What is qi?
So how (at a basic level) do we prompt the body to restore homeostasis/balance? We assess and work with the ‘qi’ (this is pronounced ‘chee’).
An understanding of what is meant by the term ‘qi’ is vital for a correct understanding of Asian culture, philosophy and most of all, medical theory. It is often translated crudely as ‘breath’, ‘life force’, or ‘energy’, however this simplistic view often leads to the concept being misunderstood or trivialized. To begin to understand fully what is meant by this term, it is useful to look at the character for ‘qi’ itself, and to keep in mind the fact that the Chinese use illustration and metaphor as an integral part of their written language, suggesting richer meanings than translations suggest.
The character for qi (on the left) consists of two parts: one part means ‘steam’, and this is wrapped in another image representing rice. The image of boiling rice was used as it was the basic staple food for most of East Asia. Combining these two images together suggests the idea that qi is about the transformative processes that support life, in much the same way that the transformative process of cooking rice turns it into a substance that can support life.
When qi is written without the sign for rice, it can simply mean ‘air’. So the complete character including both elements describes the transformation of the vital essences that are necessary to support life.
So, when we work with qi as acupuncturists, we are sending specific signals to prompt and support the body’s regulatory mechanisms, allowing the constant transformations that take place to occur as effectively and efficiently as possible. In this way, traditional acupuncture can help with a wide range of what might seem unconnected symptoms.