This amazing guest post was written by Dr. Aram Nalbandyan! You should check out his website here!
Qi (pronounced “chi”) is the energy in the human body, the life force. This is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as well as Traditional Kung Fu. While TCM has been lumped into the category of Alternative Medicine (that is, alternative to Western medicine), it has in fact existed far longer than modern Western medicine.
The concept of a universal flow of energy is not a new one. Einstein, one of Western culture’s most prominent scientific minds, established that everything is energy in his theory of special relativity. The proper balance and flow of energy in the human body is the source of health and wellness.
So, What is Qi?
Qi is energy that flows within the body along meridians. Meridians are basically energy channels along which there are various points of conduction. A DAOM (Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine) utilizes these points when practicing acupuncture, clearing up blockages that can cause illness and/or discomfort. Two forces of energy are at work when we discuss qi: Yin and Yang.
The Yin and Yang symbol represents the balance the human body needs for optimal health. Rather than being opposing forces, they should be thought of as complementary and necessary for each other’s existence.
- Yin: Female, Dark, Cold, Night, Passive, Negative
- Yang: Male, Light, Warm, Day, Active, Positive
An excess of either Yin or Yang can result in qi blockages or stagnation, which can adversely affect your health and well-being, physically and emotionally. Imbalances unduly stress the human body system.
What Does Blocked or Stagnant Qi Even Mean?
Most people have a general understanding of how the human body is structured and how it functions. You know about the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, digestive system, and musculoskeletal structures. What is a little more difficult to visualize is how qi flows within the body. Here are a couple of visuals for you.
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Think of a clogged artery. The blockage itself can be the result of certain habits (e.g. a high cholesterol/fatty diet) and comes with a wide range of health risks. What happens when your blood does not flow freely? It creates a potentially disastrous domino effect.
A clogged artery may start with symptoms of weakness, dizziness, chest pain, nausea, sweating, and heart palpitations. As it gets more and more clogged, the potential consequences get more serious. Likewise, if your body’s qi is blocked, then you’ll experience more and more issues until it is resolved.
Here’s another visual for you: a fish tank. What happens when the pump and filter are no longer working properly, or are blocked? The water does not flow and becomes stagnant. A fish tank is a closed system, much like the human body. In the tank, the longer the water is stagnant, the more algae grows and the more toxins linger.
The stagnation of qi is associated with a variety of symptoms, including masses in the human body…with nowhere to go, toxins accumulate. With regard to a fish tank, there is only so much the fish can get from outside the water. You can keep feeding them, but if the environment they are living in continues to stagnate, they will become ill…ill at ease and ill of health.
On the other hand, a fish tank with freely flowing water (with a properly functioning pump and filtration system) will not become stagnant and will ensure the continuation of good health and well-being.
Now, like a fish tank, the human body needs some regular maintenance to make sure it is functioning properly. You cannot leave the same filter in the tank and expect that algae will never grow. As such, we must monitor and maintain our own qi balance to a large extent, addressing potential problems before they become serious illness.
The manifestations of qi blockage or stagnation can be anything from fatigue, constipation, or headaches to full-on illness and disease, mental or physical.
Balancing Your Qi for Good Health and Wellness
At the risk of being repetitive, balancing your qi is not unlike balancing your lifestyle because your lifestyle can affect the development, balance, or imbalance of qi. This includes the food you eat, the way you breathe, and the exercise you do.
It is no coincidence that the general habits of healthy people (e.g. regular exercise) tend to coincide with more balanced (and sometimes developed) qi.
Does this mean that you need to study traditional Kung Fu to have balanced qi? Not at all. Traditional Kung Fu just happens to be a discipline in which the development of qi is a core principle.
The foods you eat can affect the balance of qi (particularly if it has pesticides and herbicides). Chemical products aside, different foods have different properties, especially in raw form. The same goes for various herbs.
A DAOM will not prescribe something for you that you can get from the CVS pharmacy. A pharmacy within the context of Traditional Chinese Medicine is a wall of herbs in various forms (sometimes more than one wall). Some have warming properties that can stimulate movement while others have cooling properties. An excess of heat or cold in the body is a relatively common imbalance.
Qi flow can be thought of as similar to the flow of blood or the flow of breath. Breathing in particular is remarkable in stimulating and maintaining qi flow, hence the focus on deep breathing in various meditation practices and Qi Gong.
Your breath is a remarkable force in and of itself and has the power to reduce stress and increase energy. When your body is stressed, blockages and stagnations can occur. Left unchecked, they can result in serious illness.
Acupuncture is perhaps the most well know method of reducing qi blockage and stagnation, using needles at the various points of blockage along the meridians.
Though not precisely the same, of course, you can think of it as clearing debris that is damming up a stream or river. When the obstruction is cleared or broken up, the movement of qi (or in this case water) will flow freely.
Like all treatments, acupuncture is a process. It’s not a one and done miracle cure for any ailment. The same goes for herbal remedies. They do not take the place of healthy habits, which on their own encourage balance.
The simplest way to help balance your qi is to lead a healthy lifestyle, including participating in regular exercise, eating natural whole foods, and managing and/or avoiding stress. When you need a little more help to find total balance, a DAOM can point you in the right direction.
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