What is Qi? Qi in TCM Acupuncture Theory

Qi, pronounced "chee", means energy. You may see it spelled "Chi" or even "Ki" in Japanese, but they all carry the same meaning. Qi is the energy of the body, of the meridians, of food, of the universe. While it may seem a nebulous topic there are refined theories regarding the different types of Qi within the body, the creation and actions of Qi and, consequently, ways to determine where imbalances may arise.

Basic Types of Qi

Within the body there are two basic types of Qi. Congenital Qi is the Qi that we are born with. It is essentially limited and the quality and amount of this Qi represents our basic constitution. Acquired Qi, on the other hand, is derived from the foods we eat and the air that we breath. The quality of acquired Qi depends on our lifestyle habits such as food quality, balance of emotions, physical exercise and so on. The details regarding these two basic types of Qi are below:

Map of the Creation of Qi

The graphic below describes the processes which take place within the body to produce the various types of Qi. If you click on a particular box it will take you to the next section where each type of Qi is described in full detail.

 

Kong Qi Zong Qi Gu Qi Yuan Qi Yuan Qi Zhen Qi Ying Qi Wei Qi

Detailed Types of Qi

While we use the word Qi to mean energy, it is clear from the Chinese medical theories that there are many aspects and differentations of Qi. Different types of Qi vary in how they are used by the body and what imbalances are caused by a deficiency. For example, Jing deficiency in children may present with signs of slow growth and poor mental development, whereas, a person with a deficiency of Wei Qi may experience frequent colds and/or infections.

The various types of Qi and their corresponding sources, functions, distributions and relevance are described below:

  • Jing (Essence)
    • Source:
      - Derived from parents, supplemented by Acquired Qi (Gu Qi & Wei Qi).
    • Function:
      - Responsible for growth, reproduction and development.
    • Distribution:
      - Stored mainly in the Kidneys.
    • Relevance:
      - Weak Jing in children may lead to poor bone development, slow learning a/or poor concentration.
      - Weak Jing in the elderly may lead to deafness, osteoporosis a/or unclear thinking.
  • Yuan Qi (Original Qi)
    • Source:
      - Derived from Jing.
    • Function:
      - Promotes and stimulates functional activities of organs.
      - Provides the foundation/catalyst for the production of Zhen Qi.
    • Distribution:
      - Originates in the ming men, circulates via the TH, pools in the meridians at the Yuan Source points.
    • Relevance:
      Deficiencies in Yuan Qi may lead to poor development of Acquired Qi.
  • Gu Qi (Essence of Food and Grain Qi)
    • Source:
      - Originates from the action of the Spleen on the food in the Stomach.
    • Function:
      - Combines with Kong Qi to form Zong Qi.
      - Some aspects are also transformed into Blood.
    • Distribution:
      - Arises in the ST/SP and is moved to the chest where it is further distributed.
    • Relevance:
      - Good quality food and a strong ST/SP are important to generate energy.
      - Weaknesses in the SP may lead to bloating, distention, fatigue, loss of appetite, etc.
  • Kong Qi (Air Qi)
    • Source:
      - Originates from the air received by the Lungs.
    • Function:
      - Combines with Gu Qi to form Zong Qi.
    • Distribution:
      - Distributed from the chest.
    • Relevance:
      - Good quality air and good breathing practices are essential for the formation of energy.
  • Zong Qi (Gathering Qi)
    • Source:
      - Combination of Gu Qi & Kong Qi.
    • Function:
      - Nourish the Heart and Lungs.
      - Aids the Lungs in their role of respiration and circulating energy throughout the body.
      - Assists the Heart in circulating Blood through the vessels.
    • Distribution:
      - Stored in the chest.
    • Relevance:
      - With a deficiency you will see the HT and LU most effectted.
      - Low energy, weak voice, poor circulation in the extremeties, etc.
      - Can be treated with CV 17 and the yuan source points of the HT (HT 7) & LU (LU 9).
  • Zhen Qi (True Qi)
    • Source:
      - Derived from Zong Qi when acted upon by Yuan Qi.
    • Function:
      - This is the form of Qi that circulates in the meridians and nourishes the organs.
    • Distribution:
      - Originates in the chest and is distributed throughout the body by respiration. - Composite of: Ying Qi & Wei Qi.
    • Relevance:
      - Deficiencies indicate either an imbalance in the functioning of the creation of acquired Qi or in a declining amount of Yuan Qi.
  • Ying Qi (Nutritive Qi)
    • Function:
      - Nourishes the organs.
      - Helps to produce Blood.
    • Distribution:
      - Circulates in the main meridians.
      - Flows with the Blood in the main meridians and within the Blood vessels.
    • Relevance:
      - This is the aspect of Qi that is needled with acupuncture.
  • Wei Qi (Defensive Qi)
    • Function:
      - Helps to protect the body.
      - Warms the surface of the body.
      - Regulates body temperature by opening a/or closing the pores.
    • Distribution:
      - On the surface of the body and within the muscles and skin, but not within the meridians.
      - Circulation is dependent on the Lungs.
    • Relevance:
      - People who catch colds easily/often have Wei Qi deficiency.
      - Deficiency may also make it difficult to regulate body temperature.

Functions of Qi in the Body

Generally speaking, the Qi serves several vital functions within the body. When imbalances arise, they are seen as disruptions in the functions of Qi. A prolapse, for example, is seen as a disruption in the ability of Qi to provide the raising and stabilizing function on a particular organ. In this case certain acupuncture points which have a strong lifting and stabilizing effect such as GV 20 may be used to help rebalance the body.

The main functions of Qi within the body are listed below:

  • Catalyzing Functions: Qi assists in the formation and transformations within the body, for example the transformation of food into Qi and Blood
  • Protecting Functions: Qi defends the body from external pathogens
  • Raising and Stability Functions: Qi holds organs in their place, keeps Blood in the vessels, governs the removal of fluids
  • Transporting Functions: Qi is the foundation of all movement and growth in the body.
  • Warming Functions: Qi helps to control homeostasis and provides warmth for the body.

Qi Disharmonies with Signs and Symptoms

Qi has four main states of imbalance. These imbalances may effect many parts of the body at once or within a particular meridian, organ or area. Deficiency of Qi, for example, may effect the Lungs with symptoms of shortness of breath, the Stomach/Spleen with symptoms such as poor appetite and the body in general with symptoms of fatigue and weakness.

Patterns
Signs
LU, SP, HT, and/or KD Qi Deficiency Fatigue, dizziness, SOB worse on exertion, pale face, weak spirit Pale w/thin coat empty
Sinking Qi Qi deficiency signs with downbearing sensation in abdomen a/or prolapse of organs Pale w/thin coat empty
LV Qi Stagnation Pain that is not fixed in the chest a/or hypchondriac areas White coat Wiry or tight
LU and/or STRebellious Qi Coughing, belching, vomiting, hiccups, dizziness Pale w/white coat or Red w/yellow coat Wiry or rapid

Sources and More Information

The information on our site is drawn from our own lecture notes and clinical experience.

For a complete list of valuable resources, see our (TCM) Chinese Acupuncture Resources section. The most recommended texts are below: