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Home > Education > Theory > Forms of Qi

The Forms of Qi (Vital Energy) in Acupuncture

By Ralph Alan Dale

A condensed version of the article from
the American Journal of Acupuncture Vol. 22, #3, 1994.

The concept of Qi (sometimes spelled "Chi", pronounced "chee"), or vital energy, is fundamental to traditional Chinese medical thought. There is nothing comparable in allopathic (conventional Western) medicine. While human physiology in allopathic medicine is organized according to specialized function, Chinese medicine is more concerned with dynamics of interrelationships, especially the patterns of vital energy.

Traditional Chinese medicine defines the five main forms of Qi Energy

  • Qi (Matter-Energy): The vital energy of every living organism and the source of all movement and change in the universe.
  • Xue (Blood): Not only the fluid that circulates in the vascular system, but also the Qi within that fluid that vitalizes its nourishing function as well as its flow. Qi and Xue have mutually interdependent functions.
  • Jing (Essence): The Essential energy of all living organisms which is derived both from the energy we inherit from our parents and from the energy we acquire in our daily lives, principally from air and food.
  • Shen (Spirit): The material/non-material mental-emotional-motivational aspect of consciousness that is stored in the Heart. (Heart is capitalized to remind the reader that the author is referring to the Chinese concept of Heart, not the Western, which views the organ as simply a pump. The Chinese Heart has many other functions including the seat of the Shen. Other organs and organ systems are capitalized to further illustrate this distinction.)
  • Jin Ye (Body Fluids): The functional secretions of the body, including tears, sweat, saliva, milk, mucus, hydrochloric acid and genital secretions. Jin are the lighter, purer and more yang fluids which, via the Lung, moisten and nourish the skin and muscles; ye are the denser, more yin fluids which are processed in the Spleen and Stomach to moisten and nourish the Zang Fu (internal organs), bones, brain and orifices (mucus for sensory orifices and others).
  • The functions of Qi

    All five substances are interdependent; however, Qi is central to each of them since it is both the prime activator as well as the recipient of their various functions. The five main functions of Qi are defined as:

    1. Impulsing--the growth and development of the body,
    2. Warming--the maintaining of appropriate body heat,
    3. Defending--against stresses and pathogens,
    4. Controlling--the Blood and Body fluids,
    5. Transforming--metabolizing Qi, Blood and Body fluids.

    Meridian Theory

    According to Chinese medicine, the invisible Qi circulates along a system of conduits, the principal ones being the meridians or channels as well as through the Blood (Xue). This Qi is the vital energy which gives life to all living matter. In a way, the Qi conduits resemble those of the vascular or nervous system, since each has a network of main channels and minor capillaries. There are twelve principal bilateral channels of Qi, each intimately connected with one of the viscera of the body, and each manifesting its own characteristic Qi, e.g., Liver Qi, Spleen Qi, etc.

    By Ralph Alan Dale

    The Acupuncture Education Center
    3805 Northeast 167th Street
    North Miami Beach, FL 33160-3540 U.S.A.

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