Qi is the vital force that initiates and sustains life, maintains health, and empowers the body’s repair mechanisms to prevent and recover from diseases. Qigong is the art of harnessing this life force through graceful movements that magnifies the qi and enhances its flow through energy-channels or meridians that traverse the body, allowing the qi to nourish all the organs, and ultimately, all the cells.

Qi flows through all living things, and even inanimate things. Qi pervades the universe and orchestrates the web of life.

We are sustained by qi that we obtained at conception (yuan-qi, or Original/Prenatal Qi); from food that we eat (gu-qi, or Grain Qi); and from the air that we breathe (kong-qi, or Natural Air Qi). These combine to form zheng-qi ( Normal/Upright Qi) that flows through the body. This qi further differentiates into various behavioural forms according to the different functions required to be performed, and many names have been given to these qi variations. Think of the different forms of electricity with different voltages, frequencies and power to help you understand the concept. Sometimes you need a low-voltage current, and anything stronger will cause damage.

The different Qigong exercises harness slightly different forms of qi, apart from stimulating flow in different meridians. In treating cancer, for example, soft gentle qi is required to initiate the healing, but for the cancer to be defeated, “high-voltage” qi must flow for many hours each day. That is why those with cancers have to be persistent in their practice. Cancer is aggressive, and the remedy must also be equally so.

ORGAN QI (zang-fu-zhi-qi)

The behaviour of qi nourishing each organ is different. So there is Heart qi, Lung qi, and so on. These organs also differ in their Yin-Yang constitution. The Yin organs are Heart, Lungs, Spleen, Liver, Kidneys, and “Pericardium”. The Yang organs are Small Intestines, Large Intestines, Stomach, Gall Bladder, Urinary Bladder and “Triple Burner”. Note that organs here do not refer to just the physical organs, but to the functional activities of the organs that require qi.

Physically, the pericardium is only a protective layer covering the heart, but the Pericardium of Chinese Medicine is a separate organ with its own major qi meridian. If we realize how important maintaining a healthy heart is, then it is not surprising that even its protective layer has a vital supply of qi.

The Triple Burner ( Triple Warmer or Triple Heater ) is described as “having a name but no shape”. It is actually the pathway or system that coordinates the functions of all the organs that regulate water, and therefore also body heat.

MERIDIAN QI (jing-luo-zhi-qi)

Normal Meridian Qi fows through the energy channels to nourish and harmonise the organs and body tissues. Although the meridian system is unique to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), modern scientific instruments have been able to confirm at least part of this system as channels and portals of electrical conductivity separate from the circulatory and nervous systems.

NUTRITIVE QI (ying-qi)

This qi flows with the blood in the blood vessels. It nourishes the activities of the blood cells and allows the nutrients to become blood components.


This qi circulates between the chest and abdominal cavities, and between skin and muscles. This very Yang qi protects the body from external elements that can harm the body. It is described as “fierce and bold”.

ANCESTRAL QI (zong-qi)

Also called Chest Qi, it sustains and regulates the rhythmic movements of breathing, and the heartbeat. It is thus intimately connected to the Heart and Lungs, and is reflected in the strength and health of our breathing, voice, heart and circulation. The “sea of qi” gathers in the chest cavity to empower all these functions. Any blockage will cause weaknesses in any or all of those functions.


Problems with qi are broadly categorized as deficiencies or blockages. Qi can be sufficiently deficient so as to cause generalized lethargy, or malfunction of organs. If too little is available in an organ, it will collapse and may even be displaced from its original place.

Qi flow can also be slowed, interrupted, or even reversed. Stagnant qi in the limbs cause aches and pains; in the Lungs this will cause coughs and difficulty in breathing. When the qi flow is reversed (“rebellious qi”), the symptoms will be more violent. For example, reversal of the Stomach Qi flow will cause vomiting.

All this may sound mumbo-jumbo to the scientific readers, and especially to Western-trained doctors. But let me share my own experiences to illustrate that these concepts are real.

Recently I gave a talk and demonstration on qigong to over 300 ladies. When it was time to let them feel the qi, one lady, who was standing right in front of me in the front row, screamed because she could not move her hands after receiving the qi. That caused a commotion, as she panicked and started reciting verses of the Qur’an loudly. After she had calmed down, she felt relieved and thanked me because the neck pain which she had been having for the previous 3 days ( unknown to me ) was gone!

In TCM terms, she had qi blockage in the channels flowing through the arms and neck that caused her neck pain and stiffness. When she received the qi, the blocked flow exaggerated the problem as the increased qi had no where to go. Fortunately, just a few minutes of healing qi was sufficient to unblock the channels.

My students have witnessed many similar incidents during their learning sessions as many come with unknown blockages which are revealed when they start practising qigong.


In the world of quantum physics, scientists have discovered that each basic unit of the universe – the sub-nuclear fundamental particles – has “consciousness”. This explains why at this level it is observed that these particles interact with the observer’s mind. They change from being an energy waves or particulate forms according to the observer’s expectations!

But this is nothing new to Chinese philosophy, because for thousands of years their concept was that there was no difference between matter and energy – something the Western scientists learned only within the last century ( Einstein’s e=mc2 ). Qi is the form of energy that is about to materialize to matter.

Qi is the connecton between us and and all life-forms, and the entire Universe:

“With each inhalation, your body takes in billions of atoms, tiny fragments of the universe that over the centuries have passed through countless numbers of living beings and will continue to do so long after you are no longer here. In this sense, breathing is literally an act of sharing. It is a biological process that puts us in touch with the past and the future of our own species, and with all other living beings as well.” [ Dr. Deepak Chopra, M.D.]


What happens to Qi at death is a whole fascinating subject. I will leave you with this excerpt from the Bhagavadgita to let you ponder :

“The one who, at the time of death, focuses his life-force (prana/qi) on his forehead…and remembers me in ful devotion, attains GOD”. [ Srimad Bhagavadgita 8:10 ]


Dr Amir Farid Isahak
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