Qi (or Chi) is a Chinese term often translated as Vital Life Energy (or Life Force) and refers to “energy” circulating through our body. This energy doesn’t circulate randomly, but through well-defined energy channels, also called Meridians (China), Sen Lines (Thailand), or Nadis (India), all depending on the country or traditional medicine system.
In China, Qi is thought to be the key vital force, part of any living being, permeating everything and everyone, and it’s the primordial underlying principle in Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Chinese Martial Arts.
It’s believed that Qi aids the movement of blood, lymph, nutrients, toxins, nerve conduction, and that it supports energy production and awareness. According to Chinese ideas, a strong and abundant Qi gives perfect health and vitality. Nevertheless, when getting older, Qi gets weaker automatically, and when it’s totally dissolved the body dies.
Imbalance or blockages in our body or mind weakens our Qi, which eventually manifests as disease, either physically or psychologically, or both. So, it’s imperative to look after our Qi on a daily basis to keep it strong and smoothly flowing.
We find this same Life Force principle in many other Asian civilizations, for instance, in India as the Yogic idea of Prana, and in Thailand as the concept of Lom Pran. Other definitions and designations for Qi are used also, like Universal Energy, which may include heat, light, and electromagnetic energy, or breath, air, gas, or the connection between matter, energy and spirit.
In various ancient cultures and traditional (healing) systems it’s commonly agreed on that Qi (i.e. Life Energy) is absorbed by human beings via the air we breathe in, the food we consume, and through light (the sun).
In Chinese culture, Qi has a relationship with Taoism also, in the sense that the Tao is considered the source, pattern and substance of everything that exists.
The idea of health in Traditional Chinese Medicine (and in other traditional systems that use the concept of Vital Life Force) is that Qi (Prana or Lom) needs to flow freely through the body, in correct proportions and where needed, to prevent illness, and to both maintain and restore health.
Thus, most TCM treatments are based on “balancing Qi,” “cultivating Qi,” or unblocking the pathways (meridians or channels) that Qi uses to travel through our bodies. Hence, for instance, the existence of treatment modalities, with names like Qi Gong, Chi Nei Tsang, and Tai Chi.
Working with Qi or Prana is of vital importance in many other traditional massage and bodywork systems also, like in Thai Massage, Shiatsu, Yoga, and in contemporary Tantric massages.