What is Qi?

What is Qi?

I often get asked by my patients while I’m explaining to them about their health conditions and how acupuncture is helping their health.


Qi in Chinese can be often referred to aroma of food, breathe, air, gas, or spirit, such as “As long as I have a breath of qi” (meaning as long as I breathe and live), or the smell and aroma of food has it own Qi as well etc.

Ancient people have use a hieroglyphic writing (pictorial writing) on bone oracles to express the meaning of Qi as shown below.


QI is a vital fundamental substance in Traditional Chinese medicine (#TCM) philosophy and practice for constituting the human body’s living functions. Not only limiting to human body, qi also exists in the external environment - the world and the universe we live in, and is relative and is closely connected with each and every being.


In contrast to western medicine, where body functions are composed of different cells, tissues and organs etc, TCM’s philosophy is “holism” whereby the whole universe and each living being are seen as one, closely related to each other and also relative; where each being are seen as a smaller universe which still reflects and connects closely to the external environment. Thus, we say the external environment such as season, climate, solar terms (jie qi) can all affect our wellbeing, and our actions and being can also affect the external environment.


Overall, the word “Qi” can be interpreted as “life force” or “life energy”. In health, it governs the body - the physiology and function whether to rise or descend, exit or enter, warming or cooling of the body, governed flow in the body along the meridians - these are all dependent on the Qi. Therefore, When the flow of Qi is impaired or in disorder, diseases and illnesses can occur as a result, as the blood circulation also depends on the flow of Qi to carry it wherever it needs to go to and nourish the body (“Qi is the commander of the blood.”)


Qi helps to:

  • Promote formation, growth, development of human body to carry out the physiological functions. Eg. Puberty.

  • Warms the body so normal physiological functions can take place.

  • Defending function like that of the immune system, to defend against the environmental factors that lead to illness.

  • Consolidates and retains (holds) the organs and substances of the body in its place, including holding blood flow in blood vessels, urine in urinary tract, sweat, saliva etc. Can you imagine if our organs and various substances are out of place where it shouldn’t be ? 😱

  • Transforms substances such as food into vital energy or essences as nutrition for the body, and further more into different other Qi needed and blood. Indigestible or excess food and waste will be transformed into urine and stool for excretion. In another word, Qi plays a role in metabolism.

The qi plays a vital role in immunity as it is said in the ancient text,

When there is righteous Qi in you, pathogenic factors have no way to invade the body

Righteous Qi comes from sufficient healthy Qi and blood. Once the body has sufficient free flow of Qi and blood, it will be able to build a good defense against external evasion of illnesses.

However, with a upright mindset and way of behavior, it would help to establish a good immunity for our body, just like the theory of “happiness cures illnesses”. Happiness comes from a right mindset, being able to be at peace and contented with oneself, so that our Qi and blood can flow freely.

Once we are stressed, our body becomes stiff, our qi will become stagnated and overtime cause blockage in our body and our mind, and overtime can also cause mental illnesses.

Infact, next time we can have a overview of The Five Elements, as it will give a clearer and bigger picture of how we are so closely related to the nature and universe, as well as how our wellbeing, the nature and our mentality all have an impact on each other.

I hope today‘s blog will help you to understand a little bit more about qi so that next time when you hear me mention it it won’t be so confusing anymore!

Until next time!

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