What's with all this Qi talk!?

I talk a lot about Qi (pronounced chee) on my instagram but I have never gone fully in depth about what the true meaning of qi is or even that there is more than one form of Qi we contain in the human body. 

In Western medicine, there is a strong emphasis on the physical structure of the body, which is made up of organic and inorganic substances, proteins, tissues and cells. In traditional Chinese medicine, on the other hand, the body is viewed as a whole entity with connecting parts that work together to sustain life. 


In ancient China people believed that Qi was the most fundamental entity making up the world. To them everything resulted from the change or movement of Qi. Qi is essentially our “life energy” or “vital energy” as its sometimes referred to as. Ancient philosophers saw human Qi as the result of the interaction between the Qi of Heaven (Yang) and the Qi of Earth (Yin). They stressed the interactions between the forces of nature and human Qi, on a cosmic and local (environmental) scale.

  1. We are influenced by the natural rhythms and cycles, (lunar, circadian and solar cycles) which we strive to stay in balance in order to maintain optimal health.
  2. We are susceptible to pathological conditions resulting from attack by pathological climatological energies (wind, cold, damp, heat, summer heat and dryness.)
    1. Qi is in a constant state of flux. When Qi condenses, it accumulates to form a physical shape. (For example, poor circulation of Qi in the body can result in condensation of Qi to form lumps, masses or tumors.
    2. Qi is both a physical and spiritual/psychological manifestation in the body.
    3. Qi changes form according to it locality and function.

What is Qi & Where does it Come From?

Qi in humans comes from two main sources, one is inherited from our parents at conception while the other is derived from substances in nature such as the air we breathe, the food and water we consume, etc. The way qi travels in the human body is as follows; the kidneys first send the innate vital energy upward where it combines with food derived from the spleen, it later mixes with the air from our lungs which finally forms into the body’s qi. 

By understanding how Qi is formed it has been identified that there are two important factors necessary for maintaining health. When one eats a healthy diet and is breathing fresh air (think natures crisp, clean and light air) the body extracts their most valuable essence and uses these essences to form our body’s vital energy/life force/qi. 

How Qi Functions in the Body

Qi promotes function, warms the body, defends as well as transforming the body. 

  1. Growth & Development: Just as wind provides the energy to turn the turbine of a windmill, qi provides the active vital energy necessary for the body to develop and grow. Qi helps the circulation of blood and supports the metabolism of body fluid. 
  2. Warms: Qi, like air, contains heat energy for the body. It warms the body, while at the same time keeping the body’s temperature in a constant warm state to provide normal physiological functions. Anyone suffering from deficiency in qi us more susceptible to lowered body temperatures, cold hands and feet and intolerance to cold.
  3. Defends: Disease in TCM is called by environmental “evils.” These evils are classified as wind, summer heat, dampness, dryness, cold and fire. Qi would be equivalent to the immune system in western medicine.
  4. Transformative: Qi has the ability to transform food essence into different forms of vital energy and blood. Indigestible food or waste is also transformed into urine or stool excretions. 

Movement of Qi

The Flow of Qi in and around the human body. 

The Flow of Qi in and around the human body. 

Qi moves in four directions, up down, outward and inward. Movement of qi is so important that if it no longer moved in these directions life would end. Each organ has different specialized movements. Spleen qi, for example ascends pure parts of digested food from the stomach and transforms it into nutritional essence. At the same time, spleen qi also pushes food downward to remove impurities. The lungs perform movements in all four directions, Lung qi moves in and out when breathing but it also ascends and descends when liquefying waste to be sent to the kidneys. These different movements of qi work to maintain a harmonious balance within the body. 

Types of Qi

There are four different types of qi found in the human body; Inborn, Pectoral, Nutritive and Protective Qi. 

  1. Inborn Qi: Possesses prenatal and congenital properties. After conception “congenital essence” (vital essence inherited from your parents) is stored in the kidneys, where inborn qi originates. It can be further nourished by “acquired essence” (food essence derived from digestion). Inborn qi starts its travels at the “vital gate” located between the two kidneys, then moves through the triple burner and circulates through the organs, muscles, skin and meridians providing the energy source needed for all life activities.
  2. Pectoral Qi: This qi is stored in the chest. It is formed by the fresh air inhaled by the lungs and by food essence derived from the spleen and stomach. Pectoral qi penetrates the blood vessels of the heart and lungs, it moves outward during expiration and inward during inspiration. Its ability to flow freely through the blood vessels and the heart is important for regulating the heartbeat and supporting circulation of blood and other types of qi. Pectoral qi supports breathing function h=which in turn affect how loud or low your voice can be as well as playing a key role in keeping the body warm. 
  3. Nutritive Qi: Circulates through the blood vessels with the blood, supplying nourishment to the body. Main source of nutritive qi comes from food essence derived from the spleen and stomach’s transformation  and transportation properties. This qi starts in the middle burner and moves its way up to the lungs where it enters the main circulation. Nutritive qi has yin properties where it forms into materials needed by other parts of the body. It circulates primarily on the interior to nourish the organs.
  4. Protective Qi: Protects against evils. Evils are environmental factors that lead to illness. This is very similar to the western immune system, which helps prevent diseases from occurring or spreading. Protective qi has yang properties becuases of its more functional properties. As the other is above, pectoral qi is also derived from the spleen and stomach food essence. Internally protective qi is distributed to the diaphragm and scattered round the chest and abdominal cavities. Externally, it moves between the skin and muscles providing protection. Protective qi not only protects us from dis-ease and illness but it also regulates the sweat glands and pores and provide the necessary nutrients for the hair, skin and muscles. 

Although there are many types of Qi in the human body, all these types are ultimately one Qi manifesting in different forms.