The four types of Qi

Updated: Apr 9, 2018

The ancient Chinese people believed qi was the most fundamental entity making up the world. They thought everything in the universe resulted from the movement and change of qi. The Chinese character for "qi" is the same word used for air or gas, and it is thought to have the same properties as these substances. Qi can be interpreted as the "life energy" or "life force," which flows within us. Sometimes, it is known as the "vital energy" of the body.

In TCM theory, qi is the vital substance constituting the human body. It also refers to the physiological functions of organs and meridians. In fact, it may be difficult to find one equivalent English word or phrase that completely describes the nature of qi. Most often, qi is best defined according to its functions and properties.

Types of Qi

Qi can be classified according to its type, with the four fundermental types including inborn qi, pectoral qi, nutritive qi and protective qi.

1. Inborn qi Inborn qi is the most original, essential and vital type found in the human body. It possesses prenatal and congenital properties. After conception, "congenital essence" (an essential vital substance inherited from parents) is stored in the kidney, the place from which inborn qi originates. Inborn qi is further nourished by "acquired essence" (food essence derived from digestion) of the spleen and stomach.

After this process is complete, inborn qi is ready to travel to the entire body to exert its effects. Starting from the portion between the two kidneys, known as the "vital gate", the qi moves and circulates through the organs, muscles, skin and meridians providing the power source for all of life's activities.

2. Pectoral qi Pectoral qi is stored in the chest and is formed by combining fresh air inhaled by the lungs and food essence derived from the spleen and the stomach. As pectoral qi concentrates in the chest, it can penetrate the blood vessels of the heart and lungs and move outward during expiration and inward during inspiration.

By flowing through the respiratory tract, pectoral qi supports the breathing function of the lungs and affects how loud the voice can be. Its ability to flow through the blood vessels and the heart is important in regulating the heartbeat and supporting the circulation of other types of qi and blood. Pectoral qi also plays a role in keeping the body warm and influences the activities of the limbs.

3. Nutritive qi Nutritive qi, as its name suggests, supplies nourishment to the body. It mainly circulates through the blood vessels with the blood. Sometimes this combination of nutritive qi and blood is referred to collectively as "nutritive blood". Nutritive qi mainly comes from food essence derived by the spleen and stomach's transformation and transportation properties.

Starting from the middle burner, nutritive qi goes to the lungs where it enters the main circulation. Nutritive qi has yin properties so it can form into materials needed by other parts of the body. For example, its close relationship with blood allows it to provide some of the necessary substances needed to produce new blood. Nutritive qi also provides the needed nutrients to support the physiological functions of the organs.

4. Protective qi Protective qi protects against evils. As previously mentioned, evils are environmental factors that lead to illness. In western terms, protective qi functions like the immune system, which helps prevent disease from occurring or spreading. Unlike nutritive qi, protective qi has yang properties, because it has more functional characteristics.

Protective qi also comes from the food essence derived by the spleen and stomach. It moves outside the blood vessels and circulates in different areas from nutritive qi. Internally, it will be distributed to the diaphragm and scattered around the chest and abdominal cavities. Externally, it moves between the skin and muscles providing protection. Protective qi not only guards against illness and disease but also regulates the sweat glands and pores and provides nourishment for the skin, hair and muscles.

Although nutritive and protective qi share the same origin, their flow directions, as previously described, are opposite to one another. By balancing their nutritive (yin) and protective (yang) functions, healthy sweating, temperature control and defence functions are maintained.

These and other Traditional Chinese practices all form part of TCM, each adding a little to the history and methodology of Acupuncture and Herbs.

Eca Brady is a fully licensed physician of Chinese Medicine BSc(Ac) MBAcC PGDip(CHM), practicing from Harley Street, London. Make an appointment for an Acupuncture or Herb treatment and we can discuss how we can help you, to read more about Eca click here.


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