Qi: The Supreme Energy

Tall BambooQi (pronounced “chee” and also spelled chi or ki) is one of the two root concepts that—along with the duality of yin and yang—form the basis for Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM.

Qi is energy in all its forms, and qi as a universal energy makes up everything that exists—from solid, material things like the earth and metals and the table at which you sit to the most immaterial things such as nerve impulses and beams of light.

Yin and yang qualities of this energy are part of the universality of qi. Yin and yang represent opposite qualities of energies, but these opposite qualities are interdependent and interconnected. When yin and yang are balanced, health and wellbeing are the results. Therefore, when qi is balanced and complete in any environment, there is harmony, health, and proper function.

The concepts of qi and yin and yang are intertwined. In order to create harmony between yin and yang, an adequate amount of qi must be available. A TCM practitioner will look at the dynamics of qi and the interplay of yin and yang to determine how qi is moving into, circulating, and affecting the body as a whole before determining how to resolve the root cause of the symptoms you experience.

The Four Types of Qi

Each of the four types of qi is classified according to its uses.

  1. Inborn qi is the original qi. You’re born with this type of qi that you inherit from your parents, and this qi powers all the activities in your life. Inborn qi originates from the vital gate, the space between the kidneys that is the house of essence, spirit, and vitality.
  2. Pectoral qi is stored in the chest and supports the lungs, respiration, heartbeat regulation, and circulation of blood and other types of qi.
  3. Nutritive qi circulates in the blood and brings nourishment to all parts of the body, supporting the physiological functions of the organs.
  4. Protective qi functions like the immune system, protecting the body and mind from evils (harmful environmental factors). Protective qi works both internally and externally to regulate actions in the diaphragm and abdominal cavity as well as the sweat glands, pores, muscles, skin, hair, and nails.

Qi has four movements: up, down, outward, and inward, and each of these movements must be balanced in the body with their yin and yang qualities as a whole and within the tissues, organs, and meridians individually. The ability of qi to flow in all of these directions provides health and life. If qi is blocked in any of these movements for long enough, illness can occur.

Manipulating and Controlling Qi for Health

The closest equivalent to the concept of qi in Western thought is inspiration, or the creative force, but this is a weak similarity at best. While this creative force enlivens and enlightens us in both body and spirit, giving us a sense of purpose and duty, we think of inspiration or creativity as somewhat ephemeral, meaning that it comes and it goes in a manner that is beyond our personal control.

In Eastern thought, however, qi is controllable. TCM practitioners are trained and taught to control the flow of qi in and out of the body and to help their patients also learn to awaken it, stimulate it, and increase and utilize each of the four types of qi at will.

Eating healthful foods, breathing clean air, and getting adequate sleep and mental rest are all essential for balancing and sustaining qi. Quality supplements based on TCM principles can also help to support proper bodily functions.


Qi is the universal energy that exists in all things, both material and immaterial. The opposing energies of qi are represented by yin and yang. When qi is balanced, the body and mind are healthy and strong. When imbalances occur, disease can result. TCM practitioners diagnose issues with qi flow, correct the flow and strengthen qi, and teach their patients to awaken, stimulate, increase, and utilize each of the four types of qi.

You can strengthen your qi by eating a healthy diet, breathing plenty of fresh air, taking quality supplements as needed, and allowing your body and mind to get adequate rest.

Qi Clock Infographic

Qi Clock


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