing to flush debris from a drainage pipe. Alternatively, it may be that too much Qi is accumulating in a particular area of the body, causing stagnation or hyper-activity there. This is rather like too many cars on a constricted road, resulting in no cars moving, in turn causing potential for actual irritation and aggression (e.g., road rage in traffic jams).

So, to remain healthy or to regain health, Qi must be:

  • Restored if it is deficient.
  • Unblocked if it is stuck.
  • Calmed if it is irritated.
  • One way or another it must be kept moving.

Such imbalances in the quantity and circulation of Qi have many causes, which include the effect of emotional disturbance, shock, unbalanced mental attitude, excessive heat or cold, extreme assault from virulent organisms, poisons, poor diet, incorrect use of the body (creating postural and/or organ stress), accidents, and so on.

More Excerpts From Theory and Practice of Taiji Qigong 4th Edition



Get the latest insights with regular newsletters, plus periodic product information and special insider offers.