The Qi of Life
By Denise Thunderhawk, L.Ac
What exactly is Qi? There have been many interpretations over the millennia. Qi, for the most part, can be defined as a force or vital substance that animates and controls the observable functions of life. The concept of Qi is the basic foundation of Chinese medicine. It is understood as a vital substance that flows through the body via meridians/channels/internal pathways and connects all body organs, as well as with mind and spirit (Shen).
We make Qi by combining food (Grain Qi / Gu Qi) and air (Clear Qi / Qing Qi). Our ability to make True Qi (Zheng Qi ) will depend partly on our physical constitution, partly on our lifestyle (diet/emotions). In its simplest sense, our Qi is our available energy that constitutes both Yin and Yang aspects. We need this energy for all the body's activities: movement, for digestion for warding off illness, to have stamina for the day, and to sleep peacefully at night (and all the way through).
When Qi itself is weak, this means that we are under-functioning in some way. How this manifests will depend on our individual strengths and weaknesses (emotional, physical, and spiritual). For some, a particular organ may lack the power to do its job well. For others, insufficient Qi may cause lethargy or the immune system may become weak and a person may be more susceptible to External Invasion (from pathogens like viruses, bacteria).
We can increase our available energy through breathing (Qigong, Yoga styles), physical exercise (movement = Yang = Qi flow), and postural alignment (flow of Qi through the spinal cord, known as the Du Mai, or Governing Vessel, or Sea of Yang, and to and from the brain, known as Marrow Shen). Conversely, we can lower our available energy through shallow breathing, sedentary lifestyle (sit down jobs, "couch potatoes"), and distorted posture (slouching).
Qi levels may also be reduced by environmental factors such as electromagnetic fields or geopathic stress (see The Hidden Energies Behind Feng Shui). In some natural environments, the quality of Qi is particularly high (for example, waterfalls and negative ions found at the bottom of the fall), which we often experience as a sense of uplift. Our core beliefs and mental attitudes will also help determine our Qi level, as life-affirming and self-valuing beliefs help to give us fuller access to our vitality/Qi.
Qi easily becomes stagnant when its circulation in the body is restricted by tension. Relaxation is a major key to the liberation (free flow) and formation (production) of Qi. According to Chinese medicine theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi is blocked or becomes unbalanced (referred to as disharmony). There is a famous Chinese proverb that says: "Bu tong ze tong, tong ze bu tong," which means "free flow, no pain; no free flow, pain."
In other words, any type of pain or illness represents some form of obstruction of Qi (and other vital substances).
| Figure 1: Foods that tonify|
|Sweet potato||Mishroom (any)||Squash|
Foods that tonify (increase the amount of) Qi tend to be sweet, and often warm (since Qi is mainly Yang and Yang is warming). Some foods that strengthen Qi.
| Figure 2: Foods that increase circulation|
|Garlic ||Ginger (dried)|
|Orange peel ||Tangerine peel|
|Pepper (cayenne, black, etc.) ||Marjoram|
|Mustard leaf ||Turmeric|
|Star anise ||Oregano|
Foods that increase circulation of Qi tend to be warming (more Yang in nature), pungent (ascending in direction, which is Yang in nature), and outward moving (dispersion, a Yang function).
Supporting Qi Through Our Food
To support and increase our Qi, we need to eat foods which release energy steadily into our system over a long period of time. In the West, this is often referred to as complex carbohydrates, which provide a sustained source of energy.
It is also important to eat foods where Qi has been interfered with as little as possible by processing, shipping/transporting, or irradiation. We need to include as much fresh, local organic food (short farm-to-table ratio) in our diet as possible. Microwave cooking also significantly depletes the level of available Qi in our food.
This entry is a brief excerpt from the book The 5-Element Guide to Healing with Whole Foods, by Denise Thunderhawk, L.Ac., and is reprinted with her permission.
For more information about the book or to order a copy, visit http://www.facebook.com/5ElementNutrition
You may also purchase the book on Lulu Press, Inc. at http://www.lulu.com
^ Definition excerpted from Qi (chee), Acufinder, 2007
^ More at http://chinesemedicineworks.com
^ Found at http://www.quantumfengshui.org
^ These foods "invigorate" (move) the Qi and have a different clinical mechanism from foods that tonify (increase amount of) Qi.