May The Qi Be With You

 

by Dr. Tadeusz Sztykowski 

Through the trilogy of Lucas/ Spielberg Star Wars, we have probably absorbed It into the mass- culture - the positive, "Righteous Force" of the Jedi warriors' opposing the negative "Dark Force" of the emperor and his right hand Lord Vader. We have already learned something about It from Bruce Lee and his masters. And let's not forget James Reston in his infamous article in the New York Times about his experiences in China. We kept wondering about, this mysterious thing — called the force in Sci-Fi Trilogy, special energy in Bruce Lee movies, and finally Qi (pronounced "chee'") in Reston's article. 

What is this mysterious thing called Qi anyway? For quite some time I have been working, breathing, resting, eating and simply living with that question. Qi is no stranger in my life. Every morning I practice Qi-Gong exercises as taught to me by Master Wu. As I stretch my body, I feel it getting more flexible and warmer. As I stay in one position with my arms relaxed, my. knees slightly bent and my breathing regular and slow, I feel my body making involuntary movements and my hands warming up. Master Wu calls it Qi self-regulation and I know that my Qi is flowing, correcting imbalances and filling up the channels. 
Later, touching my 3 ½ year old son's head while he eats his cereal, I absorb and give Qi. Looking into my wife's beautiful eyes, I connect with the Qi of her heart, and giving healthy food to my daughter, I care about the Qi of her stomach. On my way to work I marvel about the rising Qi of the day and then in my clinic I feel, transform, gather, balance, and correct the Qi of my patients. 

Chinese Concept of Qi 

'The Great Void consists of Qi.. Qi condenses to become the myriad things. Things of necessity disintegrate and return to the Great Void.. Every birth is a condensation, every death a dispersal. Birth is not a gain, death not a loss...when condensed, Qi becomes a living being, when dispersed, it is the substratum of mutations. "

—Zhang Zai (AD 1020-1077)

I do not know any larger and more universal concept than that of Qi. It has been an intrinsic part of Chinese philosophy, culture, and medicine since the beginning of its recorded history. Qi is a difficult word to translate. The original character translates literally as "vapor steam," "gas," and "rice or grain." This indicates that Qi can be as immaterial as vapor and as dense and material as rice. Depending on one's viewpoint and use, "Qi" has also been translated as "energy," "master force," "life force," "vital force," and "matter".

During my studies with Zen Master Seung Sahn, I have often been reminded how unprecise and contextual words are in describing reality. As an example. Zen Master would often use the watch. He would show it to his students and ask- what is it? Depending on the language spoken, he would receive various answers .describing the watch. He'd shake his head and he would say looking at the watch — it is 9:30 am now. This is a very important point. The way the Orientals describe Qi is not by analyzing or speculating, but by its functions. Two aspects of Qi may be particularly, relevant to human life:

1) Qi manifests simultaneously on the physical and spiritual level; 
2) Qi is constantly changing in varying states of aggregation.

Within the body Qi has five major functions: 

1) Qi creates and accompanies all movement in the body. Walking, breathing, heartbeat, eating, speaking, thinking, growth, development—all depend on Qi. There are four directions of the constantly moving Qi — ascending, descending, leaving and entering . 
2) Qi originates transformation in the body where food, essence, the fluids are transformed into blood. Air is transformed into Qi. The mother's touch calms the baby. These changes come from Qi's ability to transform 
3) 'Where Qi protects the body it is also called Defensive Qi, resisting the external invasion of the body. It travels between skin and muscles, and regulates the sweat glands and pores. 
4) Qi warms the body; your warm hands and feet are the result of this function. 
5)'Qi'controls the retention of the body's organs and substances. It stops bleeding due to its function of holding the blood within blood vessels, controls sweating and salivation, and holds organs in the proper place. 

Besides different functions, Chinese medical texts indicate various forms of Qi. Original Qi (Yuan Qi) derives 'from pre-heaven essence formed by parents at the time of conception. It is stored in between the
kidneys. It activates the kidney Qi facilitates the transformation of Qi and blood, and motivates all organ functions on a daily basis. Food- Grain Qi (Gu-Qi) has food as its source and the spleen is the Organ which produces it. It combines with air to form the gathering Qi in the chest Gathering-Chest-Ancestral Qi (Zhong Qi) nourishes the heart and .lungs. It enhances and promotes respiration and blood movement, and controls speech and strength: of voice. It also promotes blood circulation in extremities. True-Righteous-Normal Qi (Zhen Qi) is formed from air and food with the catalyzing effect of original Qi. It is a Qi that circulates in the channels and organs. Qi. True Qi assumes two different forms: Nutritive Qi (Ying Qi) and Defensive Qi (Wei Qi).

Nutritive Qi( Ying Qi) is closely related to blood and flows in the blood vessels as well as in the channels. It nourishes the internal organs and the whole body. Defensive Energy (Wei Qi) being a coarser form of Qi, flows in outer layers of the body, warms the muscles, fills up the skin, enters the space between skin and muscles, and opens the pores. Its function is to defend the body against the External Pernicious Influences (wind, heat, cold, dampness). Qi is best described by its manifestations, functions and aspects, as it is almost impossible to measure or grasp it. 

And Western Science Struggles 

Western science is based on the analytical Newtonian-Cartesian model of mechanical cognition and deduction. Descartes, a 17th century French philosopher and scientist believed that "All science is certain evident knowledge. We reject all knowledge which is merely probable and judge that only those things should be believed which are perfectly known and about which there can be no doubts." His thinking had a profound influence on the principles of modern science and so-called allopathic medicine. Hence, extreme difficulty in defining and measuring the Qi may seem obvious. 

Nevertheless, there have been various attempts to at least indicate the possible presence of body energy or life force. The most promising among all have been studies lead by the French doctor Darras. In his lengthy studies, he injected the radioactive salt of Technetium into acupuncture points as well as into sham points, and then the migration of the isotopes was observed. The trajectory of migration along the acupuncture points exactly matched the pathways of described acupuncture meridians with a definite speed of 6cm/min. The injection into sham points did not produce any migration. The conclusion was that there is a probability of a particular force of electromagnetic nature which acted upon the isotopes and propagated them along the meridian as measured by movement and speed. Again, we are going back to describing Qi by its functions rather than its attributes. Many other studies have drawn similar conclusions. There is a force in the body, it has an electromagnetic quality, moves with precise speed within the channel system and is separated from vascular, lymphatic, and nervous systems of the body. 

We are making progress in the scientific observing of the Qi phenomenon, but we need to "relax the stiff spine" of the Cartesian scientific model and add some flexibility of Eastern scientific concepts. 

My Close Encounter with Qi 

As I look back at my life with retrospect, I recognize the changes Qi has made. I understand why I was deadly ill as a newborn after being separated from my mother, and later as a toddler going through a whole spectrum of respiratory diseases like pneumonia, bronchitis, and asthma. My lung Qi was suppressed by the grief and separation with my mother, but my original Qi — the survival instinct— kept me alive. I also understand why later as a teenager I suffered from chronic sinus problems and a form of ADD. An improper diet with a lot of dairy and sweets had deprived the food-Qi and created phlegm in my body. During my medical residency (up to 120 hours/week) I suffered from serious heart arrhythmia and insomnia. My gathering-ancestral Qi in the chest was weakened by the excessive work. I also understand that cultivating my Qi is the source of my love to my family and compassion to my patients. May the Qi stay with you and nourish you. Related sites: Herbal Medicine