What is Qi? The concept of Qi has long held a fascination for us. Coming upon it incidentally when reading related materials provides an inkling as to what is Qi, but following through on investigating it in detail is very enlightening.

What Is Qi?

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The short answer to the question, “what is Qi?” can be summed up by one statement. It is vital energy that permeates all the universe. For at least human beings, it is key to physical and mental health.

It’s important to consider which definition of “vital” is being used here. Using Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, the most applicable definition is “necessary to the existence, continuance, or well-being of something; indispensable; essential.” The reason this definition is important is that some may confuse Qi with life itself, proposing that a vital energy such as this is life. Qi, rather, is a manifestation of life that is necessary to our well-being. We will now explore the types of Qi, its ever-changing nature, and its relationship to our health as well as its role in the universe.

Forms of Qi

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If you’re ever asked what is Qi it would be good to have your pronunciation down. Qi is voiced as “chee” and rhymes with “we.” Now, as to form, Qi is energy that has two separate branches, per Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM); one of greater substance and the other of less substance. The first is the energy found in the air we breathe, water we drink and food we eat. This outside energy nourishes our bodies. The second is in the bodily fluids and natural energy already present independent of anything we ingest.

Qi isn’t just about the body, though. It is thought to exist everywhere. The substantial form is of the earth, animal bodies, your stuff. Examples of the insubstantial form exist in light, not to mention motion, emotion, thought and radio waves. In addition, this energy doesn’t retain one form. It transforms constantly from one form to another, much as precipitation in clouds goes from rain to sleet to snow.

One other notable point is the First Law of Thermodynamics (Conservation), which states that energy is always being conserved. It cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter is constant, merely changing from one form to another.

Yin and Yang

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What is Qi without yin and yang? That is the question of practitioners of TCM. Centuries ago, they realized Qi couldn’t be fully understood without grasping the concept of yin and yang. They are interconnected. Yin and yang represent two principles. Yin is cold, dark, solid, heavy, moist and descending. Yang is hot, light, nebulous, dry and ascending. These qualities are interdependent and cannot exist without each other simultaneously.

This is a natural state in the universe. They exist as part of a whole, and this is how Qi works. It manifests with opposite elements. Yin represents one aspect of Qi and yang represents the other.

Yin and yang are a symbol of this univers; ever-changing and always evolving. They adjust to one another so as to stay in balance. It is this balance in Qi that is the objective of TCM. When our energies maintain the proper balance, we experience good health and happiness.

Pain and Suffering

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If you’re reading this and consider yourself to be healthy and happy, then count your blessings and realize the majority of Americans don’t fit into these categories. In a 2017 survey, only 33 percent of Americans claimed to be happy. In 2018, a study done at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health showed only 12 percent of Americans are achieving optimal metabolic health. That term means optimal levels of blood glucose, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, blood pressure and waist circumference without the need for medications. We understand there are far too much pain and suffering in our lives.

These facts are evidence of an imbalance of Qi in people’s lives. There is such a thing as Qi deficiency. There’s also Qi excess. These states affect how we feel. For instance, low Qi can show up as indigestion, susceptibility to colds, anemia and more. It can even change our mood. Too much Qi and we might feel stressed and irritable. Also, negative emotions can inhibit the flow of Qi. If Qi is not in harmonic balance, people can become ill and unhappy.

Factors Affecting Qi Balance

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It isn’t always what we do or don’t do that gets in the way of proper Qi balance. Environmental problems can cause Qi deficiency or Qi excess. Lack of fresh air, clean water, shelter and food can leave you lacking for Qi. Shut-ins or people isolated for any reason can suffer low Qi due to insufficient social interaction. Being subjected to unclean air or water as well as other toxins can result in high Qi. Even overeating and too much physical activity can have the same effect.

There are four types of Qi in the human body. Knowing these can improve your chances of maintaining a proper balance.

  1. 1Parental Qi: Also known as yuan Qi, this is inherited from our parents. It’s actually known to be stored in the kidneys.
  2. 2Pectoral Qi: This type is generated by breathing and is stored in the chest area. This is also calledZong Qi.
  3. 3Nutritional Qi: Ying Qi comes from food intake and makes it possible for the circulation of this type of Qi throughout the entire body.
  4. 4Defensive Qi: Wei Qi protects the body from illness using food also for its own purpose.

The Qi that we inherit obviously is beyond our control. Environmental factors can be difficult to manage; but we can think about our breathing and nutritional quality of life if we aren’t terribly impoverished.

How to Bring Qi Into Balance for the Body

Asking what is Qi inevitably leads to this question of balance. Knowing what it is and how it works makes us aware of what we need to do to improve our overall health. It’s great to learn we can have a measure of control of our personal Qi balance. Following are some tips on how to effect change in this area:


Getting a proper night’s sleep on a regular basis will have a strong effect on Qi deficiency. An average of eight hours of restful sleep is important. During your wakeful hours, you can also keep from burning too much Qi by taking life a little slower. There’s a rather obscure old song by The Moody Blues that applies here. Its title is Burn Slowly the Candle of Life. 


Learning how to maximize your breathing can help with one of the most important basics of keeping your Qi balanced. There are various breathing techniques that can be found easily enough. They mainly involve breathing slowly and deeply all the way down to the lower regions of the belly, feeling the diaphragm expanding. Holding it briefly at the top of the inhalation phase and exhaling slowly, then repeating this cycle for a while does so much to oxygenate the entire body.


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Starting an exercise routine such as yoga, Tai Chi or Qi Gong can be great for improving your level of Qi throughout the body. These all relax the mind and body, promote blood flow and help with concentration as well as mental health.


Trying acupuncture treatment is one of the best ways to get the Qi flowing. Acupuncture practitioners know the routes where energy flows through the body and use needles to get the flows going again. They can address the paths that are inhibited or resistive and free them up. It’s surprising just how many ailments can be addressed through acupuncture.


Balancing your diet is an easy way of helping with your Qi flow if you can discipline yourself to break bad habits. It does not need to be too painful. Eating fresh, nutritious foods and eating proper amounts of food can pay off rather quickly to ease the pain of ceasing poor eating habits.

Mental Health

Balancing your diet is an easy way of helping with your Qi flow if you can discipline yourself to break bad habits. It does not need to be too painful. Eating fresh, nutritious foods and eating proper amounts of food can pay off rather quickly to ease the pain of ceasing poor eating habits.

And Now for the Universe

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As mentioned, Qi is spread across the universe. There is a connected, interdependent web through all the energy present in this vast universe. As we improve our own Qi, we send ripples of joy and love, well-being and good health throughout. This has an effect, theoretically, on all living beings everywhere when we make our own small changes here and now. It’s worth doing this for ourselves and for everyone to whom we are connected.

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