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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What is Qi? - Part Two

By Ken Rose

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


     The implications of this one remark are considerable. For if old Zhuang Zi was right, if one qi permeates the entire universe, then everything in the universe is interconnected by this single qi. In other words, a single unifying qi connects everything that is or was or will be. It is in recognition of the primacy of this character of qi that I have chosen the English word connectivity as the first equivalent for qi. That there is a connection between any and all objects, artifacts, phenomena, and interactions between them in the whole universe is expressed in the ancient Chinese word qi.

     When we speak of points lying along channel pathways on the surface of the body that bear names and associates with internal organ systems, we exemplify this connective potential of qi. The points, the channels, the organs are all interconnected by qi. If the large intestine is sluggish, for example, we can stimulate its activity by stimulating a point on the hand that lies on the associated channel pathway.

     This kind of physiological relationship can be described in many ways. The Chinese selected this word qi to serve as the descriptor of all such phenomena and functions, within the body as well as without. This selection reveals an underlying sense of the way the word is. Everything is interconnected, and thus the proper study of the human mind is the discovery and mapping of the interconnections as well as the patterns and meta-patterns of these interconnections.

     Thus we get the often seen yet little understood charts of the body that depict the depots and stations, the mountains and valleys, the markets and the meeting places to and through and about which the qi courses it particular travels through the body each day as it busies itself with its cosmic task of connecting each and every place in the body to each and every other place.

     Quite simply, the fundamental treatment strategy in Chinese medicine could be described as discovering where the body's patterns of interconnection have been disrupted and acting (as through acupuncture, massage, medicinal herbs or other means) to reestablish normative connections and patterns of connectivity. This connectivity begins and ends with breathing.

     Before proceeding to a brief discussion of the other three English words chosen to round out the meaning of qi, namely, communication, change, and movement, I want to make note of the importance of this very common definition of qi that pertains to gaining a full comprehension of what qi is. In Chinese qi means many things, among them, air and breath. The atmosphere is known simply as the big qi.

     Therefore qi is all about breathing and the breath that, while passing in and out of our lungs, connects us with the great qi in which we exist. One of the most potent curative aspects of qi gong, that catchall phrase used to describe a wide variety of breathing and yogic/meditative practices intended to develop, accumulate and cultivate an individuals qi, is simply the concentration and strengthening of the capacity for breathing. The breath of life: qi. And when you can no longer draw it in or let it pass without, life has ceased to be in that small sector of the universe known as your body.

     Breath, then, might be considered as the first and last definition of qi, except for the fact that this one English word, "breath", tells us rather little about the other implications and innuendos that have become associated with this word over the millennia since it was first coined and used in ancient China. To get at this fuller understanding of what we mean when we say, for example, sink your qi to your dan tian, as we often say in the study and practice of qi gong and other related arts (not the least of which certainly is the art of medicine), we have to turn to additional English words. Turning from page to page in the dictionary, we find these three words that taken together and summed up with connectivity all serve to construct an aggregate of sense that comes close to the ancient essence of the word, qi.