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What the heck is Qi?

The word “Qi” has been the most impactful word for the acupuncturist community. It is one of the two most significant aspects of our training (besides “xue” or blood) and stimulating “qi” to improve health is the unending quest of an acupuncturist when treating patients. But what the heck is it?

Let’s begin with what it isn’t. Qi is not energy. Say wha??? But Heather! That’s what acupuncturists and the media have been telling us since it first came to America! Yep, it is. And it has had a powerfully bad impact on our reputation as a medical therapy. By perpetuating the belief that acupuncture is an energy medicine, an ethereal manipulation of the body (which it is not), we acupuncturists have been forced into the laughable sidelines by the medical community. It was only until recently, with the numerous clinical trials proving that acupuncture is curative, that doctors and insurance companies have begun to take us seriously.

So where did the belief that acupuncture was an energy medicine start? It started in the 1930s. Before the 1930s, European scholars and doctors did not focus on Asian Medicine. It was, after all, a medicine from the barbarians of the east! Or so, some believed. But in the 1930s, a very intelligent French philologist (philologist is an expert in ancient languages), George Soulie de Morant, started translating ancient Chinese Medical texts. The only problem he had was his lack of medical background and past experience with the Indian therapy, Ayurveda. Ayurvedic medicine is an energy medicine, based off of releasing “nadi” points of energy to promote optimal health. He deduced mistakenly that this Indian philosophy had an influence on Chinese Medicine and, therefore, it colored his translations of Chinese ancient texts. In essence, he translated “mai” which means ‘blood vessels’ to ‘meridians’ (or invisible energy channels in the system) and “qi” which means ‘oxygen’ and ‘optimal organ function’ to ‘energy’ that runs through these mysterious invisible meridians. In truth, the Chinese had long recognized that “qi” (oxygen) ran within “xue” (blood and blood nutrients). Ancient Chinese Medical Texts expounded on the fact that fresh oxygen and unimpeded blood circulation is the key to proper health. Any blockage of proper circulation to any part of the body or organ whether through bruising, trauma or tumors (such as cancer) will deteriorate health. Pretty smart thinking for people who lived 2300 years ago, huh? Proper nutrition, balanced exercise with rest, and acupuncture all promote free-flowing circulation which, in turns, nourishes all the systems (hormonal, nervous, muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular, digestion and gynecology and urology). Chinese Medicine is the medicine of Anti-Aging! It IS the medicine of prevention. Want to live gracefully into your golden years? Eat your vegetables and see your acupuncturist frequently!

Chinese Character: Qi

The top part of the character looks like wind blowing sideways or clouds floating by and signifies “air”. The bottom part of the character symbolized rice popping open in a rice cooker and signifies “food”. Thus, Qi is air + food or oxygen + nutrition taken into the body to produce healthy “xue” (blood and the components of blood which is oxygen and nutrients). Healthy, unimpeded blood equals optimal health.


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