What is Qi?

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Qi is a huge and complex subject and one that is central to Chinese medicine theory. Qi is a difficult concept to explain because it is difficult to measure and impossible to see. To the Chinese, it is a given. It is the very force that governs life and all of its processes, but for us in the West, it is a little more difficult to wrap our minds around. In the West, we live in a culture that is largely ruled by science, and science is all about things that we can see and prove. Although science is now able to prove the efficacy of things like acupuncture, the HOW is still largely under debate. Qi is at the core of why all of the modalities in Chinese medicine - Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, gua sha, tuina, moxibustion, cupping, auricular, it is one of the main reasons that they are so effective, and have been for more than 5000 years.

Qi is a subtle energy that can be loosely translated as vital energy or life force. In India, it is called Prana. In Japan, Ki. Many of the Eastern cultures know and understand this concept and its role in keeping the body healthy. In Chinese medicine, Qi is the force that animates all living things. Qi flows through energy pathways throughout the body called meridians or channels. There are 12 main meridians that correspond to specific organs and run bilaterally, mirroring each other. There are also extra pathways that run deeper in the body, but all are the channels through which Qi travels. Qi must move freely throughout the body for health to be maintained. A blockage of the Qi in the body usually results in pain (a main symptom of Qi stagnation) and if left untreated can cause a whole host of other, more serious problems. In addition to Qi running through the meridians, each organ also has its own unique Qi. Each organs’ Qi can become deficient, excess, or stuck, or stagnated. Stagnation of Qi starts energetically, but if left untreated, can manifest physically as things like tumours and other masses. This is why it is important to keep Qi flowing freely.

Acupuncture Meridians : Chinese Medicine LivingThis image from Acupuncture Media Works

The Qi in the body also flows in two-hour intervals through each of the organ systems. This is used as a diagnostic tool by TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) practitioners. If, for example, you are waking up consistently at a specific hour every night, it points to an imbalance in that specific organ. If there is a certain hour of the day when you feel particularly productive, then it would suggest that the organ that corresponds to that hour is strong. You can see the chart below for the organs and the corresponding times.

Qi Clock : Chinese Medicine Living

Because of the importance of Qi and its ability to flow freely through the body, the Chinese have developed many exercises to help build Qi, as well as keep it moving freely. The external martial arts, like Kung Fu are excellent for cultivating Qi and keeping it moving, and the internal martial arts like Tai Chi and Qi Gong are excellent ways of cultivating and strengthening Qi and keeping it flowing throughout the body so that health can be maintained.

Kung Fu : Chinese Medicine Living

There are many ways to build Qi. Good food, clean air, and participating in positive activities all build Qi. And many things diminish Qi, like stress, not getting enough sleep and having an unhealthy lifestyle. It is almost impossible to stay away from stress and other things that can deplete Qi, but the good news is that we are always able to rebuild it by simply doing things that give us energy. Keeping Qi moving is extremely important and the best way to do this is simply by moving your body. The act of walking (preferably in nature) is a wonderful way to keep Qi moving and stay a healthy, happy human being.

 

This article also appears on the website Qi Encyclopedia at -
http://qi-encyclopedia.com/index.asp?article=WhatIsQi-3

 


Why We Should All Do Qi Gong

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I suspect we have all seen the groups of elderly Chinese in parks, moving gracefully in unison, seeming to be listening to something that cannot be heard by the rest of us. I have this memory as a child, living across from a huge park I would go out to walk the dog and sit in the grass, watching them. They were so beautiful, moving all together, like a flock of birds, communicating by some unseen force, many individuals, moving as one.

I later would discover that this was Qi Gong.

A Brief History of Qi Gong

Qi Gong has been practiced in China for thousands of years. Its purpose was to build the body’s internal energy or qi to promote health and fight disease. In 1122BC the I-Ching or book of changes was one of the first books to introduce the idea of qi. People used the concept of the universe to explain the laws of nature which was seen to be an integration of three fundamental energies - heaven above, earth below and man between them, joining the two. Studying the relationship between the three was the first step in the development of Qi Gong. During the Zhou Dynasty (1100-221BC), Lau Tzu, founder of Taoism, wrote about breathing techniques in his famous book the Tao De Jing. Interest in qi was heightened, and Qi Gong became an integral part of the development of traditional Chinese medicine along with concepts like yin and yang and the theory of the five elements.

Later, duning the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220AD) Buddhist meditation techniques arrived in China from India, integrating meditation with Qi Gong practice. Buddhist practitioners worked to cultivate their qi, strengthen their internal organs and control mind, body and spirit to achieve enlightenment and avoid the cycle of reincarnation.

It was during the Liang dynasty (502 - 577AD) qi gong was integrated into martial arts. This was a powerful union, as external martial arts like kung fu with its quick, explosive movements with an emphasis on strength, power, agility and flexibility, joined with the internal art of Qi Gong which focusses on using mindful breathing to strengthen the body, cultivate the mind and spirit, prevent and cure disease and increase longevity. Qi Gong practices were also introduced from other countries including Japan, India and Korea as information passed more freely from country to country.

Qi Gong developed into many traditions, each having its own purpose and methods. Below is a brief description of each.

Buddhist Qi Gong

Aims to liberate the mind, cultivate virtue and to obtain enlightening wisdom. The human body is considered a tool for attaining enlightenment. (84000 approaches mentioned in history; most popular type of Qi Gong.)

Taoist Qi Gong

Stresses preservation of the physical body and high virtue. Many Taoist Qi Gong masters enjoyed long lives. (3600 approaches are mentioned throughout its history.)

Confucian Qi Gong

Aims to promote high moral character and intelligence

Medical Qi Gong

Medical Qi Gong emphasizes the free flow and balance of qi (vital energy) in the body. The primary purpose is to treat illness or cure a disease. Medical practitioners learn how to use the inner qi for diagnosis and healing.

Martial Arts Qi Gong

Trains the body for protection from cuts by weapons or attacks using the four limbs. It also trains the body to deliver fatal blows enhanced with qi.

There are basically two ways to practice Qi Gong. One is with a series of gentle movements, or sets, where one moves systematically through the set, smoothly transitioning from one movement to the next, concentrating on the breathing and mindful awareness. The other is to practice Qi Gong by standing, sitting or lying  also paying close attention to the breath. This focus on breathing is to strengthen the immune, digestive and circulatory systems as well as strengthening qi and gaining an awareness of what is happening inside the body and mind. It is most effective when practiced outside, being connected to nature and the cosmos, which  is why it is so common to see groups of people practicing it in parks and outdoor spaces.

The doctor of Chinese medicine learns these practices so that he may cultivate his qi, developing an awareness of both his qi and the qi in everything around him. This leads to the ability to diagnose and restore balance in his patients using all of the tools in his Chinese medicine toolkit, including acupuncture, Chinese herbs, cupping, tuina and guasha.

Qi Gong is an excellent way to develop an awareness of your own internal energy and become more sensitive to that energy if it becomes unbalanced. It is also an avenue to restore that balance when it should arise. It is a practice that emcompasses all parts of our being, helping us to become more aware and with skill, to maintain a healthy body, mind and spirit.  


Tai Chi - History & Health Benefits

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

China has a long tradition of using exercise techniques to promote health and longevity. Its roots go back to ancient times. In the 6th century BCE (Before the Common Era) Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, ‘Yield and overcome, bend and be straight.” From these origins of Taoism comes the central philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan – literally Supreme Ultimate Fist.

In 250 CE the physician Hua Tuo developed a system of exercise based on the movements of five animals. He believed that regular exercise was necessary for good digestion and circulation, and that this would assure a long and healthy life. These Five Animals Exercises form the basis of the modern systems of Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong.

In the 6th century CE an Indian monk named Bodihdharma came to China to the Shaolin monastery. He noticed that the monks there were in poor physical condition from meditating too much and moving too little! He developed an exercise system called the Eighteen Form Lohan Exercise, from which came Kung Fu and all other external martial arts forms. Some of these exercises survive today in modern Tai Chi Chuan.

tai-chi-2

Today Tai Chi Chuan enjoys a world wide following of people with little or no interest in martial arts. They practice Tai Chi for its physical and mental health benefits. Concentrating on the movements of the forms and regulating the breathing brings about a state of mental calmness and clarity. The physical movements rotate the joints of the body to about 95% of their capability, keeping one limber and flexible. No other Western exercise comes close to this range of movement.

Researchers have found that Tai Chi practice improves balance, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness. Other health benefits include relief from pain, fatigue, insomnia, depression, and symptoms of diseases such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, ADHD in adolescents and many others.

Tai Chi’s gentle, low impact movements burn more calories than surfing, and nearly as many as downhill skiing! These many health benefits explain the huge popularity of Tai Chi Chuan world wide.

 

*Note - CE (common era) is the same as AD (anno domini). (ex: 1400 CE is same as 1400 AD)


Healing the Gallbladder with Traditional Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The Gallbladder in Chinese Medicine

In Chinese medicine, the Gallbladder has many important functions. Firstly, it has a very close relationship to the Liver. The Gallbladder is a Yang organ and the Liver is its Yin organ partner. The Gallbladder stores and excretes bile governs decision making and planning, controls the sinews and effects dreams. On a deeper emotional level, the Gallbladder is responsible for our passion for life, inspiration, action, and assertiveness. When we are having problems being assertive, making decisions or following through, are lacking passion, feeling timid or uninspired, we are experiencing an imbalance of the Gallbladder. When the Gallbladder is balanced and its energy is flowing freely, we are happy, healthy, assertive and passionate.

In TCM, organs are categorized as either Yin or Yang. Yin organs are defined as organs that produce, transform, regulate and store fundamental substances, such as Qi, Blood and body fluids, and in general, the Yin organs are not empty cavities. They are function versus form. The Yin organs in TCM are the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lungs, and Kidneys. The Yang organs are organs that are mainly responsible for digestion and for transmitting nutrients to the rest of the body. Usually, they are organs with empty cavities and have a connection to the outside of the body. The Yang organs in TCM are the Gallbladder, Stomach, Small Intestine, Large Intestine, Bladder and San Jiao (Triple Burner).

The Gallbladder is unusual in the sense that it is the only Yang organ that does not have direct contact with food and drink or a direct connection to the outside of the body. Because of this, it is also considered an extraordinary organ.

Just as in Western medicine, the Gallbladder receives bile from the Liver which it stores until it is needed in the digestive process. When the Gallbladder releases bile, it is considered to be regulated by the energy of the Liver, or Liver Qi. When digestion is smooth, so is the Liver Qi. The Gallbladder also needs the Liver Qi to be able to release its bile smoothly. If this relationship is impaired, it can adversely affect digestion and cause problems like vomiting, regurgitation, belching and hiccups, which are all symptoms of rebellious Stomach Qi.

It is common in the modern age to see many patients who have had their Gallbladders removed because of gallstones and other problems. In ancient China, the organs were never removed. That has remained the thinking in Traditional Chinese Medicine today, and if a patient is having problems with their Gallbladder, the practitioner of TCM would always explore dietary options, herbs and acupuncture, and possibly cleanses before considering surgery as a last resort.

Why Do So Many People Have Problems With Their Gallbladders?

So, why do so many people have problems with their Gallbladders? It is a good question. I believe that one reason is diet, and the other is stress. These are 2 of the things that affect the gallbladder the most. Another, in Chinese medicine, is the emotions. Each organ in TCM is associated with an emotion. And the Liver/Gallbladder’s emotion is anger. Now, experiencing emotions is a healthy part of life and one of the things that make us human. But in TCM, the philosophy is that having a healthy emotional life is just as important to our health as eating well, getting enough sleep and keeping your Qi strong (your immune system) so that you can fight off pathogens. The effect of anger on the Liver/Gallbladder works 2 ways.

1. If you repress anger, hold it in and never express it, it will eventually hurt the Liver/Gallbladder and cause imbalance, which will lead to disease.

2. If you are experiencing unusual levels of stress because of things going on in your life (a traumatic event, death, an illness, breakup of a relationship), or stress at work, and/or are eating badly (lots of greasy, fatty, rich or spicy foods), then eventually, the Liver/Gallbladder will become impaired and can cause an excess of anger which can manifest in symptoms like red face & eyes, irritability, angry outbursts, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and migraines. These are symptoms of Liver Fire (excess heat in the Liver).

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

So, How Can You Take Care of Your Gallbladder?

Here are some things that you can do to keep your Gallbladder healthy and happy.

1. Avoid Greasy, Fatty, Rich or Spicy Foods

Sharp abdominal pains after eating these types of foods point to Gallbladder stones and other problems. Because the Gallbladder is responsible for releasing bile which helps break down fats, you want to keep intake of these foods to a minimum and not overload your Gallbladder.


Photo by Robin Stickel on Unsplash

2. Express Emotions Freely

This may be easier said than done, but any stagnation or blockage in TCM is what causes disease and pain. This includes emotions, so it is important to have a healthy emotional life, and always try to express what you are feeling instead of allowing it to build up. Emotions specific to Gallbladder are anger (frustration, resentment, etc..) associated with its partner, the Liver. Emotional changes such as depression (which is considered anger turned inward) can also point to a Gallbladder imbalance.

3. Eat Foods Grown Locally and in Season

This is a big one in Chinese Medicine, and, if you look at history, it is the way we are designed to eat. Our digestive systems have evolved to digest the foods that people were able to grow once we were able to leave our nomadic roots and start farming. People only ate foods that were available to them and grew in the present season. With the recent proliferation of air travel, we have been spoiled by being able to have whatever foods we want, any time of the year (strawberries in winter, blueberries in the tropics, mangoes in the far North...). And although this is wonderful, it is not the way our digestive systems were designed, so we are overloading them with too many kinds of foods at all times of the year. To be kind to your gallbladder, try to eat foods that grow locally and are available in the season you are presently in.

Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

In Chinese Medicine, nutritional therapy is a huge aspect of the medicine. What better way to heal the body than to use the food that we eat 3 times a day? In TCM, every food has a temperature, that interacts with your body, adding heat, cold, or keeping it neutral. Foods also all have healing properties, so the Chinese felt it very important to eat the proper foods when they became sick to help rebalance them so they could recover. I will include a list of some foods beneficial for the Gallbladder at the end of this article.

4. Exercise. Keep Moving!

The Gallbladder meridian runs bilaterally along the body starting at the outside corner of the eye (at the end of the eyebrow) and runs along the side of the body, ending at the corner of the nail bed of the 4th toe. Therefore, any exercise that stimulates the sides of the body are beneficial for the flow of Qi and to help remove any blockages in the Gallbladder organ and meridian. Side stretches are ideal. There are many Chinese internal as well as external martial arts that are excellent for mind, body, and spirit. Tai Chi and Qi Gong are 2 examples of internal martial arts that are beneficial for moving Qi in all of the meridians, as well as strengthening the body and the mind. Kung Fu is a bit more rigorous, but has an emphasis is circulating Qi throughout the body to maintain physical and mental health. Movement is the most important aspect for keeping your Qi from stagnating, so if Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Kung Fu are a bit more physical activity than you are used to, just simple things like walking are a wonderful way to keep Qi moving.

 

Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

5. Be Kind to Your Gallbladder in Spring

Spring is the season related to the Gallbladder, and its partner the Liver.
The Spring element is wood, the taste, sour and the colour is green. So you can imagine after a lengthy winter, the new bright green shoots of plants breaking through the ground representing new life after a long, cold slumber. This is the reason that it is especially important to give the Gallbladder and the Liver a rest from things like caffeine, alcohol and other intoxicants during this time. It is also beneficial to cleanse these organs by drinking lots of water and eating things like fresh greens to nourish the Gallbladder and Liver, especially in the spring.

6. Know What Time It Is

In Chinese medicine, every organ is seen to have 2 hours out of every 12 where its Qi is at its peak. The time when the Gallbladder’s energy is it's most abundant is between 11pm-1am. During these 2 hours, it is helpful if you can refrain from drinking alcohol or other intoxicants, as they place unnecessary stress on the Gallbladder. It also helps the Gallbladder if you can rest the body as much as possible in these 2 hours.

Foods that are beneficial to the Gallbladder

  • Broccoli
  • Rocket
  • Beetroot
  • Oranges
  • Jasmine tea
  • Green tea
  • Radishes
  • Basil
  • Garlic
  • Cayenne (this may seem contradictory, but Cayenne is very moving for qi. Just remember moderation!)
  • Dill
  • Chive
  • Cardamom
  • Lemon
  • Dandelion root
  • Licorice root
  • Cumquat
  • Grapefruit
  • Kale
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Peppermint tea
  • Chrysanthemum tea
  • Tea with orange peel

 

Photo by Helena Yankovska on Unsplash

Foods that hurt the Gallbladder

  • Deep fried food - (Greasy)
  • Alcohol - (Damp)
  • Spicy foods - (remember moderation is important!)
  • Hot foods - Foods that are considered “Hot” in TCM are:
    • Lamb
    • Beef
    • Curry

If you are experiencing any Gallbladder symptoms, or have been told by your doctor that you should consider surgery, I encourage you to seek out a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine and explore the non-surgical options to rebalance your body and heal your Gallbladder.

The wonderful thing about Chinese medicine is that it was developed to be a system that focuses on prevention. That is why, it is not only the oldest medical system on earth, but it teaches an entire way of life, teaching how to live in harmony with nature, eating with the seasons, moderation in work and play, exercise and emotional wellness. By practicing these basic principles, Chinese medicine teaches that you can maintain optimum health so that illness never has a chance to develop.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

If you suspect you are having problems with your gallbladder and would like an expert opinion, Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP offers skype consultations. For more information and pricing, see our Skype Consult Page.