What is “Qi” Anyway?

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Making Sense of Energy

By Justin Casteel


There is a lot of confusion when beginners are approaching systems like Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong. A lot of terminology is thrown around, and eventually it becomes part of the language used to describe these arts. Words like “prana”, “Chakras”, “qi”, “Dan Tien”, “third eye”, and “meditative” are all now commonplace when talking about the Eastern Movement practices, but much of the time there is no practical, working explanation of what these are, why they are important, or how to interact with these concepts meaningfully in everyday life. Let’s explore together some of the foundational concepts of energy and see if we can make it practical to life and gain an insight on how to use them to enhance the healing effects of movement.

Energy is vital. Everyone pretty much would agree. When you wake up in the morning, you want to get up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the challenges of the day. People supplement their energy levels with coffee, vitamins, trying to exercise, and maybe even self-help programs. We all want to feel good. More than that, we all want to have the boundless energy of a child, and a clear, calm mind with which to approach our work and hobbies. But oftentimes things get in the way. Stress, fatigue, mental cloudiness, and discomfort or disease block our enjoyment of life. Sometimes, we are just in a “bad mood” or simply can’t find any enthusiasm to even go out and do something we normally enjoy. Think about going for a walk in the park- sometimes it’s just too much effort to get in the car and drive there, even when you can imagine how good it would feel! This is where the so-called “energy arts” come in to play.

The Chinese concept of energy is called “qi”. Qi in Chinese theory is one of “Three Treasures” that every person on this planet is born with; these Treasures are called “Qi”, “Shen”, and “Jing”. Here, we are going to explore the concept of “Qi”. In Chinese medicine, this life energy is distributed through channels called meridians. The meridians are like channels or vessels where qi flows to distribute life force to organs, bones, muscles, brain tissue, so that everything is linked together in what can be thought of as a web of life. The meridians also act like rivers, sometimes getting choked by debris so they flow slowly, and sometimes they overflow their banks and flood the surrounding areas. Too much or too little qi is thought of as harmful, so the idea in Chinese theory is to maintain harmony in the system. The Indian framework for this concept is called “prana” and the channels are called “nadis”. There is a great deal of correspondence between the two systems in this regard.

Many people are also familiar with the concept of the “chakras” from yoga. Thought of as energetic “wheels” or plexus found along the spine, the chakras are theorized as embodying emotional and physical processes. Again, bringing the positive sides and negative sides of emotional and physical states into harmony and balance is said to ensure that the chakras have the correct “spin” to ensure good transition of energy through the system. The Chinese Taoists called these centers “cauldrons” and said that the most important center was the “Dan Tien” located midway inside the body, three fingers breadths below the navel. The Dan Tien is thought to be the “storage battery” for the Qi or life-force.

This basic description is a general consensus of what I have read and found to be true in my practice, but it leaves very little in the way of practical application. To make this information useful, it must be put into a framework that can be applied in daily life. For this end, let’s explore some of the practical side of energy.

Qigong means “energy work”, but it also can mean “relating”. Energy is interpreted by your system as sensation. Try this experiment: touch your arm. What happened? Well, the kinetic energy of your finger was measured by touch receptors in your skin, so you felt the pressure of your finger. Pretty cool, huh? In qigong, we learn to relate to the different sensations of the body and learn how to bring them into balance. In the first stages, we learn to deal with physical sensations like the postural stresses of standing and moving. In deeper stages, the subtle energies of the body can be felt directly and by learning to relate to the sensation and degree of experience, can make adjustments so the energy can flow more freely through the channels.

The interaction of the mind with the body requires the mind to be calm and well-ordered. Meditation, breathing exercises, and gentle movements allow the mind to become more focused and more subtle. In fact, attaining a calm mind is considered pivotal in order to have any success in cultivating greater energy! Spending time doing breathing exercise is more than just cultivating lung capacity- it’s an important tool for relaxation and mental focus. So, the foundational stage of learning to work with energy is learning to slow down and pay attention. This is the first lesson to learn, and every lesson that comes after will reinforce the principle!

In summary, energy is an important part of your life that is often augmented through outsides sources like caffeine or supplements, but by slowing down and paying attention to what you feel, you open up space to affect your energy directly. By learning to breathe, and learning to move in ways that open your channels, energy can be directly improved from within. So take some time today to stand or sit for a little in silence- listening to your body, listening to your breath, closing your eyes, and allow your mind to be relaxed but focused. If you can do that, even that simple practice can leave you feeling refreshed and energized. Good Qi everybody!



Inspiration Corner

  • When our only reality becomes emerged within an “exaggerated importance “of material wealth we feel a certain lack and so, we desire more and more to fill this void.  In truth the material riches of this illusive reality we have created cannot fulfill a spirit robbed of the unseen treasures that are life’s true gifts.  May Peace, Light and Love surround you and yours always, D

  • Sometimes it is our fear and need to know the outcome that keeps us from stepping outside of our comfort zone and grabbing hold of the opportunities that offer us the greatest potential for growth.

  • The cycle of life begins with the innocence of pure acceptance, becomes entangled within the insecurity of doubt only to rise from the mire blossoming into the radiance of knowing and wisdom.

  • Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.

    Saint Francis de Sales

  • Listen, for within the whisper of the wind and the soft rustling from the leaves of the trees lie the wisdom of long forgotten truths.

  • Listen, for within the whisper of the wind and the soft rustling from the leaves of the trees lie the wisdom of long forgotten truths.

  • Life offers us many opportunities.  However, to truly experience the potential we must first be willing to choose and embrace the possibilities.

  • The color of one’s skin and the beliefs they hold are simply the cloak one wears and the staff they carry as they travel life’s journey.  What connects us all like family is not found in the outside appearance but rather in the light from within, which is the brilliancy of our individual Beings.

  • How often have you asked, and then when the very thing you have desired is offered you hesitate to grab it?  Perhaps the time has come for you to recognize the abundance that is within your grasp.

  • It is important that you take responsibility for your life.  After all, it is you who created your experiences.

  • Be happy, be healthy and be whole, for your tomorrows are created by the choices you make today.

  • Learn from the past, hope for the future, but always live in the now.

  • The only real obstacle in your life is the one you believe you cannot overcome.


  • Learning to love unconditionally is the key that will unlock the door to understanding your true life’s purpose.

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