This article is a brief discussion of Qì in the human body and in Qìgōng training. 

Before we start, we would like to point out one important thing. At this time, there is no clear explanation of the relationship between all of the circulatory systems and the Qì circulatory system. The Western world knows of the blood system, nervous system, and lymphatic system. Now, there is the Qì circulation system from China. How are, for example, the Qì and the nervous system related? If the nervous system does not match the Qì system, where does the sensing energy in the nervous system come from? How is the lymphatic system related to the Qì system? All of these questions are still waiting for study by modern scientific methods and technology. Here, we can only offer you some theoretical assumptions based on the research conducted up to now.

Chinese medical society believes that the Qì and blood are closely related. Where Qì goes, blood follows. That is why “Qìxuě” (Qì Blood, 氣血) is commonly used in Chinese medical texts. It is believed that Qì provides the energy for the blood cells to keep them alive. As a matter of fact, it is believed that blood is able to store Qì, and that it helps to transport air Qì especially to every cell of the body. 

If you look carefully, you can see that the elements of your physical body such as the organs, nerves, blood, and even every tiny cell are all like separate machines, each with their own unique function. Just like electric motors, if there is no current in them, they are dead. If you compare the routes of the blood circulatory system, the nervous system, and the lymphatic system with the course of the Qì channels, you will see that there is a great deal of correspondence. This is simply because Qì is the energy needed to keep them all alive and functioning.

Two Parts to the Body

Now, let us look at your entire body. Your body is composed of two major parts. The first part is your physical body, and the second is the energy supply which your body needs to function. Your body is like a factory. Inside your body are many organs, which correspond to the machines required to process the raw materials into the finished product. Some of the raw materials brought into a factory are used to create the energy with which other raw materials will be converted into finished goods. The raw materials for your body are food and air, and the finished product is life.

The Qì in your body is analogous to the electric current which the factory power plant obtains from coal or oil. The factory has many wires connecting the power plant to the machines, and other wires connecting telephones, intercoms, and computers. There are also many conveyer belts, elevators, wagons, and trucks to move material from one place to another. It is no different in your body, where there are systems of intestines, blood vessels, complex networks of nerves and Qì channels to facilitate the supply of blood, sensory information and energy to the entire body. However, unlike the digestive, circulatory, and central nervous systems — all of whose supportive vessels can be observed as material structures in the body — Qì channels are non-material and cannot be observed as physical objects. The circulatory, nervous, and Qì systems all possess similar configurations within the body and are distributed rather equally throughout the body.

In a factory, different machines require different levels of current. It is the same for your organs, which require different levels of Qì. If a machine is supplied with an improper level of power, it will not function normally and may even be damaged. In the same way, your organs, when the Qì level running to them is either too positive or too negative, will be damaged and will degenerate more rapidly. The ancient Chinese character for Qì (炁) was formed of two words. On the top is the word “nothing” (旡) and at the bottom is the word “fire” (炁). This implies that Qì is “no fire.” That means that when the organs are supplied with the proper amount of Qì, they will not be overheated and “on fire.”

In order for a factory to function smoothly and productively, it will not only need high quality machines, but also a reliable power supply. The same goes for your body. The quality of your organs is largely dependent upon what you inherited from your parents. To maintain your organs in a healthy state and to ensure that they function well for a long time, you must have an appropriate Qì supply. If you don’t have it, you will become sick.

Qì is affected by the quality of air you inhale, the kind of food you eat, your lifestyle, and even your emotional make-up and personality. The food and air are like the fuel or power supply, and their quality affects you. Your lifestyle is like the way you run the machine, and your personality is like the management of the factory.

The above discussion clarifies the role that Qì plays in your body. However, it should be noted that the above metaphor is an oversimplification, and that the behavior and function of Qì is much more complex and difficult to handle than the power supply in a factory. You are neither a factory nor a robot, you are a human being with feelings and emotions.

Unfortunately, your feelings have a major influence on your Qì circulation. For example, when you pinch yourself, the Qì in that area will be disturbed. This Qì disturbance will be sensed through the nervous system and interpreted by your brain as pain. No machine can do this. Moreover, after you have felt the pain, unlike a machine, you will react either as a result of instinct or conscious thought. Human feelings and thought affect Qì circulation in the body, whereas a machine cannot influence its power supply. In order to understand your Qì, you must use your feelings, rather than just the intellect, to sense its flow and make judgments about it.

The Governing Vessel (Dūmài, 督 脈)

Now a few words as to the source of human Qì. As mentioned, Chinese doctors and Qìgōng practitioners believe that the body contains two general types of Qì. The first type is called Pre-birth Qì or Original Qì (Yuánqì, 元氣). Original Qì is also called “Xiāntiānqì” (先天氣) which, translated literally, means “Pre-heavenly Qì.” Heaven here means the sky, so preheaven means before the baby sees the sky. In other words, before birth. Original Qì comes from converted Original Jīng which you received before your birth. This is why Original Qì is also called Pre-birth Qì.

 The second type is called Post-birth Qì or “Hòutiānqì” (後天氣), which means “Post- heaven Qì.” This Qì is drawn from the Jīng (i.e. essence) of the food and air we take in. The residence of the Post-birth Qì is the Middle Dāntián (Zhōng Dāntián, 中丹田)(solar plexus). This Qì then circulates down and mixes with the Pre-birth or Dāntiánqì (丹田氣) (Original Qì). Together, they circulate down, passing into the Governing Vessel (Dūmài, 督 脈), from where they are distributed to the entire body.

Pre-birth Qì is commonly called “Water Qì” (Shuǐqì, 水氣) because it is able to cool down the Post-birth Qì, which is called “Fire Qì” (Huǒqì, 火氣). Fire Qì usually brings the body to a positive (Yáng) state, which stimulates the emotions and scatters and confuses the mind. When the Water Qì cools your body down, the mind will become clear, neutral and centered. It is believed in Qìgōng society that Fire Qì supports the emotional part of the body, while Water Qì supports the wisdom part.

The above is an excerpt from The Root of Chinese Qigong: Secrets for Health, Longevity & Enlightenment, 3rd Edition by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, Publication date September 2022, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594399107