The Mystery of Qi

The Mystery of Qi

Chapter 8, page 219 in: The Complete Idiot's Guide to I Ching
Elizabeth Moran, Master Joseph Yu

– What is qi?
– Qi around the world
– The Methodical Western Mind
– Understanding acupuncture
What do the Yijing, Chinese medical traditions (like acupuncture, acupressure, and herbs), Chinese martial arts (like Qigong and Taiji), and feng shui (the art and science of living in harmony with your environment) have in common? Okay, they’re all Chinese traditions that improve your well-being.  What else? Well, each is based on the purported existence of an underlying and united, nourishing and vital, physical and meta-physical force called qi. ‘Purported’ is the key word.  This is because the existence of qi has not been scientifically proven. Also, this is the primary reason the Western medical and scientific communities have largely ignored Eastern traditions. That is, until recently.
In this chapter, you’ll find out what qi is. You’ll learn it is not a concept unique to the Chinese, but a belief shared by cultures worldwide. Also, you’ll learn how the West is coming closer to identifying a unifying force that governs our bodies and environment. Could this be qi?  Will this fundamental tenet of Chinese medicine and philosophy be proven scientifically?  Will its existence compel the conventional medical stronghold to reevaluate a system of healthcare based on isolation and fragmentation? 
There’s much to ponder.  So, let’s get into qi!
What is Qi?
No word in the English language can accurately describe qi (pronounced chee).  In popular mythology, qi is synonymous with ‘energy,’ a natural or intellectual power that exerts activity.  For example, there’s solar energy. The sun’s rays give light, provide warmth, and help to foster growth. Natural energy resources like oil and gas provide fuel for industry and transportation and heat for our homes. Nutrition affords us physical energy. With sustenance we thrive and feel ‘energetic.’  Without it, we are ‘drained’ of our energy. And then, we have electromagnetic energy, one of the fundamental forces of nature, galvanizing and unifying the growth and development of all living forms. So, is qi a source of energy ‘discovered’ by the ancient Chinese? No, qi is not a mysterious energy.
Wise Words – Qi is the underlying and unifying, nourishing and vital, physical and meta-physical life force at the center of all things.
Energy, in all of its various forms, is but an aspect of qi we understand through sensory perception (the five senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch). Actually, qi underlies energy. Qi is an information field that gives energy its impetus to move and change. In fact, qi is the underlying, holistic, and vital force at the center of all things – hyperspace, the sun, a seashell, your pet, and you. If we describe qi as an ‘energy flow,’ we deny its meta-physical qualities (since these are not recognizable to sensory reality). Intuition, fate, dreams, and hunches. Surely, we agree these things are real, but can we prove their existence?
A good way qi can be best characterized is as ‘life breath’ or ‘cosmic breath.’ The following are some qualities the Chinese attribute to qi which will help to foster a better understanding of this enigmatic concept.
– Qi is the holistic and underlying vital force and substance of everyone and everything. 
– Qi is the non-measurable and imperceptible breath permeating, connecting, and uniting the cosmic, earthly, and physical realms. 
– Qi is physical.  It’s the life force acupuncturists seek to activate with their needles and the power martial artists channel to split bricks.
– Qi is meta-physical.  It is your luck, destiny, and fate.  It’s your intuition, the sixth sense you feel when you’re “onto something.”  The “vibe” you get about a particular person, place, or thing.
Qi is your spirit, your soul 
The concept of qi hasn’t always encompassed such a broad range of qualities. Like anything else, it has changed and evolved over time. Unlike Western science’s reliance on logic, reason, and direct experimentation to understand nature’s truths, the ancient Chinese used intuitive knowledge primarily. While Westerners find answers behind the forces of nature, Easterners look within nature’s patterns of change.
The Changing Concept of Qi
The Chinese concept of qi first originates during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BCE) of the Zhou dynasty. This period is associated with the venerated and influential philosopher Confucius (551-479 BCE). Confucius is alleged to have written a text containing the first notion of qi.  Called the Spring and Autumn Annals, this text chronicles the social and political activity of the Spring and Autumn era. If Confucius did pen this history, he certainly didn’t possess a flair for words. Commentaries were later written to give meaning to this otherwise cryptic and dry manuscript. 
Yi Edicts – One theory about the origin of the Annals is that they were lecture notes used by Confucius to teach his students the details behind the rise and fall of the feudal houses.  Because it was dangerous to record the truth about the many political intrigues, Confucius only wrote the bare facts.

Perhaps the most interesting of these commentaries is the Zuohuan, purportedly written by an historian named Zuo Qiuming in 540 BCE. This superlative narrative first describes qi as a ‘gas’ or ‘ether.’  Later, qi’s scope broadens into a meteorological category.  In this context, qi was thought to be composed of six types of weather phenomena (cold, warmth, wind, rain, darkness, and light) that could manifest in the human body as six diseases (of cold, heat, the extremities, the belly, delusion, and the mind). This idea correlates to the Chinese view of the cosmos:  that the human body is a small replica, or microcosm, of the universe, the macrocosm. 
By the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE), the concept of qi extends beyond the earthly (meteorological) and human (physiological) realms to include the influence of the cosmos.  This belief is first recorded in the 431 BCE text called the Zhouyu, assembled by the Grand Historian of the state of Zhou, Bo Yangfu.  It says: “The qi of heaven and earth do not lose their proper order.  If they go beyond their proper order, havoc will be wrought upon the people.”  For example, if the yang is submerged underground and cannot emerge as mountains (its proper order), there will be earthquakes.
Notable Quotable – “When qi descends to earth, grain grows; when it ascends into the heavens, constellations emerge; when it floats in the air, it becomes ghosts and spirits; when it enters a body, the man becomes a sage.” And “therefore, when there is qi, there is life; when there is no qi, there is death.” 
Guanzi, 5th century BCE
The Guanzi is another significant text. Reputedly written by Master Zhong (d. 645 BCE), the prime minister of Duke Huan of the state of Qi, the Guanzi is actually a hodgepodge of Legalist, Confucian, and Daoist thoughts assembled arou
nd 26 BCE. Nevertheless, this manuscript gives qi spiritual attributes. Called “essential qi,” it provides man with wisdom and intelligence to be strengthened by moral character and righteous living

By the end of the Eastern Han dynasty, three texts emerge that further define qi. First, there’s the great Daoist work called the Zhuangzi, scribed by a person named Zhuang Zhou (356-286 BCE). The Zhuangzi informs us that men should “keep their form perfect and replenish their spirit to be merged into one with heaven and earth.”  The second text is called The Lushi Chunqiu (the Chronicles of Mr. Lu, ascribed to Lu Buwei d. 235 BCE).  Like the Zhuangzi, it discusses “the preservation of good health.”  It offers this advice: “qi should be made to flow constantly within the body” and “with essential qi renewed daily, the vicious qi will go and a full life span will be reached; this is called truth.”  Finally, the Huainanzi (the Prince of Hauinan, attributed to Liu An, King of Huainan (d. 122 BCE) explains the origin of qi. It says that the universe was a shapeless void filled with original qi. The interaction of its positive (yang) and negative (yin) forces produced everything. 

And Qi Plays On
Of course, these aren’t the only texts that describe the nature of qi.  Many others exist which are equally important and interesting. For example, consider the Book of Burial or Zangzhu.  Attributed to Guo Pu (AD 276-324), this manual explains how to locate auspicious sites for burial of the dead. It’s all about locating the “dragon’s lair,” the common point of intersection where qi converges on the terrestrial plane.  In fact, the Book of Burial provides the underlying theories of form school feng shui, the first and oldest school of feng shui dating to the Song dynasty (AD 960-1279). 

Also, there’s the Neijing, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. Written by scholars in the 2nd or 3rd century BC, the Neijing summarizes the theoretical and practical knowledge of medical practitioners.
The Yijing’s Qi
By the time the commentaries to the Yijing had been written, the concept of qi had developed into a veritable science. Qi was not merely an ether or air that permeated all things, it was part of a natural process that developed across time. Zhuangzi put it this way: “Man’s life is the assembling of qi.  The assembling is deemed birth, the dispersal is deemed death.”  The Great Commentary of the Yijing is a bit more metaphysical in its discussion of this process: “When spirit and qi come together a person is born, but when the soul leaves, it transforms. This is how we know that ghosts and gods exist.”  It makes sense that the commentators would see the process of qi in a more spiritual light. They believed it was the soul of the departed who was manipulating the yarrow stalks and determining the answer to their questions.
Qi Around the World
The idea that there is a holistic and animating force of nature is not just an exclusive Chinese concept. In fact, cultures all over the world believe in an imperceptible and nourishing force that underlies life. Each culture has its own term.  For instance, the Indians call a vital force ‘prana’.  It is known as ‘ankh’ to the Egyptians; ‘ruah’ to the Hebrews; ‘tane’ to the Hawaiians; and ‘arunquiltha’ to the Australian Aborigine. 
The following is how ten celebrated historical figures of the Western world defined a vital force that influences our well-being:   
– Pythagoras (560-500 BCE), the Greek philosopher and mathematician, believed our spirit and the ‘air’ we breathe are connected to ‘the unlimited.’  The air is a vital and healing force called pneuma.  The words pneumatic, pneumonia, and the like, are derivatives of pneuma.
– Hippocrates (460-370 BCE), a Greek physician considered to be the ‘father of medicine,’ used the term anima to describe the essence of life. Today, doctors must take the Hippocratic Oath, a code of medical ethics, before they begin practice.  
Notable Quotable – Filling the spaces in the nerves is a fine material substance, the animal spirit.  These spirits are actually the most quickly moving particles of the blood that have traveled through the arteries the shortest, straightest path from the heart to the brain. Once conveyed in the brain … these most agile particles become a wind or very subtle flame. Rene Descartes (1596-1650), French philosopher and mathematician
– Robert Fludd (1574-1637), an alchemist and Rosicrucian, thought that the sun generated a life force found in all living things. He called this force the fluid. Fludd was an enthusiastic proponent of magnetic healing.  


– Isaac Newton (1642-1727), in his 1687 book, Principia, promoted the idea of a subtle spirit, an electrical vital force governing man and the environment.
– Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), an Italian physician and physicist accidentally ‘discovered’ a steady current of electricity (the only type known then was of the static variety, sparks caused by friction) while performing experiments on frog legs. Galvani proposed that a bioelectric vital force, called animal electricity, was hidden in the nerves of living organisms. Today, words like ‘galvanize’, ‘galvanic’, and the ‘galvanoscope’ pay tribute to his work.
– Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), an Austrian physician asserted the existence of a force that influenced the body’s healing ability.  He used “mesmerism,” now called hypnosis, as a connective agent. Mesmer called this vital force animal magnetism.  
– Dr. Hans Driesch (1867-1941), a German vitalist and embryologist, was convinced that life had a special innate process that could not be detected by physical laws. He called this entelechy, from the Greek word entelecheia, a non-material vital agent inherent in living substances.
PROFESSOR PROFESSES – Electromagnetism (responsible for light, heat, electricity, and magnetism) is one of the four fundamental physical forces of nature. The others include gravity, the weak nuclear force (responsible for a certain kind of radioactive decay within the atomic nuclei), and the strong nuclear force (responsible for holding the nuclei of atoms together).  In 1988, the physicists John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler wrote an influential book called The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. They postulate that the four physical forces are perfectly balanced, allowing for the emergence of life.  This is called the “anthropic principle.”  Barrow and Tipler imply that some kind of knowing presence has carefully “fine tuned” the laws of nature.  That there is an underlying intelligence acting behind the scenes. At the moment, physicists are trying to develop a “theory of everything,” a theory that will unite all four forces under one mathematical umbrella.  According to renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, when a unifying force is discovered, he will have seen “the mind of God.”  So far, the electromagnetic and weak forces have been united.  Physicists Steven Weinberg, Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow have accomplished this. In 1979, the team won a Nobel Prize for their work.  
– Dr. Harold Saxton Burr, (1889-1973), taught anatomy and neuroanatomy at Yale University School of Medicine from 1914-1964.  In 1935, with Dr. F.S.C. Northrup, they developed ‘The Electro-Dynamic Theory of Life.’ This theory postulates that electrical energy is “the unifying characteristic of the universe.”  That bioelectrical phenomenon underlies the growth and development of all living forms. He called the connective electric fields,  “L-fields” (Life-fields).  Also, Burr was convinced the state of one’s mind could affect the state of the body’s L-field.    
– Dr. Bjorn Nordenstrom (dob), gained recognition for treating tumors with electrical probes.  Nordenstrom postulates a “complex electrical system” within the body that regulates organ functions.  In 1979, he compiled 30 years of research into a book, Biologically Closed Electrical Circuits: Clinical, Experimental, and Theoretical Evidence for an Additional Circulatory System. 
– Dr. Robert O. Becker (dob), was a pioneer in the field of regeneration, the study of how the body restores or revitalizes itself after injury. Like Burr, Becker thought electricity is the key to understanding life processes.  He firmly believed electrical currents are linked with the body’s nervous system, the organ group that coordinates, receives, transmits, and stores information throughout the body.  In his thought-provoking book, The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life (1985), Becker explains the scientific reasoning behind acupuncture: “The acupuncture meridians were electrical conductors that carried an injury message to the brain, which responded by sending back the appropriate level of direct current to stimulate healing in the troubled area.”
Yi Edicts – Kirlian photography is a sophisticated photographic technique that captures electromagnetic fields on film.  It offers visible evidence of a life field that extends beyond a living organism. Many people call these images auras. Two Russian scientists, the husband-and-wife team, Semyon and Valentina Kirlian, developed Kirlian photography.
After reviewing the preceding historical intimations of qi, the notion of a pervasive, unified and healing force becomes less mystical and incomprehensible and more accepted, understood, and quantifiable. Through various precise measurements and scientific experiments, many Western medical pioneers have come to believe that electromagnetic energy is the holistic and curative dynamic behind biological processes. Today, this concept remains popular in research labs and even more practicable medical fields. Although space restricts a full accounting of other modern theories pertinent to qi, understand that the physical and quantifiable presence of electromagnetism (and anything else) only describes an aspect of qi. Remember, the notion of qi has other qualities incapable of being measured through sensory perception. But the door has been opened.  The acknowledgement and inclusion of holistic healing does represent forward movement in science and medicine.
The Newly-Expanded Western Mind
The biggest problem we Westerners have in viewing the world is our mindset.  It limits us.  Let’s face it, we’re a rational lot. We say, “This is not logical.”  “What’s the reason behind this?”  “Prove it!”  This rational insistence dates to the ancient Greeks. We can thank Pythagoras (560-500 BCE) and Aristotle (384-322 BCE) for developing the scientific methods of deductive and inductive reasoning.  Isaac Newton came along some 1000 years later and reinforced this methodical standard. He established laws about how the universe functioned.  Laws that did not extend beyond sensory perception. Laws that limited.  Newton’s universe was black and white, cause and effect. The universe was seen as predictable, linear, and coherent.  Logic could provide an answer to everything. It made sense.
Wise Words – The method of reaching a conclusion by deducing general laws through observation is deductive reasoning. The method of reaching a conclusion by developing specific cases based on general laws is inductive reasoning.
A New View For a New Millennium
The 20th century proclaimed a new scientific paradigm. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity proved matter to be an illusion, just a masked form of energy. The subatomic world of quantum physics determined the system of isolation, separate and distinct attention to the component parts, to be an invalid method of gaining knowledge of the whole. Our mindset was becoming less rigid.  Our view of reality more open to alternative possibilities. 
In fact, new ‘soft sciences’ em
erged like psychiatry and chaos theory, challenging our sensory understanding. These new sciences emphasize holism and connectivity.  For instance, noted psychologist Carl Jung was instrumental in developing archetypal patterns in collective dreams.  He understood the inner psyche to be a “collective living mirror of the universe.”  As you have learned, this notion is reminiscent of the Chinese microcosmic-macrocosmic concept.  In Chapter 2, you read about theoretical physicist David Bohm. He ‘softened’ physics by integrating psychology, philosophy, religion, and biology into a new holistic worldview.
Indisputably, the West is slowly coming to grips with the fact that not everything can be measured. After 2,500 years of linear logic, we are expanding our mindset to include non-linear and holistic interpretations. We are allowing ourselves to think the unthinkable. We’re broadening our horizons. Seeing the forest and the trees.
East Meets West
An increasing number of Westerners are embracing Eastern traditions.  Eastern cuisine and the martial arts (among other things) have joined the mainstream. Many of us are seeking feng shui advisors to help up promote better health, wealth, and relationships. We’re investigating Eastern philosophies and religions like Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. We’re consulting the Yijing. And, we’re trying acupuncture and acupressure, turning to natural herbs instead of using synthetic drugs.
Also, many conventional medical centers have opened alternative healthcare facilities.  In 19XX, the Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles introduced the Integrative Medicine Medical Group. In 19XX, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) established the East/West Center for Medicine. Both facilities include alternative mind-body therapies like acupuncture, message, taiji, and supplemental herbal medication. 
Yi Edicts – According to a 1997 survey conducted in the United States by the Harvard Medical School, 42% of respondents reported using alternative therapy in the past year. Based on these figures, it is estimated that 83 million Americans use unconventional medicine. Moreover, the World Health Organization estimates that 4 billion people, or 80% of the world’s population, use herbal medicine. Despite this, herbs are not endorsed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Now, let’s step back a bit for an assessment. Clearly, many people are ready and willing to accept alternative medicine, ideas, and concepts. There has been some positive response in the medical establishment (if limited). New Age and alternative therapies have become a lucrative industry. Why do we suppose this is happening? Let’s consider a few possibilities.
The slow pace of testing and glacial speed with which new medication is made available not only frustrates but is of serious concern to suffering patients. Disturbing side-effects and the often harsh quality of life extracted by standard treatments force many people to look elsewhere for help. The lack of cures for cancer and AIDS, etc. leads many desperate sufferers to seek out other avenues of hope. Also, the continued interest in health in general, in physical fitness, and mental well-being has people welcoming natural remedies, organic food, and a calmer, more beneficial state of being. All this makes it hardly surprising that so many are reaching out for, or more to the point, looking back at ancient healing techniques. Of these, perhaps one of the more widespread and successful has been acupuncture (since even some insurance companies include this treatment in their coverage plans!)
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine dating to about 200 BCE. It involves stimulating specific points in the body to correct imbalances of qi that lead to disease. Although puncturing the skin with several well-placed needles is the usual method of application, acupuncturists also use heat (this treatment is called moxibustion), pressure (acupressure), or low levels of electromagnetic energy to stimulate acupuncture points.
Wise Words – Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine whereby specific points are stimulated to correct imbalances of qi leading to disease. The methods of application include needles, pressure, heat, and electromagnetic energy. 
Acupuncture has become a well-known and widely available treatment. In the United States, there are over 35 accredited schools.  In fact, the tradition is one of the most thoroughly researched alternative therapies.  In 1998, a NIH (National Institutes of Health) panel concluded that acupuncture is an effective technique for relieving nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy and surgical anesthesia.  Although statistical evidence is not conclusive, acupuncture seems to be an effective agent for relieving pain. This is because the needles stimulate the production of pain-inhibiting substances in the brain called endorphins and enkephalins. 


Eastern Body Science
As you have learned, qi is the substance of and the underlying force within everything and everyone. Following this idea, your body is not only composed of qi, but qi’s vital force continually circulates through the body. Acupuncturists believe there are three sources of qi in the body:
1.  Original qi.  This qi is inherited from your parents and cannot be changed.
2.  Nutritional qi.  The vital force extracted from the food you eat. 
3.   Air qi.  The quality of the air you breathe helps invigorate your being.
Yet, these aren’t the only factors affecting your health. In Chinese medicine, there are a host of pathogenic factors that lead to imbalances of your body’s vital force. These causative agents include:
– Weather conditions
– Your mood, temperament, and behavior
– Eating and drinking habits
– Exercise 
– Your work 
The three sources of qi and the pathogens influence your state of health. Imbalances occur when your body’s vital qi struggles with excessive pathogenic influences. 
The Channels of Qi
There are twelve major qi highways that surface at some 360 points on the body.  Called meridians, these conduits for qi are not associated with the body’s nerve routes or any other anatomical unit known to Western medicine.  Moreover, the twelve meridians are connected to twelve organs. Each of these organs corresponds to an emotion, a part of the body, one of the five phases of qi (fire, earth, metal, water, wood), and many other things not significant for our purposes. Table 8-1 provides an admittedly simplified scheme for the organs and their relationships.
Wise Words – The body has twelve major meridians acting as channels for qi. These meridians do not correspond to nerve routes or any known anatomical units known to the west. The meridians flow through and connect twelve vital organs.
TABLE 8-1: The Body’s Connective Relationships
PHASE:    Wood      Fire      Earth     Metal     Water
SEASON:   Spring    Summer    Late-Summer      Autumn    Winter
ORGAN:    Liver/    Heart/    Spleen/   Lungs/    Kidney/
                Gallbladder   Small     Stomach   Large     Urinary
                   Intestine          Intestine Bladder
EMOTION:  Anger     Joy       Worry     Sadness   Fear
SEEN IN:  Eyes/     Tongue/   Mouth/    Nose/  Ears/ 

                 Nails     Facial    Lips      Skin      Hair complextiom
For example, let’s examine an abundance of sadness. This emotion is associated with autumn.  Similar to trees losing their leaves, sadness implies loss and depression.  Sadness is associated with our lungs, too. This is understandable because we draw on our lungs to sigh and cry. The lung channel (which begins near the navel and travels upward through the lungs to the collarbone area and down each arm) regulates our body’s intake of air as well as managing the entire vital system. Therefore, great sadness can weaken the body’s overall strength, producing an imbalance of qi in the lung and large intestine channels. The disharmony is made manifest through coughing, asthma, allergies, skin problems, and fatigue.
Where Western medicine only treats the condition, Eastern medicine considers the relationships between the mind and body. Eastern medicine gets to the “root” of the problem. We cannot explore how acupuncturists diagnose and treat imbalances because this would encompass an entire book in itself!
A Good Thought A Day Keeps the Doctor Away
There are many things you can do to prevent illness and maintain good health. Besides frequent exercise and proper diet, sustaining a balanced emotional life is paramount to creating a “positive vitality.”  You can help harmonize your mind and body by practicing meditation, yoga, and taiji.  With harmony, you are better able to tap into truth.  You will become enlightened. Guidance from the Yijing will become more meaningful because you will understand who you are.    
Making Sense of Qi
The central premise around which the philosophy of the Yijing is based is qi.  It is this underlying vital force that gives meaning to the unfolding events of change. After all, isn’t the Yijing known as the Book of Changes?  To fully understand the Chinese concept of qi, you must set aside your rational mind. Check your ego and must know attitude at the door.  Refrain from comparing qi to anything you know. Think the unthinkable. 
Although we have concentrated on qi and its relationship to the body, you can also learn to harness positive qi in your home to increase the likelihood of better health, wealth, and relationships. This art and science is called feng shui. Feng shui studies the environment, time, places, and you, and how the qi of each interacts.  
– Qi is the underlying and unifying, nourishing and vital, physical and meta-physical life breath at the heart and development of all things.
– Qi is not unique to the Chinese. It is known by cultures worldwide.
– Many Western physicians believe electromagnetic energy is the holistic and vital force governing the body and environment. This is actually misleading because qi underlies energy. Electromagnetism only describes an aspect of qi.
– Acupuncture corrects imbalances of qi within your body. Acupuncture considers how your emotions affect your health.

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