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TCM Basics: What is Chi?

Health & Wellness
Last Updated Jan 27, 2021

Chi is a fundamental concept of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and that which is encompassed within it, but what exactly is Chi?  We find out below.

Chi, pronounced "chee" and also spelt as qi, is the life giving energy that unites the body, mind, and spirit.  Chi is present within every person, and also within the environment.  If the Chi is strong, balanced, focused, and flowing freely throughout the body, a person will be in good health.  However, if the Chi becomes blocked or stagnates at all, ill health will result.

The Types of Chi

There are two basic types of Chi within the body - congenital Chi and acquired Chi.  Congenital Chi is the Chi that we are born with and inherit from our parents.  It is stored in the kidneys, determines a person's basic constitutions, and is essential to a person's growth and development.  Congenital Chi cannot be replaced.  Acquired Chi is the Chi that we get from the food that we eat and the air that we breathe.  Therefore, the quality of this Chi is affected by the quality of our lifestyle.  This Chi can be replaced.

While the word "Chi" is used to mean energy, within TCM, there are many different types of Chi.  These are explained below:

  • Jing (Essence) – this type of Chi is stored in the kidneys and is responsible for growth, reproduction, and development.  It is derived from the parents and supported by acquired Chi.
  • Yuang Chi (Original Chi) – is derived from the Jing, and has the purpose of promoting and stimulating the function of the organs.  It also provides the foundation for Zhen Chi.
  • Gu Chi (Essence of Food and Grain Chi) – this Chi comes from the action of the spleen on the food in the stomach.  It combines with the Kong Chi to make Zong Chi.  Some aspects of this type of Chi are transformed into blood.
  • Kong Chi (Air Chi) – this Chi comes from the air that is taken in by the lungs and combines with the Gu Chi to make Zong Chi.  It is distributed from the chest.
  • Zong Chi (Gathering Chi) – this is the combination of the Gu Chi and the Kong Chi.  Its purpose is to nourish the heart and the lungs.  It helps the lungs in their role of respiration and energy circulation, and the heart in the circulation of blood.  It is stored in the chest.
  • Zhen Chi (True Chi) – this comes from Zong Chi when it is acted upon by the Yuan Chi.  This form of Chi circulates in the body's meridians and nourishes the organs.
  • Ying Chi (Nutritive Chi) – the purpose of this Chi is to nourish the organs and help to produce blood.  It circulates in the main meridians and flows with the blood in the main meridians and within the blood vessels themselves.  This is the Chi that acupuncture works on.
  • Wei Chi (Defensive Chi) – the function of this Chi is to help to protect the body and to warm the surface of the body.  In this way it regulates body temperature.  It is distributed on the surface of the body and within the muscles and skin but it is not contained within the body's meridians.  The circulation of this Chi is dependent on the lungs.

To learn more, you can talk to a local TCM practitioner near you.

Originally published on May 12, 2008

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