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Rethinking Qi: how do we understand energy?

Category: Date: 11 January 2019 Comments: 4

“Channel your Qi.”

“Balance yin and yang.”

“Unite the energies of your mind and body.”

You’ve probably heard these phrases before — and like many Eastern medical and philosophical concepts, Qi energy has entered Western pop culture. On one hand, the draw to Qi is promising – it indicates our collective craving to activate our individual potential for health and healing. On the other hand, the mainstream portrayal of Qi – and its practical applications – is often shrouded in obscure, other-worldly mystique.  

Research continues to confirm what Eastern medicine has long known: we all have the innate ability to cultivate holistic harmony and health in our minds and bodies. Equally guided by the time-honoured tradition of Qigong and evidence from modern science, we’re here to help you understand how you can practically use Qi energy to experience your potential for total wellbeing.      

A (very) brief intro to Western and Eastern medicine

From easing pain to combating disease, humans have strived to achieve optimum health for thousands of years. Prior to globalisation, two major medical approaches emerged in the Eastern and Western hemispheres: each with their own benefits and limitations.*  

Historically, Western medicine has been largely based on reductionism–the process of reducing complex problems into simpler, smaller components. This approach to medicine works to pinpoint and treat a single cause for an observable symptom or behaviour. By isolating the cause of injury, infection, and many diseases, Western medicine has led to many invaluable and life-saving medical treatments and interventions.

To date, Eastern medicine has largely taken a systemic approach–addressing biological systems as an interdependent whole. Eastern medicine has also traditionally considered the body as an “open system” that is composed of, connected to, and influenced by a universal source of energy (known as Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine).

This integrative approach to medicine considers the energy that creates and sustains a system, while addressing the dynamic relationships between other systems and individual parts. In addition to promoting mental, emotion, and spiritual wellbeing, Eastern medicine is renowned for maintaining and improving the health and function of numerous bodily systems.  

3 practical ways to rethink Qi energy

As Qi encompasses all material and immaterial manifestations of energy–from our physical bodies to emotional responses–optimum health is achieved when all aspects of Qi are harmoniously balanced. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – and its practices of Qigong and Tai Chi – aims to prevent and address the root cause of disease, while balancing our internal and external sources of Qi, to foster sustainable health.

Qi energy can become deficient or excessive when we either lack or exceed what we need to survive and thrive. At the juncture of Western and Eastern medicines, here are three practical ways to rethink Qi, as well as some lifestyle choices you can make every day to harmonise this vital energy.   

  1. Qi is the air you breathe.
    Breathing provides our bodies with the oxygen we need to survive, thrive, and function optimally. The cells of our body depend on oxygen to transform nutrients from the food we eat into usable energy (Qi). When we don’t receive adequate oxygen, our Qi can eventually become depleted – impacting our energy levels, mental faculties, and vital bodily functions.

    Eastern medicine has long emphasised the crucial importance of functional breathing for systemic health and vitality. As research on the wide-reaching impact of dysfunctional breathing on biochemical, biomechanic, and psychophysiological systems, Western medicine – even including dentistry – is now focused on improving how people breathe.

    The Takeaway: Learning proper breathing techniques enhances Qi by increasing your lung capacity, improving your body’s overall robustness and adaptability, reducing stress, and increasing your overall experience of health and vitality.

  2. Stress is Qi on overdrive.
    While not all stress is negative, prolonged states of stress can have far-reaching consequences to your physical and mental health. In the United States, stress contributes to 50% of all illnesses, ranging from cardiovascular disease, hypertension, insomnia, cancer, and depression.Stress elevates heart rate, blood pressure, and feelings of worry and anxiety. In other words, stress causes an excess of Qi energy. Eastern movement arts – such as Qigong – are now widely celebrated for their ability to downregulate the stress response and increase stress resilience and adaptability.The Takeaway: Once learned, Qigong practices can be used as a lifelong tool to alleviate excess Qi, mitigate stress, and enhance your ability to face new and unknown life circumstances.
  3. Fatigue is depleted Qi.
    For all systems of medicine, fatigue can be simply defined as depleted energy. Caused by insufficient sleep, overexertion, and prolonged states of stress, fatigue impacts numerous physical and physiological functions. In addition to reducing your overall physical and mental functioning, fatigue can cause stress, anxiety, depression, hormonal imbalances, compromised immunity, and decreased physical strength.The Takeaway: Adequate sleep and stress management are crucial for replenishing Qi and giving your mind and body what they need to experience their best health and vitality. Practicing Qigong is an effective means to increase energy, improve sleep quality, manage stress, and improve cognitive functioning.

At its core, Qi describes how your body uses and creates energy. Once you learn how to effectively nourish and harmonise your Qi energy, you’ll be equipped with the tools you need to cultivate your innate capacity for vibrant health and healing. As you consider different approaches to self-care and healthcare, let your unique situation and needs be the guiding force to exploring different approaches and techniques.

If you’re interested in learning more about Qigong and what it can do for you, head over to our blog, and check out our online courses.

*Note: though we’ve limited our discussion to two broad categories of medicine: Western and Eastern. We would like to acknowledge that other areas of the world have developed refined systems of medicine that are equally valid.

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