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 -


Magnificent Moxa

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

One of the many modalities used in Chinese medicine is Moxibustion. Moxibustion is the burning of the herb artemesia vulgaris, or mugwort. It comes in many forms, and can be burned both directly (sitting directly on the skin) or indirectly (burned above the skin without making contact). It can also be applied to the end of inserted acupuncture needles, placed in a box and placed on the skin (to warm a larger area) and a common treatment is to fill the navel with salt, then place a slice of ginger, then place and burn the moxa on the top for digestive and other problems.

Moxa is grown in all parts of China but the most famous type comes from the Jon Zhou area. Moxa is dried so that it can be stored and used. It is not used fresh as it contains so much volatile oil that when burned, it would produce too much heat. When the leaves are dried and pounded, moxa wool is produced, and when dried for ectended periods in the sun, can be stored for later use. Moxa is both bitter and pungent, and its flammability and warming nature make it ideal for building up the body, warming the channels and warding off disease.

So... what is moxa used for? Moxibustion has many practical applications, and is often used a lot in cold climates, due to its properties of warming and expelling cold. Below are some of the main functions of moxa.

Warms the Meridians and Dispels Cold

Moxibustion warms the meridians and dispels cold. Clinically, it is applied for all diseases caused by cold, blood stagnation and blockages of the meridians, such as cold-damp arthralgia, dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, stomachache, epigastric pain and cold herniation. Cold very often can enter the meridians if you have underdressed in cold weather, live in a damp place, or have your neck exposed on a cold day. Sleeping in the room with a fan or with air conditioning running can also cause cold to get lodged in the channels and lead to disease.

Supports Yang to Strengthen Original Qi

Moxibustion has been widely applied to many serious diseases due to deficiency, sinking or depletion of Yang Qi. Among them are enuresis, rectocele, prolapse of the genitalia, menorrhagia, leukorrhea, and chronic diarrhea, just to name a few.

Breaks Up Blood Stagnation

Moxibustion, because of its heat, has the effect of keeping the actions of Yin and stomach Qi in balance, and in turn, it dispels blood stasis and dissipates pathological accumulation. In a clinical setting, it is commonly used to treat diseases related to Qi and blood stagnation (Qi stagnation is a milder than, and usually precedes blood stagnation), such as the early stages of acute mastitis, scrofula and goitre. Masses anywhere in the body are considered stagnations, with the most severe being cancer.

Boosts the Immune System, Prevents Disease and Maintains Health

Moxibustion on Zu San Li (ST36) or other points, has the function of boosting the immune system to prevent diseases and maintaining health. This method was used preventatively in China for thousands of years, and is still used to keep the body strong so that illness never has a chance to develop. This method can invigorate healthy Qi and strengthen immunity to keep one full of vitality and increase longevity.

Below are some different types of moxibustion and some of the different ways it can be applied to the body.

Moxibustion : Chinese Medicine LivingMoxa sticks, and a bag of moxa wool.

Moxibustion : Chinese Medicine LivingMoxa sticks that are stuck directly on the skin

Moxibustion : Chinese Medicine LivingMoxa cones burned directly on the skin

Moxibustion : Chinese Medicine LivingMoxa sticks that are burned indirectly above the skin or over inserted acupuncture needles

Warm Needle Moxibustion : Chinese Medicine LivingWarm Needle Moxibustion -
moxa burned on the end of inserted acupuncture needles

Moxibustion Contraindications

  • Patients with excess heat syndromes or with fevers due to yin deficiency
  • Scarring (direct moxibustion that is allowed to burn on the skin, sometimes leaving a small scar) moxibustion is prohibited on the face and head, and areas close to large blood vessels.
  • Moxibustion is prohibited on the abdomen and lumbo-sacral areas during pregnancy.
  • Precautions should be taken with patients suffering from skin allergies or ulcers.