by Brian B. Carter, MS, LAc
Reprinted from www.pulsemed.org
This alternative medicine journal article reviews: Is Qi energy? Those who are fatigued, or always tired, will be particularly interested in Chinese Medicine's views on qi.
This is one of the most common questions Americans ask about Chinese Medicine, and not an easy one to answer. Qi (pronounced "chee" and sometimes spelled 'chi') is possibly the most essential and the most controversial aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Biomedicine often feels it can quite easily dismiss parts or all of TCM by maintaining that modern science cannot verify the existence of qi. The false idea that qi is an 'energy' like electricity has worsened this controversy.
Is Qi Energy?
Some TCM practitioners say qi is 'energy.' This is not too bad of an explanation. But don't go away thinking we believe there are electrical circuits running through your body! Some scholars (D.E. Kendall, and Paul Unschuld) maintain that the idea of qi as 'energy' was a mistranslation from the Chinese.
Then What is It?
In terms of basic TCM ontology ("what exists"), Qi is one of the four basic constituents of the body:
|< --- Substance||Function --- >|
|< --- Cold|| || ||Hot --- >|
Consider this convenient car-engine analogy: Yin is water from the radiator to cool the engine, blood is oil, qi is the force that moves the pistons, and the engine can be said to be in a yang state when operating. Perhaps the explosion itself is yang, while the force of the explosion is qi. We can also say that the gas contains a qi that has yet to be utilized.
(In the actual chinese character for the word, qi is the steam rising from a cooking pot of rice. I hope that explanation made sense to ancient Chinese, because it doesn't make much to me! To be fair to the ancient chinese, we can think of the steam coming from the rice as being less substantial, more yang than the rice itself, but still...)
What Happens Without Qi?
Another way to understand things is by their absence (darkness is defined as the absence of light). Without sufficient qi,
How Do I Get More Qi?
- your digestive system cannot break down food or transport nutrients to the rest of your body
- you become easily fatigued and are always tired
- you lose your appetite
- your limbs are heavy
- you might wake up frequently at night because you need to urinate
- academic/organizing thought is difficult or impossible
- everything is overwhelming (you cannot 'digest' what is going on)
- you tend to worry (the emotional component - TCM is a holistic medicine that does not separate body and mind)
- The proper diet goes a long way. TCM dietary principles are too complex to cover here (I must say though that it is surprising to many patients, perhaps because vegetarianism is thought to be synonymous with alternative medicine, that TCM advocates eating meat and mostly cooked foods).
- Herbs that increase the qi include ginseng, and codonopsis.
- Avoid activities that drain the qi - Be sensible about your energy expenditure by living a balanced life; don't be too sedentary or too active. If you are a couch potato, your qi can't flow without exercise. If you are a type-A personality, relax and don't use yourself up too early in life - you may live to regret it!
"I've struggled with my weight since I was a child. For the last seven years and, for the first time in my life, I have been successful in losing and keeping off over 60 pounds. I hit plateaus every now and again, but the slow and steady progression of weight loss has been the best solution for me. It's been a long process that involved a lot of changes in my eating habits, but I eventually found something that worked for me: acupuncture, Chinese herbs and Chinese nutritional therapy at Aiyana Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs.
Earlier in this year, I decided to take another big step, and in June 2006 I quit smoking. I was nervous about the risk of weight gain and other withdrawal symptoms, but knew it was time, so I stopped cold turkey. It was not easy and I felt horrible. I was not a heavy smoker (I averaged 2 cigarettes a day) so was very surprised at how significant the physical effects were. I was tired, cranky, constipated and suffering from congestion, sometimes severe, that would worsen after almost every meal. To make matters worse, in August I had what I believed to be an allergic reaction to something I was ate. In addition to the congestion, my feet swelled so much I was unable to get them into my shoes. Making matters worse, I couldn't connect a specific food to the attacks, and the battery of allergy tests performed by my doctor all came back negative.
I was successfully treated for an inner ear problem with acupuncture years earlier so, having exhausted my options with traditional treatments and not wanting to resort to continued steroid use, I decided to try it again. I found the Aiyana Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs on the internet and hit if off with its founder, Juliette Aiyana, L.Ac. on the phone when we first spoke. My first visit was on August 31, 2006. It included a very comprehensive exam and began treatment to rid my body of the remaining toxins from years of smoking and the water retention causing the congestion and swelling.
In addition to an acupuncture session and prescribing herbs, Juliette instructed me to write down everything I ate, which I did diligently for over three weeks. Juliette evaluated my dietary habits and suggested a few minor changes that were compounding my water retention problem. Since making those changes, I've lost weight, noticed a marked increase in my energy level and no longer suffer from congestion.
Before seeking treatment at Aiyana Acupuncture, I was unaware of Chinese medicine's approach to nutrition. Juliette educated me about the different energetic properties of food and the effects it can have on metabolism. I can honestly say that I've never felt better and now find it easier to manage my diet, giving me renewed confidence in my ability to keep off the weight I've lost."
- Fran M. Female, Age 39