What is chi?

The concept of ‘chi’ or ‘qi’ (both pronounced ‘tchee’) is a central part of ancient Chinese culture, with applications in fields as varied as Chinese medicine and martial arts. There are many ways of describing chi; here’s a description that should be useful in the context of Chinese medicine, or at least for understanding chi when it comes up in this blog.

The human body is nourished on a continuous basis by oxygen. The lungs breathe in air, the oxygen is passed on to the blood, and the blood delivers it to the cells. Then cell waste is collected by the blood, which delivers it to the lungs, from where it’s expelled back into the air.

This system is what keeps us alive. It’s a series of chemical transformations, but we can also look at it as a transformation of energy. In this sense, we can think of it as air “changing” to blood and blood “changing” back to air.

When this energy is outside the body or in the lungs, it’s called ‘chi’. When it’s further inside the body, it’s called ‘blood’. In other words, chi is air, for most practical purposes.

Now, air is yang, which is male. The male body is generally more yang than the female body and therefore has more chi. This is easily seen: men tend to have a greater lung capacity than women.

Blood, being a liquid, belongs to the Water element, and Water is yin, which is female. The female body is generally more yin than the male body and therefore has more blood.

Chi and blood are thus the yin and yang aspects of this system. Both chi and blood can be either excessive or deficient. This is relative to the individual: although women have more blood than men, and men have more chi than women, women can have sufficient or excessive chi, just as men can have sufficient or excessive blood.

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