WHAT IS QI?
Qì 气(氣) is the energy that animates our bodies and all of life. Qi is a difficult concept for Westerners to grasp and has been further confused by changes in language. You may see Qi spelled “chi” which is from an older romanization of Chinese characters created by Western missionaries called Wade-Giles. In the 1950’s Zhou Youguang created the official romanization of Chinese used today. In Japanese it is pronounced “ki”.
The concept of Qi may be foreign to modern life, but is similar to the understanding of energy in many cultures. For example, we find the concept of prana in Hinduism, mana in native Hawaiian culture, axé in Candomblé, and lüng in Tibetan Buddhism.
The Chinese character is made of two radicals:
- 米 (mǐ) = rice
- 气 (qi) = air/steam
The visual of steam emanating from cooked rise gives us a clear picture of Qi; it is insubstantial, it transforms, it is hot, and like rice in ancient China, it is vital to life. Qi is present everywhere in our bodies and the world around us. In our bodies, there are concentrated pathways of Qi (rivers of energy) known as meridians. It is easier to access and affect the way Qi flows in the body by stimulating these meridians. This is the basis for acupuncture, qigong/taichi, and Chinese masssage.
In the body Qi performs 6 major functions:
- Transforms Substances. For example, Qi transforms food and air into usable fuel in the body, unusable substances into urine, and Qi into Blood. Weak Qi means weak digestion and an inability to draw nurturing from the environment. It causes Blood deficiency and other weaknesses.
- Transports Substances. For example, Qi transports vital nutrients extracted from food and blood from the heart to the uterus for menstruation. When Qi is weak it can cause stagnation and blockage because there is not enough Qi to move substances.
- Protects the Body. Qi circulates on the surface of the skin, protecting the body from external invasion of pathogens. Weak Qi means weak immunity.
- Holds in Substance. Qi holds in body fluids like keeping blood in the blood vessels, urine in the bladder, and sweat from seeping out indiscriminately. Weak Qi can allow substances to come out excessively or at inappropriate times such as spotting or early menses, urinary incontinence, spider veins, and spontaneous sweating.
- Raises the Organs and Tissue. Qi keeps the skin and organs raised up in their proper place. Weak Qi can cause conditions such as uterine prolapse or sagging skin.
- Warms the Body. Qi is a function of Yang, and provides the heat necessary for the bodies functions. Weak Qi can manifest as coldness.
WHAT WEAKENS QI?
- Too much physical work or working out. Long stretches of cardio particularly weaken Qi. If you feel exhausted rather than exhilarated after a workout you have depleted your Qi.
- Overthinking, worrying, ruminating, researching, and studying exhaust Qi.
- Poor or inappropriate diet. The decreasing quality of our food supply (GMOs, pollution, etc.) has a negative effect of everyone’s Qi, but certain people will be more susceptible.
DIET TO STRENGTHEN QI
To strengthen Qi eat simple, uncomplicated meals and favor long cooking times. Congee, porridge, stew, broth, and soup all break down food and make it easier to digest, requiring less effort by the body to extract nutrients. This is why traditional cultures recommend soup for people when they are sick. Limit raw foods as they require more Qi to break down. Eat smaller meals and eat at regular times. Do not allow yourself to go hungry. Avoid drinks other than tea with meals. MacClean and Littleton recommend a diet of 40-60% carbohydrates, 30-40% vegetables, and 10-20% protein.
Specific foods to strengthen Qi: rice, oats, yams, sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squash, pumpkin, peas, green beans, cooked fruit, eggs, most meat and fish (chicken, beef, lamb, tuna). Use cooking spices such as onions, ginger, garlic, clove, etc. Incorporate small amounts of complex natural sweeteners such as honey (though most Americans already eat too many sweet foods).
Avoid or limit: raw fruits and vegetables, soy products, seaweed, salt, brown rice, excessive sweets, dairy, nuts.
LIFESTYLE TO STRENGTHEN QI
- Eat regular meals.
- Go to bed by 10pm.
- Be more active and eat bigger meals in the morning and early afternoon. Practice relaxation and rest in late afternoon and evening. Don’t eat past 7pm.
- Balance activity with rest. Sleep an extra hour after a tough workout or a hard day.
- Practice qigong or taichi.
- Spend time in nature.
TIMES WHEN QI IS WEAKENED
- Before the age of 6 and after menopause/andropause.
- During illness.
- Periods of stress and extreme mental or physical exertion.
- Women after childbirth and during menses.
- Men after orgasm.