What Exactly Is Qi In TCM?

Qi is viewed to be the most fundamental entity in the world, being the life force or life energy that flows through it. It is believed that everything in the universe is related to the movement and change of Qi. For humans, Qi is the most vital substance that constitutes the body; without it, the human body will fail and fall apart. As such, it is the most fundamental concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Qi as a Basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Chances are that while you were in science class in school, the concept of Qi was never covered. This is because Qi is not a recognized concept within western medicine.

Western medicine views the body as one that is made of different organic and inorganic substances, proteins, tissues and cells. While these different physical structures are interdependent for many functions, they are relatively self-dependent. For example, the cause of an ailment plaguing your foot would definitely be within the foot.

Chinese medicine on the other hand views the human body slightly differently. Instead of emphasizing distinct body components, the human body is seen as a singular entity that is reliant on Qi to sustain life in all its parts.

Sources of Qi

There are two mains sources of Qi. The first of which is inherited from your parents at the moment of conception. A second source of Qi is obtained from essential substances in nature such as air, water and food. Both the inherited and acquired forms of Qi are processed and transformed by the body’s various organs.

Based on these sources of Qi, we can infer the important factors for maintaining your health. This includes having a healthy diet, breathing fresh air and having a sufficient intake of water. In doing so, your body will have sufficient access to Qi and thus life energy for it to function optimally.

Qi’s Functions

Qi has a variety of functions to help the human body; here are its 3 main functions.

Energy & Growth Function

Qi provides an active and vital energy needed for the growth of the human body. This includes the support of the physiological functions of the body’s organs, meridians and tissues.

An example of its support would include the formation and circulation of blood around the human body. When the intake of Qi is weakened, the body’s circulation of blood is weakened, thereby affecting the various organs’ functions allowing health problems to creep up.

Warming Function

A second function of Qi is heat energy for the body. Similar to body heat concepts in western medicine, TCM also notes the importance of warmth for the human body. As a heat source, Qi keeps your body at a relatively constant temperature so that its usual physiological functions are enabled.

By extension of this concept, when your body has a deficiency in Qi, its average body temperature is likely to drop. Consequently, common symptoms then emerge in the form of cold hands and feet as well as an intolerance of environmental cold.

Defending Function

TCM identifies 5 elements in the natural environment that are capable of invading the human body and causing it problems. This includes wind, heat, dampness, dryness and cold. In essence, when any of these forces enters the human body, it creates an excess of the corresponding element within the body. In turn, an imbalance is created, leading to various illness emerging depending on the element that is in excess.

Qi is critical in resisting the influx of these natural forces. In doing so, it helps to maintain the body’s physiological functions. In this aspect, compared to western medicine, Qi can be seen as an equivalent of the body’s immune system.

Movement of Qi

Qi is capable of moving in all directions; depending on its use, Qi performs different actions. For example, stomach qi helps to push ingested food downwards while removing its impurities. Meanwhile, lung qi helps to move in and push out air during breathing. In addition to which, lung qi also ascends and descends in order to disseminate oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Qi Deficiency

As covered before, in TCM, in order for a person to be healthy and free from heath issues, he or she must have balanced Qi. Only when there is an imbalance or deficiency in the body’s Qi, will illnesses emerge.

Symptoms of Qi Deficiency

TCM practitioners use the following 5 signs or symptoms to diagnose a deficiency in one’s Qi:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breadth
  • Swollen tongue
  • Weak pulse


Causes of Qi Deficiency

When broken down to its simplest form, Qi deficiency can be defined as when a body uses more Qi then it takes in. Whether it be defending against external forces or using it to sustain an on-the-go busy lifestyle, Qi is consumed at a high rate in modern society. This is especially so for the working class who have little time to relax.

With little time to rest and recover, the human body rapidly drains its vital energy, making it more susceptible to illnesses that follow. As such, TCM practitioners often find that stress is a primary culprit in many illnesses as it is the initial factor that weakened the body’s defense against invading forces.

Treatments for Qi Deficiency

Differing greatly from western medicine, TCM takes a holistic view of the human body. As such, treatments are done for the body as a whole rather than to eliminate any single symptom. As such, TCM treatments for Qi deficiency include a focus on giving the body sufficient rest and a diet that helps to balance out excess elements in your body.

Generally, they are likely to prescribe food that is good for spleen Qi, helping to warm it up and increase energy flow to the rest of the body. Having said that, the exact prescriptions are dependent of their individual diagnosis on the imbalances of your body.

Trust Tong Jum Chew For All Your TCM Needs

Tong Jum Chew was founded in 1965 as a medical hall. Since then, it has grown into a manufacturer and distributor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and health supplements. We boast a modern manufacturing facility in Singapore that includes a clean room environment.

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