TCM Series Intro Notes: Qi and Vital Energy

(c) 2012, Chraeloos Resident
Welcome everyone to the Traditional Oriental Medicine series. Thank you for coming! Please tip if you feel so inclined. All tips are split between the venue and myself in order to keep these events going and to enable the growth of the sim. The tip jar is one of the candles on the table. If you’d like a copy of today’s notes you can find them in another candle on the table.

Thank you for visiting Peaceful Dragon Oriental Medicine Centre! The centre is currently under construction, but is intended to be an Oriental medicine learning centre. If you have a suggestion for an activity or an event here, please contact either Xandria Winterwolf or myself.

I just want to remind everyone that none of the information presented here is advice and therefore should not be put into practice without first consulting a professional.

Today we will focus on qi and vital energy.

The main sources used today are:, “The Way of Qigong” by Kenneth S. Cohen, “Traditional Chinese Medicine” by Daniel Reid, “Natural Healing Wisdom and Know-how” compiled by Amy Rost,,


“The Chinese view human beings in terms of three inseparable, interpenetrating dimensions of existence, called the Three Treasures (san boa): these are jing (essence, body), chee (energy, breath), and shen (spirit, mind). These distinctly different but totally interdependent aspects of human life are equivalent to the Tibetan Buddhist concept of the three kaya: dharmakaya (dimension of mind), sambhogakaya (dimension of energy), and nirmanakaya (dimension of body). The Three Treasures compose the framework of human existence, the foundation of human life, and the basic ingredients in the “internal alchemy” (nei-gung) of traditional Taoist meditation, medicine, and martial arts. An ancient Taoist text entitled Classification of Therapies states, “Essence transforms into energy, and energy transforms into spirit.” This process of transformation and sublimation of energy is the basis of Taoist internal alchemy and is achieved by applying the corollary to the above equation, “Spirit commands energy, and energy commands essence.” Known as the Triplex Unity, this formula means that the mind controls energy and energy controls the body to ensure that the body produces energy and energy sustains the mind.

Jing refers to the physical body, particularly its “vital essence,” such as blood, hormones, enzymes, lymph, immune factors, and other essential bodily components. Chee refers to the sum total of all the vital energies within the human system, and also to the constituent energies of each internal organ, gland, tissue, and other functional part. Shen refers to pure primordial spirit as well as to the temporal aspects of spirit that define the human mind in all its various facets and functions. The Three Treasures of life are only one aspect of a basic dimensional trinity – along with the Three Powers (Heaven, Earth, Humanity) and the Three Elixir Fields (navel, solar plexus, head) – that runs throughout traditional Chinese philosophy, fusing the three major Taoist practices of meditation, medicine, and martial arts into one unified system. Internal balance on each level of existence – physical, energetic, and mental – and harmony among all three are the keys to human health and longevity.”

Qi, pronounced “chee”, is loosely translated as “vital energy” or “life energy”. You may see it spelled “Chi” or even “Ki” in Japanese, but they all carry the same meaning. According to Chinese medicine, qi is the animating power that flows through all living things. Someone who has passed away has no more qi – the life energy is gone. Someone who is healthy has more than someone who is ill. However, health is more than an abundance of qi. Someone is healthy when the qi in their body is clear and free flowing, rather than polluted, turbid, and blocked or stagnant.

Qi is also present in all of nature. You know that feeling you get when you go outside and are able to breathe fully again? The earth itself is moving, transforming, breathing, and alive with qi. Every human can sense that energy when in nature. For this reason, we have an intuitive unity with everything natural; birds, trees, mountains, flowers, animals, fish, clouds, etc. We are one with nature.

In the human body, Qi flows through meridians, or energy pathways. Twelve major meridians run through the body, and it is over this network that Qi travels through the body and that the body’s various organs send messages to one another. Each Organ System carries its own unique Qi, which allows it to perform its unique functions – both physical (which Western medicine can describe) and energetic (which Eastern medicine can identify). In TCM theory, blood and Qi are inseparable. Blood is the “mother” of Qi; it carries Qi and also provides nutrients for its movement. In turn, Qi is the “commander” of the blood. This means that Qi is the force that makes blood flow throughout the body and provides the intelligence that guides it to the places where it needs to be. Blood and Qi also affect one another and have the dynamic ability to transfer various properties back and forth.

TCM frequently references several major Qi, or energy function, problems. One is an overall “Qi deficiency,” which is often described in Western medical terms as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). TCM also has the knowledge and ability to pinpoint which Organs have an energy deficiency. Another major condition is described as “Qi stagnation,” which means energy and information cannot move smoothly to or from its appropriate location. For example, TCM considers pain, headache and stomachache the result of Qi stagnation.

“Chinese medicine distinguishes two fundamental forms of energy in the human system: prenatal, or primordial (hsien-tien); and postnatal, or temporal (hou-tien), also known as Water and Fire. Prenatl energy is the basic vital force with which we are endowed at birth; it is inherited from the genetic plasma of our parents, and it is stored in the sexual glands and reproductive cells. Usually referred to as yuan-chee (primordial energy), it constitutes a sort of “bio-battery” from which we can draw energy when external sources such as food and air are insufficient, but each of us is born with a limited dsupply and it cannot be replaced. Therefore, if we burn up all our reserve yuan-chee because of negligent health habits and careless lifestyles, our bodies will rapidly deteriorate, and lifespans is shortened.

Postnatal or Fire energy is the energy we assimilate from external sources through digestion and respiration and transform into human energy. It constitutes the basic fuel of life and takes various different functional forms in the human system. The type of energy specifically required by the human system is called True Energy (jeng-chee)…”

There are two basic types of qi: Yuan Qi (original qi) and Zong Qi (acquired qi). Yuan Qi is derived from Jing, which is essence. It is derived from your parents and is supplemented by Acquired Qi. Zong Qi is made up of Gu Qi (food qi gathered from the spleen and stomach) and Kong Qi (air qi gathered from the lungs). Yuan Qi (original qi) acts on Zong Qi (gathering qi) which then creates Zhen Qi (true qi), which can be broken down into Ying Qi ( nutritive qi, or yin) and Wei Qi (defensive qi, or yang). All this can be seen in the slide “Map of the Creation of Qi”.


Jing (Essence)

– Derived from parents, supplemented by Acquired Qi (Gu Qi & Wei Qi).
Function: Responsible for growth, reproduction and development.
Distribution: Stored mainly in the Kidneys.
Relevance: Weak Jing in children may lead to poor bone development, slow learning and/or poor concentration. Weak Jing in the elderly may lead to deafness, osteoporosis and/or unclear thinking.


Yuan Qi is said to be Essence that has been transformed into Qi, or Jing in motion. Yuan Qi has it’s root in the Kidneys and is spread throughout the body by the San Jiao (Triple Burner). It is the foundation of all the Yin and Yang energies of the body. Yuan Qi, like Prenatal Jing, is hereditary, fixed in quantity, but nourished by Postnatal Jing.

Yuan Qi Functions:

-It is the dynamic force that motivates the functional activity of the internal organs, and is the foundation of vitality.
-It circulates all over the body in the channels, relying on the transporting system of the San Jiao (Triple Burner).
-It is the basis of Kidney Qi, and dwells between the two Kidneys, at the Gate of Vitality (Ming Men).
-It facilitates the transformation of Qi. Yuan Qi is the spark of change, transforming Zong Qi into Zhen Qi.
-Yuan Qi participates in the production of blood by facilitating the transformation of Gu Qi into Blood.
-Pools in the Yuan Source Points (acupuncture)


Gu Qi (Food Qi) is the first stage in the transformation of food. Food is first “Rotted and Ripened” by the stomach and then sent to the Spleen to make Gu Qi, still in unusable form.

Gu Qi is sent from the Middle Burner (housing the Spleen and Stomach) to the Upper Burner (housing the Lungs and Heart), where it combines with air to form Zong Qi.

Part of the Gu Qi from the Middle Burner is also sent to the Lungs, then passes to the Heart, where (with the help of Yuan Qi and Kidney Qi), it is transformed into Blood.


Kong Qi (Air Qi) is originated from the air received by the Lungs. It combines with Gu Qi to form Zong Qi. Good quality of air and good breathing practices are essential for the formation of energy. A good example of this is ashtanga yoga, where all your movements are connected to the movement of your breathe in order to get the best energy flow possible.


Zong Qi (Gathering Qi)
The Spleen sends Gu Qi up to the Lungs, where (with the help of Yuan Qi and Kidney Qi) it combines with air and transforms into Zong Qi.

This is the Qi that is derived from food by the Stomach and Spleen (Postnatal Essence). Central Qi is another way to define Stomach and Spleen Qi, i.e., the Qi of the Middle Jiao (the Center). It is often used to describe the pathological condition where the Spleen Qi is deficient and has caused organ prolapse (“Deficiency of Center Qi”).

Zong Qi Functions:

-Nourishes the Heart and Lungs and forms the basis for the involuntary functions of heartbeat and respiration.
-Zong Qi (Gathering Qi) assists the Lungs in controlling Qi and respiration and the heart’s function of governing the Blood and Blood Vessels. If Zong Qi (Gathering Qi) is weak, the extremities, especially the hands, will be weak or cold.
-Gathers in the throat and influences speech (which is under control of the Heart) and the strength of voice (under control of Lungs). Strength of Zong Qi can be determined from the health of Heart, Lungs, and from circulation and voice. Weak Zong Qi: Weak voice, weak circulation to hands.
-Easily affected by emotional problems. For example, grief weakens the Lungs and disperses energy in chest.
-Zong Qi and Yuan Qi mutually assist each other. Zong Qi flows downward to aid the Kidneys. Yuan Qi flows upward to aid in respiration (and the formation of Zong Qi).
Zhen Qi (True Qi)
-Also called “Normal” Qi. Zong Qi is transformed into Zhen Qi with the help of Yuan Qi. Zhen Qi is the final stage in the transformation and refinement of Qi. It is the Qi that circulates in the channels and nourishes the organs.


Zhen Qi is derived from Zong Qi when acted upon by Yuan Qi. This is the form of Qi that circulates in the meridians and nourishes the organs. Zhen Qi is a composite of Ying Qi and Wei Qi.


Ying Qi (Nutritive Qi)

Ying Qi nourishes the internal organs and the whole body. It is closely related to blood, and flows with blood in the vessels as well in the channels. It is the Qi that is activated by insertion of an acupuncture needle.

Ying Qi spends two hours in each channel, moving through all twelve channels in a twenty four hour period. During these periods, the specific organs related to that two hour period are functioning at their optimal level. We’ll go more into that in another discussion.


Wei Qi (Protective Qi)

Wei Qi is more Yang than Nutritive Qi. Fast moving, “slippery” and easily motivated.

Primarily on the Exterior (skin and muscles). Travels both inside and outside the channels. Flows primarily in the superficial layers of the body, especially in the Tendino-Muscular meridians. Wei Qi regulates body temperature by opening and/or closing the pores.

Wei Qi Functions:

-To protect the body from attack by exogenous (coming from outside) pathogenic influences e.g., Wind, Cold, Heat, Dampness).
-To warm, moisten and aid in nourishing skin and muscles.
-To adjust opening and closing of pores (thus regulating sweating and regulating the body temperature).
-Wei Qi is controlled by the Lungs, which regulates its circulation to the skin. Lungs also disseminate fluids to moisten the skin and muscles. These fluids mix with Wei Qi. (Perspiration function depends on the Lungs ability to circulate Wei Qi and fluids to the exterior).
-Deficient Wei Qi can lead to spontaneous sweating (pores not correctly opened and closed, so that the fluids escape).

When an exogenous pathogen (e.g., Wind-Cold) invades the Exterior, the pathogen can block the pores, inhibiting the function of the Wei Qi, and blocking sweating. The treatment is to restore the Lungs’ function of dispersing, strengthen the Wei Qi and produce sweating, to expel the pathogen. Sweating therapy is often used in the early stages of a Wind-Cold pathogenic invasion.

Circulation: Wei Qi has a complex circulation pattern, of 50 cycles during a 24 hour period, 25 times in the day and 25 at night.

In the daytime, Wei Qi circulates in the Exterior, but at night it goes into the Interior and circulates in the Yin Organs.

From midnight to noon, the Wei Qi is exteriorizing, and is at its maximum strength on the Exterior at noon.

From noon to midnight, the Wei Qi gradually withdraws into the Interior, to protect the Yin Organs.

This is why one is more apt to catch cold at night rather than in the daytime, since the Wei Qi has withdrawn to the Interior at night. Sleeping under an open window at night, for example, gives exogenous pathogens a better chance for attack than during the daytime, since the Exterior of the body is less well protected.


Generally speaking, the Qi serves several vital functions within the body. When imbalances arise, they are seen as disruptions in the functions of Qi. A prolapse, for example, is seen as a disruption in the ability of Qi to provide the raising and stabilizing function on a particular organ.

The main functions of Qi within the body are listed below:

Catalyzing Functions: Qi assists in the formation and transformations within the body, for example the transformation of food into Qi and Blood
Protecting Functions: Qi defends the body from external pathogens
Raising and Stability Functions: Qi holds organs in their place, keeps Blood in the vessels, governs the removal of fluids
Transporting Functions: Qi is the foundation of all movement and growth in the body.
Warming Functions: Qi helps to control homeostasis and provides warmth for the body.


We’ll end it there today. Any questions or comments?


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