One of the first questions I receive from a new patient is often “what is Qi”? Why is it important? Because unlike that popular old song, it is Qi, not love that makes the world go round, although love is a wonderful manifestation of Qi. Qi is the vital essence that makes us alive and conscious. The characteristics of Qi are warmth and movement. It has multiple qualities and manifestations. People, animals and plants have Qi. The wind carries Qi.
Think of a head of lettuce at the supermarket, trucked in from many miles away and kept in a cooler for days. It looks a little sad, deflated and pale. Compare that with the lettuce freshly picked from an organic, biodynamic garden. It is almost jumping up and down, waving its leaves shouting, “eat me, eat me!” Guess which one has stronger Qi and by eating it will transfer that vibrant Qi to your body?
We are born with a finite amount of Qi referred to as our “ancestral Qi”. It resides in the Kidney energetic system or “Ming Men”. We expend it throughout our lives. In order to create longevity and a good quality of life we must nurture and preserve our ancestral qi with a balanced lifestyle. We can also replace some Qi by taking in food, water and breath. The quality of what we put in our bodies directly affects the quality of Qi that we manifest.
When someone is strong and vital with stamina, glowing skin and shiny hair they have abundant Qi. When someone is graceful in movement and demeanor, is intuitive and soothing to be around they have harmonious Qi. When someone is pale, tired and weak they have deficient Qi. People can have confused Qi and refined Qi when clear thinking.
People can exchange Qi through touch and emotions. We are always changed by our contact with others, animals too. Therapy dogs in a cancer infusion room reduce side effects. Stroking your cat brings down your blood pressure. Working in the garden, our hands in the Qi rich earth, reconnects us with our wholeness.
Qi is supposed to flow evenly throughout our meridians and their associated organs and tissues. When qi becomes stuck, deficient or out of balance we have pain, emotional upset and disease. Qi imbalance can have internal and external causes. Excessive emotions can cause Qi stagnation. Trauma, anger, grief and even excessive joy can cause imbalance. Weather, excessive activity, pathogens like viruses and bacteria and accidents can derange Qi.
Our Wei Qi is the defensive system flowing in the superficial meridians of the body, protecting us from external pathogens. Gu Qi is the Qi our bodies make from food that drives the fire of digestion and our biochemical functions. Ancestral Qi, received from our parents decides our constitutional make up. Three thousand years before science discovered genes Chinese Medicine recognized that our vital essence was affected by how we treated our bodies. It was understood that irreparable harm could be done by living an excessive and toxic lifestyle. Now we know that exposure to toxins, excessive stress and viruses can damage our genes and cause serious illness.
In Chinese Medicine Qi flow and balance equals health. Tai Qi, Qi Gung and yoga are movement practices that support Qi flow. Any moderate excercise is good. Laughter warms the whole body with Qi. Good food and sleep nurture our Qi. But when we are so out of balance that we have illness the Acupuncture and herbs of Chinese medicine can help. An acupuncturist will diagnose the imbalance by considering the symptoms, looking at the tongue and taking the pulses. There are twelve pulses that reflect the state of Qi in each of the twelve main meridians. The acupuncture points for treatment are chosen based on the diagnosis made using all this information. The goal of treatment is always to balance and strengthen the Qi of the patient based on their individual and unique presentation.
Kathleen MacGregor is an Acupuncturist with an office in Meiners Oaks.