By Ralph Alan Dale
A condensed version of the article from
Journal of Acupuncture Vol. 22, #3, 1994.
The concept of Qi (sometimes spelled "Chi", pronounced
"chee"), or vital energy, is fundamental to traditional Chinese medical thought.
There is nothing comparable in allopathic (conventional Western) medicine. While human
physiology in allopathic medicine is organized according to specialized function, Chinese
medicine is more concerned with dynamics of interrelationships, especially the patterns of
Traditional Chinese medicine defines the five main forms of Qi
- Qi (Matter-Energy): The vital energy of every living organism
and the source of all movement and change in the universe.
- Xue (Blood): Not only the fluid that circulates in the
vascular system, but also the Qi within that fluid that vitalizes its nourishing function
as well as its flow. Qi and Xue have mutually interdependent functions.
- Jing (Essence): The Essential energy of all living organisms
which is derived both from the energy we inherit from our parents and from the energy we
acquire in our daily lives, principally from air and food.
- Shen (Spirit): The material/non-material
mental-emotional-motivational aspect of consciousness that is stored in the Heart. (Heart
is capitalized to remind the reader that the author is referring to the Chinese concept of
Heart, not the Western, which views the organ as simply a pump. The Chinese Heart has many
other functions including the seat of the Shen. Other organs and organ systems are
capitalized to further illustrate this distinction.)
- Jin Ye (Body Fluids): The functional secretions of the body,
including tears, sweat, saliva, milk, mucus, hydrochloric acid and genital secretions. Jin
are the lighter, purer and more yang fluids which, via the Lung, moisten and nourish the
skin and muscles; ye are the denser, more yin fluids which are processed in the
Spleen and Stomach to moisten and nourish the Zang Fu (internal organs), bones, brain and
orifices (mucus for sensory orifices and others).
The functions of Qi
All five substances are interdependent; however, Qi is central to
each of them since it is both the prime activator as well as the recipient of their
various functions. The five main functions of Qi are defined as:
- Impulsing--the growth and development of the body,
- Warming--the maintaining of appropriate body heat,
- Defending--against stresses and pathogens,
- Controlling--the Blood and Body fluids,
- Transforming--metabolizing Qi, Blood and Body fluids.
According to Chinese medicine, the invisible Qi circulates along a
system of conduits, the principal ones being the meridians or channels as well as through
the Blood (Xue). This Qi is the vital energy which gives life to all living matter. In a
way, the Qi conduits resemble those of the vascular or nervous system, since each has a
network of main channels and minor capillaries. There are twelve principal bilateral
channels of Qi, each intimately connected with one of the viscera of the body, and each
manifesting its own characteristic Qi, e.g., Liver Qi, Spleen Qi, etc.