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What is Qi?

By Katriena Knights
Updated May 17, 2024
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Qi, also known as chi, is a concept from traditional Taoist beliefs that originated in China. It can be compared to the idea of prana in Hindu belief. Qi translates literally as "air" or "breath" and refers to the energy that powers all life. The names of several martial arts disciplines, such as tai chi or qi gong, are derived from this concept. It is believed to affect not only an individual's health and wellness, but also luck, wealth and other elements of life in general.

Control of breath is an important part of many martial arts and other Asian spiritual and physical practices such as kung fu or even yoga. Breath control is used to control movement of energy through the body and is the basis of many martial arts achievements that seem almost superhuman to some observers. It also is important to meditative practice, which is believed to have a profound effect on the quality and movement of qi.

In traditional Chinese medicine, diseases are believed to be caused by disruptions in the flow of qi through the body. Practices such as acupuncture help redirect qi to its proper channels. Qi can be disrupted, blocked or weakened, leading to various illnesses or conditions. Chinese medicine also makes use of herbal remedies and various plant extracts to increase or decrease qi in certain body parts, thus aiding in long-term healing. Balance also can be restored through special massage techniques, exercises or meditation. Proper diet and overall fitness also contribute to this balance, increasing individual health and the ability to fend off illness.

Qi exists throughout all living beings as well as being an essential part of the world in general. Its flow not only through the body but also in natural surroundings can have a profound effect on health and temperament. Thus Chinese beliefs work to balance qi not only in the body, but also in a patient's home or surroundings. Feng shui operates largely on this principle by balancing the flow in an individual home or workplace.

Practitioners of holistic medicine sometimes combine Chinese practices such as acupuncture with homeopathic medicine. Other holistic practices sometimes combined with Chinese remedies include the use of essential oils or a specific herb remedy for various health issues. Traditional Chinese medicine is more likely to consist of herbal treatments as well as acupuncture and massage techniques. Practices such as acupressure are derived from these traditional approaches.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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