The Healing Power of Qi: Working With Vital EnergyDarren Austin Hall, Dip.Ac., BA (Hons) March 1, 2010
“Qi is the vital energy that powers all life on the most fundamental level.”
One of the most distinguishing features of the Eastern healing arts is the concept of the vital energy, known as Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Understanding the concept of Qi provides a dynamic principle that can enhance not only one’s life physically through exercises that work and tonify this energy (such as Qi Gong), but it also enriches one’s life by providing a framework for holistic thinking and living that can be felt here and now!
For those of us in the west, Qi is a concept shrouded in mystery and intrigue. We have been conditioned by a scientific-rational worldview that follows the logic ‘seeing is believing,’ the hallmark of empiricism (the science of what is observable by the senses). However, modern civilization survives largely at the whim of things we cannot see, such as electricity, magnetism, television and radio waves, and the electromagnetic fields that power our cellular phones. On a daily basis, our lives are increasingly supported by energies that we cannot observe with our eyes, and yet our modern inventions are a testament to their existence. Qi is no different: It is not observable with our senses and yet it is the vital energy on which all of our life depends and may be organized.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qi is the vital energy that powers all life on the most fundamental level. Einstein was one of the first Western scientific pioneers to address this energy foundation in his theory of relativity, which posits that all matter is in fact energy. TCM works with the qi to support and heal the body on the deepest level, often producing miraculous results that confound scientists. Especially in its ability to address chronic illnesses that Western medicine has been perplexed by, TCM is no longer just an alternative health care choice, but is becoming the health care choice. And the concept of qi is at the heart of why people are deciding to use TCM for their ailments.
Qi is said to flow through the body in a series of channels or meridians (much as blood flows through the arterial and venal system), nourishing all the regions of the body with electromagnetic energy that is at the essence of what drives the body. By using needles in acupuncture, the flow of qi can be precisely manipulated. Qi is stimulated in areas where it has grown stagnant (causing most of the dull aches we associate with stress and tension), and brought to regions and vital organs that need more qi to strengthen them. It even works on an emotional level to calm, support joy, and even nurture openness and receptivity. By affecting the qi, TCM works as a healing modality for every ailment suffered by human beings, from mental illness to fertility issues.
Even more revelatory is what the concept of qi means for our understanding of life in general during this time of environmental disharmony, when we desperately need an alternative worldview to help us cope and realign ourselves in a healthy way with the natural world. Qi transcends mere medical terminology by providing a conceptualization of a truly holistic world. Qi is the fibre that connects all things to each other: it’s the same energy in human beings, in trees, in animals, and in all things inorganic and organic. By understanding qi on this level, we begin to understand that we are not separate from the world around us, but bound to it on a deeply energetic level. The meaning of qi on this level stimulates the imagination to explore whole new understandings of things and provides a salve for much of the alienation we are prone to in a modern material world that has severed itself from nature.
Qi can be felt. Though it is not observable by the eyes, practitioners of Tai Chi and Qi Gong (which means working with the qi) are able to feel the warm flow of this energy pulsing through their fingertips and through their bodies. To feel qi is certainly a revelation and provides us with the most tangible evidence that much more is at work in our bodies than we have formerly understood.
In fact, before the rise of science, qi was common knowledge in most Western civilizations, notably understood by the ancient Greeks as the concept of pneuma, their term for the vital force.
Currently in the U.S., Chinese Medicine is a veritable medicine not only as an alternative to Western Medicine, but as a strong competitor becoming commonly instituted in hospitals. There is a teetering of the balances, and Western medicine is not the one with momentum in its favour. In the U.S., where health care is not public, there is a vehement call for preventive medicine to be established so that trips to the doctor and hospital can be reduced, and so that individuals can be empowered to make their health primarily their responsibility.
In this regard, Chinese Medicine is an absolute gold mine. Not only is it a tradition steeped in preventive medicine, but it also offers a wealth of meditation techniques, martial arts, nutritional guidance and even philosophical wisdom to empower individuals to take their healing in their own hands and cultivate lives of vitality and ever-evolving consciousness. Five thousand years of working with healing of the human being and burrowing into the workings of nature itself has led to a massive accumulation of wisdom that can help with everything from menstrual problems to psychological breakdowns to engendering youthful visage to cancer.
Chinese Medicine in itself is a complete and ever-growing tradition of medicine, more ancient than our modern Western version, and with knowledge to serve the full magnitude of ailments.
By understanding qi, we truly come full circle with the understandings of the ancients and also gain new and exciting meaning for our world here and now. In the end, qi is a mystery of energy and it is available for anyone to experience. Just watch how your life becomes enriched the more you work with and understand what qi is.