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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What is Qi? Part Three

By Ken Rose

Excerpt from: Qi The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health & Fitness Volume 17, No.2, Summer 2007


     It is not enough to notice that we are interconnected with all things, all spaces, all times, all other people, spirits, animals, plants, and inanimate objects in the whole universe. Perhaps this sounds like a grandiose overstatement, but it is the essential truth, and as I suggest, it is not enough even to notice and remark on this remarkable connectivity: qi.

     We must also point out that through this inter-connectivity we communicate...at least we have the potential to communicate with everything that is. Just as in the English word "universe" whose roots mean "one turn" or "turning to one", the Chinese word qi implies that all things seek to express their common origin and destiny with all other things.

     Moreover, all things must engage in this communication of their common urges in order for living systems to exist and survive. In the human body, the lungs and the heart must intercommunicate or they die...along with the whole body and the person, of course. The same is true naturally for all the other primary internal organs, the liver, the kidney, the spleen and stomach, etc. And the intercommunication of fluids and functions of all these organs is described in terms of their coursing qi in Chinese medical terms.

     This pattern of observation and description of the structures and operations of the body and mind is refined further in the texts and teachings of qi gong. And qi is the primary concern here as well. What is the proper use of the body? The mind commands, the muscles and bones obey. How do we move the body therefore in qi gong? The mind moves the qi, the qi moves the body. And this communication of body, mind and qi is governed by and results in the vitality of the spirit.


The most basic notion in ancient Chinese thought is change. The oldest of the old Chinese books is the Book of Changes. The book of changes records the blueprint for a universe constructed on these few principles:

Everything always changes, and change is therefore the only universal constant. This change manifests in and from a fundamental pattern of vibration, back and forth, between yin and yang, the two primordial powers. The word that describes this basic pattern of change is qi.

Qi is change. It is the subject and predicate in ancient Chinese sentence that tells us that the world in which we live is the never-ending dance of yin and yang. This wonderful sentence contains just one word. Qi.


     Scientists in the West examining the nature of the universe began to calculate the pressure and temperature of gasses some 300 years ago. They came to recognize, among a wide array of other properties, that one of the primary characteristics of the physical universe is that nothing ever stops moving. To do so would result in that thing, whatever it might be, having a temperature of absolute zero. Apparently no place in the physical universe has this temperature. Mathematicians speculate about and even calculate tempratures below absolute zero. But no one comes to this point experimentally so far, although a few physicists have come close.

     In our meditations we can do even better, and as in the meditative practice of Yiquan, we seek and even achieve stillness in movement. How? It is all a matter of qi. For what is moving that keeps any and everything in the world and in the universe in which the world exists about absolute zero? It is qi. Physicists speak of Brownian movement as the result of instantaneous imbalance of forces in underlying molecular structures. The ancient Chinese classic of astronomy (in which we find the earliest recorded Chinese discussions of cosmology) mentions that the universe comes into existence when the void begins to vibrate. This most fundamental movement is conserved until the present and is known by just one word: qi.

What is Qi?

     So what is qi?
     Qi is that which...it is the fact that...all things, events, phenomena interconnect, intercommunicate, interchange and move. It is the medium of change from the most fundamental, proto-typical aspects of the universe to the whole throbbing mass of universal emptiness. That the world is constructed from the ceaseless dance of yin and yang is described in this single Chinese word: qi.

     Where there is qi there is life. Where the qi does not penetrate, life ceases. How do we come to know these things? Only through direct personal experience. Perhaps beyond the great importance of knowing what qi is lies an even more essential question: what do you do with qi? In fact, the discovery and understanding of qi opens up a whole world of exploration and investigation. This is the path of self-cultivation that has been followed for thousands of years. Perhaps reading these few words about qi, you can decide whether or not it is a suitable path for you.

     But why dos it matter that we know what qi is? For the practitioner of Chinese medicine, acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, etc. done according to ancient Chinese models and theories, the proper understanding of qi is central. If we think of qi as energy, for example, then when a patient has the signs of qi deficiency, we should fill him or her up with energy. But what does that mean? Practically speaking ,there is little anyone can do to accomplish this. But if we look at the same individual as having a lack or absence of connectivity, suffering from disrupted communications, obstructed changes, and inhibited movement, then the door to effective intervention opens widely.

     Need more qi? Find the disconnted parts that need and want to be connected and reconnect them. Discover what one part of the body needs to communicate with the others and do what you can to facilitate the exchange. See What needs to change, find what has ceased to change and restore its capacity to change. Feel the restricted movement and move it. The qi will flourish.

You will be on your way.