In Chinese medicine, Qi (pronounced “chee”) is considered a vital life force that flows through the body.

Qi is essential to overall health and wellbeing according to Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) theory and something that is discussed often in treatments. However, Qi is an abstract concept that can be difficult to grasp. In this article, I will break down the basics of what Qi is to help create understanding about how it flows through the body, and why balancing Qi is so important in Chinese medicine treatments.

What is Qi?

Qi is often translated as “energy” or “vital energy”, but it encompasses more than that. Qi is considered the fundamental substance that makes up everything in the universe. Within the human body, Qi takes many forms with different properties and functions. Qi flows through the body in channels called meridians, similarly to how traffic flows on roadways. When Qi becomes blocked or depleted, it can cause illness and dysfunction, just as traffic jams or road closures can disrupt transportation.

Qi has several essential functions in the body:

  • Generating and transforming bodily substances
  • Promoting growth and development
  • Warming and protecting the body
  • Governing fluids and blood
  • Controlling breathing and bodily processes

The state of a person’s Qi indicates their overall health. Practitioners of Chinese medicine use Qi assessment to identify imbalances and customise treatment.

How Does Qi Flow?

According to Chinese medicine theory, Qi flows through the body in specific pathways called meridians, comparable to highways and roads. There are 12 primary meridians that correspond with major organs. Qi flows continuously through the meridian network to regulate systems and maintain homeostasis, similar to how smooth traffic keeps transportation running efficiently.

Acupuncture points are located along the meridians, like exits on a freeway. Stimulating these points with acupuncture needles helps bring QI to the area if its lacking or unblock obstructed Qi, restoring normal flow like clearing an accident can get traffic moving again. The quality and balance of Qi in each meridian indicates health status of the associated organs.

For example, the Lung meridian runs from the chest down the inner arm. Needling points along this meridian can help treat breathing problems, cough, and immune issues by improving Qi flow in the lungs.

Qi flow can become disrupted for reasons like stress, overwork, emotional issues, poor diet, lack of sleep or exercise, toxins, injury or trauma. This is akin to how traffic jams can be caused by accidents, construction, rush hour traffic, and other impediments.

Signs of impaired Qi flow include fatigue, period pain, bloating, mood changes, headaches, disturbed sleep, irritability, pain, dermatological conditions and many other symptoms. Chinese medicine aims to treat the root of imbalances by restoring proper Qi flow and the natural functioning of the body and mind as a whole

Restoring Qi Balance

When Qi is balanced and flowing freely, the body and mind function optimally and things feel free and easy. However when Qi can become unbalanced illness can occur in a few key ways:

  • Deficiency – lack of sufficient Qi in an area of the body
  • Excess – too much Qi accumulating in an area
  • Stagnation – Qi gets blocked and fails to flow smoothly
  • Sinking – Qi drops down from the upper body to the lower region

Practitioners aim to restore balance through modalities like acupuncture, herbal medicine, and Qigong exercises. These techniques help get Qi moving properly again throughout the body’s channels, like clearing up traffic jams. Diet, lifestyle, and environment also play a role in maintaining healthy Qi flow.

Qi Building Exercise

So let’s look at an easy Qi building exercise that can be adapted into your daily routine to help keep your Qi flowing and healthy.

Gongshou (Arcing the Arms) Qi Exercise:

Gongshou is an example of a WaiDan Qi building exercise. WaiDan exercises stimulate the limbs and muscles to generate Qi energy locally in those areas. This Qi can then circulate through the body to increase overall Qi.

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, one leg rooted firmly on the ground and the other leg placed in front with only the toes touching the floor. This trains balance while building Qi.
  • Hold both arms rounded in front of chest, with palms facing each other and fingertips almost touching to form a circle. Keep arms relaxed.
  • The tongue should touch the upper palate to connect the Ren and Du meridians that run up and down the centre lines of the body.
  • Eyes look forward and down to avoid excessive tension in the neck. Keep mind calm and focused on the shoulders.
  • Breathe slowly, deeply and smoothly. Inhale through nose, exhale through mouth.
  • Hold this posture for 2-3 minutes. The muscles in the arms, shoulders, and standing leg will fatigue from holding the position. This builds up Qi locally in those areas.
  • Without moving the arms, switch front leg and hold for another 2-3 minutes to keep Qi
  • After completing hold on both sides, slowly lower arms to sides. The built up Qi will flow down the arms into the hands.
  • Keep mind calm and focused to direct Qi flow. Can feel sensation of warmth, numbness or tingling in palms and fingers as Qi arrives.

For more information on this exercise visit:

In conclusion:

In Chinese medicine theory, Qi is the vital substance that animates us and connects us to the world around us. Keeping Qi flowing properly promotes health, while Qi imbalances lead to dysfunction and disease.

Though an abstract concept, understanding the basics of Qi provides insight into how Chinese medicine diagnose and treats patients holistically. Simple Qi building exercises like Gongshou and Qigong can help us experience and cultivate the flow of Qi in our own bodies.

Regular practice of these exercises can generate and circulate Qi, releasing blockages and restoring balance. Both physical movements and mental focus play key roles in optimising our Qi flow. While it takes time and effort to master, the ability to direct Qi can lead to improved health and wellbeing.

Nicola Loizou

BTCM (SITCM), DipCCM, Adv.Cert.InternalMedAcu (China), CMBA, ANTA

From a young age Nicola has had an interest in how plant medicine and massage worked to heal the body and would spend her spare time reading about anatomy and herbal medicine. Nicola enjoys general practice and has had specialised training in gynaecology and fertility, complex chronic and autoimmune diseases, cancer support and musculoskeletal conditions. Nicola graduated from the 5-year full time Bachelor course at the Sydney Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine and has undertaken official internships with two of Sydney’s most renowned physicians.