Guest Column — Chinese Acupuncture: Qi

By Janice Dauw 

As a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner, I see many patients who are very intrigued by both the experience and the efficacy of acupuncture.  During an acupuncture treatment, very thin sterile needles are inserted into the body.  Depending on the situation, the practitioner will either manipulate or stir the needles until the sensation of “qi” is felt or just let the needles be and allow the “qi” to come to the needle.  This sensation can be very slight and just feel warm and spreading, or can feel strong and even slightly electrical on occasion.  Acupuncture needles actually act as a conduit and allow the practitioner to connect with the patients qi so that the qi can be moved where it is blocked or accumulated and strengthened where it is weak or deficient.  This concept of “qi” is one of the great mysteries of TCM and goes completely unrecognized in western medicine.

So today, lets explore the concept of “qi”. The exact definition of qi is very elusive.  The ancient Chinese texts will use words such as energy or vital energy, vital force, life force, moving power, or matter on the verge of becoming energy to define qi.  I often tell my patients that their qi is like their electrical system.  It is our qi that provides the energy for movement and change with in our bodies.  Qi can both disperse and condense and if the body is suffering from a deficiency, most often the qi will need to be condensed and strengthened and if the body is suffering from an excess (stagnation causing accumulation), the qi will need to be dispersed.

Qi takes on many different forms with a variety of functions. Six specific forms of qi combine to form the total qi which is then distributed to all the organs.  The first type is known as Original Qi.  Basically, original qi is what we come into the world with.  It is closely related to essence but takes on more of a material form and less of a liquid form.  It resides between the kidneys and is the basis of vitality and stamina in a body.  It is frequently referred to as pre-natal qi.

The second form of qi is labeled Gu or Food Qi.  This qi comes from exactly how it sounds, our food.  In TCM it is believed that once food enters the stomach, it is “rotted and ripened” into gu qi.  This form of qi is crude and must be further transformed before the body can use it.  According to TCM, skipping food for more than half a day depletes the qi.

From the stomach, Gu Qi rises to the chest to combine with the air we breath in.  Together the Gu Qi and the air form the third form of qi which we refer to as Gathering or Zong qi.  It is also seen in some texts as Essential Qi. Zong qi is more refined than Gu Qi and it is quite usable by the body. Zong qi resides in the chest and assists the heart and lungs in both respiration and blood circulation to the extremities.  A secondary function of Zong QI is to influence speech and control the strength of the voice.  Thus, the robustness of the voice is a good indicator of the strength of the Zong Qi.

Zong Qi and Original Qi combine to make the final transformation of qi which is referred to as True Qi.  This qi is the most refined qi and it is this qi that is distributed to the organs for circulation throughout the meridians. True Qi is further divided into the last two forms of qi, Ying Qi and Wei Qi.

Ying Qi is often identified as Nutritive Qi. Ying Qi is the qi that is distributed thru both the blood and the meridians and is responsible for nourishing and moistening all the organs.  When a person receives acupuncture, it is this Ying Qi that is felt.

The second type of qi that makes up the True Qi is tagged as Wei or Defensive Qi.  Wei Qi is coarser than the Ying Qi and it resides in the outer part of the body between the skin and the muscle layer.  The Wei Qi roughly corresponds to our immune system and serves to protect the body from external pathogenic influences.

All of these various forms of qi combine to form a whole in each body.  Together they assist in transforming, transporting, holding, raising, protecting, and warming the body.

If you want to stay healthy you must eat well, drink lots of water, and breath deeply so that all of your qi is adequately nourished.  If your qi is weak or stagnant you might not feel very well and then I urge you to pick up your phone and call your local acupuncturist.  We are masters at connecting with your qi and manipulating it so that you feel better.  Always remember that Traditional Chinese Medicine is a very safe system of medicine that is relatively low cost and most importantly, it works!!

Janice Dauw grew up in New York City and went on to receive her B.S. in Horticulture from Oregon State University. Later she attended the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine and received her masters degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in  1996.  She is licensed thru the Hawaii State Board of Medical Examiners and is nationally certified thru the NCCAOM.  While maintaining a very busy private practice for 11 years in the Corvallis, OR area, she also worked as the acupuncturist for Oregon State University Student Health services. In 2007 she and her husband moved to their land in HPP. 


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