Exploring Qigong – The Chi (Qi) Story

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What does chi mean in the context of qigong? This article answers that question by exploring the main aspects of Chinese chi, including its definition, the chi symbol, the difference between Heaven and Earth chi, and much more. But greater understanding of chi, and the other underlying concepts of qigong will come from reading all the articles in this Exploring Qigong  series.


Introducing The  Series

Symbols for qigong, chi, gong and yin yang Qigong (pronounced chee goong) is one of China’s oldest and most deeply respected healing arts. It’s over 4,000 years old, and is steeped in tradition, and ancient beliefs about chi (qi); yin and yang; energy meridians, and dantians.

What does qi gong mean? The most commonly accepted meaning is cultivation (gong) of vital life force (qi), which can be loosely translated as energy work.

If you remove the ‘qi’ from the word, qigong, you’re left with ‘gong’, or work. The same thing applies to your qigong practice.

If you  remove the focus on your qi (chi), from qigong, it becomes just WORK or exercise!

So too, if you take away the underlying concepts of Qigong, this awesome self healing method becomes just another low-impact exercise routine that, dare I say, looks and feels a bit silly at first.
Which is why it’s good to do some exploring.

Adding Depth To Your Qigong Practice

If you’re willing to learn a little about the long-held beliefs and founding concepts of qigong; and consciously apply them to your practice, then you’ll come to understand the true power of the simple movements and postures.

It’s not VITAL that you do so, but having a basic knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine, (TCM) energy concepts, will add depth to your qigong practice. You don’t need to know it all, unless you’re planning to become a professional acupuncturist, or a Chinese Medicine practitioner but there are a few ideas that it helps to understand.

The Chi Story- Understanding Chi (Qi)


Qigong is ALL about the Qi (chi), so it helps to understand its nature; how it flows through the body; where it’s stored, and what it does for you. The words chi and qi are used interchangeably in this article. They are both pronounced ‘chee’ like in the word cheese.Qigong regulates and balances the flow of qi

Chi ( Qi ) Definition

In relation to qigong, the two definitions are usually the same, but qi and chi do have other meanings (see additional meanings).

So, what does chi mean in the context of exploring qigong?

In Chinese, the word qi or chi can mean many things. It can be a unit of length; a mythological dragon; and breath, air, life force or vital energy. It’s this last group of meanings that is relevant to qigong practice.

One exception is the term wu chi, which is the starting position for qigong exercises. Here ‘qi’ is not applicable. The transliteration is wu chi or wuji and the meaning is different. In this case chi refers to the end or limit of something.

For an official chi definition…

The Encarta Concise English Dictionary (2001) states that chi is,
in Chinese medicine and philosophy, the energy or life force of the universe,  believed to flow round the body and to be present in all living things.”

In case you weren’t looking for the qigong connection, here are some other meanings.

What does QI mean: As an abbreviation, Q.I means ‘quite interesting”, and is the name of a popular BBC comedy quizz show, hosted by Stephen Fry.

What does CHI mean? Chi (pronounced kee) is the 22nd letter of the Greek alphabet.

The Chi Symbol

Unless you know how to read Chinese, you may be wondering what the chi symbol means? The chi sign or symbol, seen on the right, is a combination of the two characters for ‘steam’ and ‘rice’. The reason these two are used is as follows…

Chinese character for steam Steam rising from the rice as it is cooked, is   Chi Symbol on blue stone
symbolic of life force. It is the invisible made

Chinese character for rice Rice is cultivated to provide energy needed for
continued life, so the two together are used to
represent life force energy.

Chi In Other Cultures

The concept of chi is not unique to the Chinese. Many other cultures have a similar idea of vital life force.

It is Ki to the Japanese (as in reiki); Prana in sanskrit and vedantic philosophy; Ka to the Ancient Egyptians; Pneuma to the Greeks; Lűng in Tibetan Buddhism; Mana to the Hawaiians; and Vital Energy in western philosophy.

What Is Qi  – Chi?

If you’re talking about more than its definition or the literal meaning of the word, what does chi really mean, and what does this important aspect of TCM contribute to our health?

Qi breathes life into all matter, including your body. It is an invisible force or energy that animates and enlivens all things. One day we may be able to see it, but for now we can only train ourselves to feel its presence.

This universal life force allows you to thrive in mind, body and spirit.

Chi is ALWAYS FLOWING into, through, and out of, your body. It nourishes and supports all of your cells. If the flow is interrupted or reduced, your physical body weakens, and without it, your body dies.

Qi travels across the surface of your skin and inside your body, mostly through a network of channels known as meridians. It also uses your lymph vessels, blood vessels, nerves and other soft tissue structures. There are three special, body energy centres or dantians that can store your chi.

In Daoism (pronounced dow-ism), chi is described as having four actions in relation to the body: ascending, descending, entering and exiting. Its flow speed varies throughout the day but it has to keep moving, and stay balanced in action, to maintain a healthy body and mind.

Narrowed or blocked energy channels prevent the natural flow, resulting in sluggish or stagnant chi. In Chinese medicine, this is believed to be the major cause of failing health.

The aim of qigong is to open and widen any blocked channels, and to clearly connect you to both Earth and Heaven chi (see below), creating a smooth and uninterrupted flow of vital life force.

What Does Chi Feel Like?

Once you’ve consistently practiced qigong exercises for a while, you may start to feel the flow of chi, though some people can practice for years and never feel anything. It’s not a vital part of qigong practice. It works whether you feel the energy flowing or not, but it adds to the quality of your experience if you’re aware of the energy in some way.

People feel qi differently, and it’s not always the same sensation each time. The easiest place to feel it is in the centre of the palms of your hands, at the Lao Gong points. You may feel this as a slight pressure against your palms, when creating the chi energy ball.

Other sensations are localised heat or cold, tingling, pulsing, hot flushes, tightness, and puffy hands. Few people can see energy, but some may see colours when practicing qigong with their eyes shut.

Types Of Chi

In Chinese philosophy there are three types of chi or three powers…

Heaven Qi

Heaven chi, or Tian Chi, comes from the energy of the stars and planets; the sky; sunshine; moonlight and gravity.

Earth Qi

Earth chi, or Di Chi, comes from the Earth’s magnetic field and energy lines; from the heat stored within it; and from lakes, mountains and trees. It is influenced by Heaven chi.

Human Qi

Human chi, or Ren chi, is a combination of the energy you are born with, and the qi you take into your body during your life. Some of your qi flows along the surface of your body, forming a protective sheath referred to as Wei qi (or protective qi).  This may be what we call the aura.

Human chi is strongly influenced by both Earth and Heaven chi, and is divided into two main categories.

  1. Congenital, Prenatal or Ancestral Qi. This is the chi you are born with. It’s like your starter battery. Unless it’s topped up it depletes over time.
  2. Acquired Qi or Post-natal Qi. This is the chi you generate, from birth to death. It comes from your food, the air around you, from nature, from practicing qigong, and from the Universe. This is the part of your life force that you can build up and strengthen, to create a vital, healthy body.

All chi is divided into yin and yang polarities, which is covered in the next article.

>>GO HERE NEXT for The Yin Yang Story

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