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What Is Qi? – A Bioengineer Turned Acupuncturist’s Perspective

Updated: 6 days ago


What is Qi?

Contents



Introduction


The concept of Qi is often misunderstood. It is commonly thought of as some kind of mystical or supernatural energy. This misconception may, perhaps, be due to Qi’s portrayal in popular culture (e.g., the Force in Star Wars or Ki in Dragon Ball). It may also be due to the inherent difficulty of translating the term. Qi is often translated into terms, such as “vital energy” and “life force,” that differentiate it from the physical interpretation of energy (i.e., the capacity of a physical system to perform work). However, I, as a scientifically minded acupuncturist, understand “Qi” to be an all-encompassing concept that includes, but is not limited to, the physical concepts of energy, matter, and information. The purpose of this article is to clarify some common misconceptions about Qi as well as to illustrate my own understanding of Qi and how this understanding influences how I apply acupuncture and other Eastern medicine treatment modalities.



What Qi Is Not


Before we can explore what Qi is, we must first discuss what it is not. As a 90s kid, I grew up watching movies and television shows like Star Wars and Dragon Ball. While I did not know it at the time, the Force in Star Wars and Ki in Dragon Ball are examples of popular culture’s interpretation of Qi. In these media, Qi is portrayed as some mystical energy that grants its wielder supernatural powers. As a first-generation Chinese-American, I was aware of the concept of Qi; my father regularly practiced Qigong, and my mother is an acupuncturist and Eastern medicine practitioner. Since Chinese was my second language, however, I did not really understand what Qi meant. When I consulted the internet, I oftentimes found the term “Qi” translated into terms like “vital energy” and “life force.” While I was not quite naïve enough to believe that mastery of Qi would allow me to choke someone from across the room and shoot energy blasts from my hands, for the aforementioned reasons, I understood Qi to be some kind of energy that was somehow different from the energy I had learned about in school. This understanding of Qi, I suspect, resonates with many others, perhaps including you, the reader. With the remainder of this article, I hope to clarify this common misconception and to illustrate my current understanding of Qi.



My Current Understanding of Qi


After obtaining degrees in both traditional Chinese medicine and biomedical engineering, my understanding of Qi has changed dramatically. Currently, I understand Qi to be an all-encompassing concept that includes, but is not limited to, the physical concepts of energy, matter, and information.


Qi According to Ancient Chinese Philosophers


In order to explore this idea further, let us first examine how Qi is explained in classic Chinese texts. Laozi’s Daodejing (Chapter 42) says:

“道生一. The Way produces one [無極, Wuji – the unmanifested universe (Figure 1)].

一生二. One produces two [太極, Taiji – Yin and Yang (Figure 2]].

二生三. Two produces three [氣, Qi – the dynamic interaction of Taiji (Figure 3)].

三生萬物. Three produces everything.

萬物負陰而抱陽. Everything has polar elements in it

沖氣以為和. That interact to achieve harmony.” [1]


Yin Yang

Figure 1. Wuji symbolized as an empty circle. Figure 2. Taiji symbol.

Yin Yang in Motion

Figure 3. Qi, the dynamic interaction of Taiji, visualized.


In this excerpt, Laozi says that Qi produces everything. In other words, everything that manifests in the universe originates from and is made up of Qi. Huai Nan Zi (circa 122 B.C.E.), a Daoist text, describes the nature of Qi: “Dao originated from Emptiness and Emptiness produced the universe. The universe produced Qi…. That which was clear and light drifted up to become heaven. And that which was heavy and turbid solidified to form earth.” [2] In this excerpt, heaven and earth symbolize the polar extremes of maximum dispersion and aggregation. According to ancient Chinese philosophers, the “infinite variety of phenomena in the universe [including life and death] is the result of the continuous… [aggregation] and dispersion of Qi to form phenomena of various degrees of materialization.” [2]


Qi as Matter and Energy


While I am certainly no expert in particle physics, the way Qi is described in these ancient philosophical texts sounds very much like the continuum of matter and energy. This continuum is elegantly demonstrated by Albert Einstein’s most famous equation:

As Einstein himself put it: “It followed from the special theory of relativity that mass and energy are both but different manifestations of the same thing — a somewhat unfamiliar conception for the average mind.” [3] Since, according to the classic texts, Qi produces everything, and the aggregation of Qi forms “earth” and the dispersion of Qi forms “heaven,” in the context of modern physics, the aggregation and dispersion of Qi can be thought of as the gradient of states of matter (i.e., solid, liquid, gas, plasma) and forms of energy (e.g., kinetic, potential, heat, etc.).


Qi as Information and Other Non-Material Entities


In 1968, American mathematician and National Medal of Science recipient Norbert Wiener said: “Information is information, neither matter nor energy.” If information is neither matter nor energy, then what is it? Werner Gitt, et al. defined “Universal Information” as “a symbolically encoded, abstractly represented message conveying the expected action and the intended purpose.” [4] Gitt applied this definition of information to the concept of biological information, using the central dogma of molecular biology – the DNA/RNA protein synthesizing system – as an example. Universal Information can be stored and conveyed in a multitude of biological signaling systems; the endocrine system communicates through hormones; the nervous system communicates through neurotransmitters; the musculoskeletal and connective tissue systems communicate through mechanotransduction. Again, since everything is made up of Qi, then information must also be Qi. Likewise, other non-material entities that cannot be defined within the realm of matter, energy, and information, such as consciousness, must also be included within the definition of Qi.


Qi in the Context of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)


The Huang Di Nei Jing (黄帝内经, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine), compiled during the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.E.), is recognized as the first major compilation of TCM and is the quintessential canonical TCM and acupuncture text. Huang Di Nei Jing is divided into two books – Su Wen (素问, Plain Questions) and Ling Shu (灵枢, Spiritual Pivot). Plain Questions (Chapter 25) says: “A human being results from the Qi of Heaven and Earth…. The union of the Qi of Heaven and Earth is called human being.” [2] This shows that ancient Chinese doctors and philosophers observed the “interrelationship between the universe and human beings and considered the human being's Qi as a result of the interaction of the Qi of Heaven and Earth.” [2] We can consider the “Qi of Heaven” to be the more dispersed forms of Qi (i.e., energy, information, consciousness, etc.) and the “Qi of Earth” to be the more condensed forms of Qi (i.e., matter). This is not far from the truth; after all, according to the laws of conservation of energy and mass, every atom and every joule of energy in our bodies has existed in some form since the Big Bang. As Neil deGrasse Tyson has so eloquently stated, “we are part of this universe; we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us.” [5]


The prior discussion of Qi has been mostly philosophical. Clinically, however, the term “Qi” is used in two primary ways. First, it refers to the refined energy produced by the Internal Organs* (脏腑, Zangfu) and functions to nourish the body and mind. This refined energy takes various forms depending on its location and function. “Gathering Qi [宗气, Zong Qi], for example, is in the chest and nourishes the Heart and Lungs. Original Qi [元气, Yuan Qi] is in the Lower Burner [下焦, Xia Jiao] and nourishes the Kidneys.” [2] Second, “Qi” indicates the complex of functional activities of the Internal Organs. For example, Liver-Qi refers to the complex of the Liver’s functional activities, which is ensuring the smooth flow of Qi. [2] Detailing all of the various forms and functions of Qi in the body is beyond the scope of this article; however, it is important to know that True Qi (真气, Zhen Qi), the Qi that is said to ultimately flow through the acupuncture meridians, is the product of the combination and refinement of Qi derived from the air we breathe and the food we eat.


* Note that the Internal Organs in TCM differ from the conventional understanding of internal organs; the Internal Organs each represent a complex of functions and physiological processes. For example, the Kidneys in TCM may include the functions of the kidneys, adrenal glands, and other organs, as well as a multitude of physiological processes that are involved in water regulation, genetics, bone health, etc. In this article, I will differentiate the TCM Internal Organs from conventional organs by capitalizing the TCM Internal Organs.


Meridians as a Roadmap of Signaling Systems


We cannot have a proper discussion about Qi without also mentioning the acupuncture meridians through which it flows. Acupuncture points are traditionally believed to be linked by a network of meridians that run longitudinally beneath the surface of the body and connect to internal organs. While there are only twelve primary and eight extraordinary meridians that are used in acupuncture (Figure 4), these meridians are fractal in nature, branching out into a countless number of increasingly small collaterals that interweave and supply every cell in the body. “Despite considerable efforts to understand the anatomy and physiology of acupuncture points and meridians, the definition and characterization of these structures remains elusive.” [6] Some modern physiologists and physicians, such as John C. Longhurst, have proposed the “neural hypothesis,” stating that the clinical effects of acupuncture primarily result from stimulation of sensory nerves that transmit signals to the brain, which then processes these signals and causes clinically significant changes. Longhurst suggests that “the peripheral and central nervous system can now be considered to be the most rational basis for defining meridians.” [7] Others, such as Helene M. Langevin, have suggested that “the network of acupuncture points and meridians can be viewed as a representation of the network formed by interstitial connective tissue.” [6]


Acupuncture Meridians

Figure 4. Acupuncture meridians.


My opinion, based on the work of the aforementioned and other researchers, is that the acupuncture meridians can be considered a composite roadmap of multiple biological signaling systems that include, but are not limited to, the nervous system and connective tissue network. First, let us evaluate the nervous system. Pomeranz and Stux proposed three mechanisms for the analgesic effect of acupuncture:

  1. Acupuncture stimulates type I and type II afferent nerves and Aδ fibers in muscles, all of which send nerve impulses to the anterolateral tract of the spinal cord, where the release of dynorphin and enkephalin presynaptically inhibit pain signals.

  2. Acupuncture stimulates structures in the midbrain by activating cells in the “periaqueductal gray matter and the raphe nucleus,” which signals the release of norepinephrine and serotonin in the spinal cord.

  3. Acupuncture stimulates the pituitary-hypothalamic complex, which triggers systemic release of beta-endorphin and adrenocorticotropic hormone into the blood stream. [8]

Multiple brain imaging studies corroborate the nervous system’s involvement in the clinical effect of acupuncture. A 2013 study conducted by Wang, et al. showed “extensive deactivation” of the “limbic-paralimbic-neocortical network (LPNN), such as anterior cingulated cortex (ACC), parahippocampal gyrus (PHG), lingual gyrus (LgG), precuneus (Pcun), and cuneus” in response to acupuncture [9], all of which are implicated in acute and chronic pain. Additionally, Wu, et al. found that acupuncture at ST-36 Zusanli (Figure 5) and LI-4 Hegu (Figure 6) “resulted in activation of the hypothalamus and nucleus accumbens and deactivation of the rostral part of the anterior cingulate cortex, amygdala formation, and hippocampal complex,” while “control stimulations did not result in such activations and deactivations.” Because of this, the researchers concluded that “acupuncture at ST-36 and LI-4 activates structures of descending antinociceptive pathway and deactivates multiple limbic areas subserving pain association.” [10] These brain structures, however, are not only involved in transmitting and processing pain signals. For example, one of the primary functions of the hypothalamus is to maintain homeostasis, affecting many key processes, including heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and metabolism. Activation and deactivation of such structures allows acupuncture to affect a wide range of systems through stimulation of the nervous system.


Acupuncture Points for Health

Figure 5. ST-36 Zusanli. [11] Figure 6. Hegu. [11]


Second, let us evaluate the connective tissue network. Connective tissue cells secrete a wide variety of products into the intercellular space that combine to form bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and fascia. The sum total of extracellular substance is termed the extracellular matrix (ECM). James Oschman includes the ECM as a part of the “living matrix,” which he defines as “the continuous molecular fabric of the organism, consisting of fascia, the other connective tissues, extracellular matrices, integrins, cytoskeletons, nuclear matrices and DNA.” [12] Oschman explains that “the living matrix is a continuous and dynamic ‘supermolecular’ webwork extending into every nook and cranny of the body: a nuclear matrix within a cellular matrix within a connective tissue matrix. In essence, when you touch a human body, you are touching an intimately connected system composed of virtually all the molecules within the body linked together.” [13] This living matrix binds every cell in the body to its neighbors and even “connects the inner network of each cell to the mechanical state of the entire body.” [14] This allows it to store and communicate information across the entire body. Each change in pressure and tension on the ECM causes the “liquid crystal semiconducting lattice of the wet collagen and other proteins to generate bioelectric signals that precisely mirror the original mechanical information.” [14] This “perineural system,” according to Robert Becker, is an ancient and fundamental parallel to the more recently developed conduction along nerve membranes. [15] Furthermore, Helene M. Langevin hypothesized that “the network of acupuncture points and meridians can be viewed as a representation of the network formed by interstitial connective tissue.” [6] To test this hypothesis, Langevin, et al. “mapped acupuncture points in serial gross anatomical sections through the human arm…[and] found an 80% correspondence between the sites of acupuncture points and the location of intermuscular or intramuscular connective tissue planes in postmortem tissue sections.” [6] In another study, Langevin found that acupuncture “needle manipulation transmits a mechanical signal to connective tissue cells via mechanotransduction” and proposed that “downstream effects of this mechanical signal may include cell secretion, modification of extracellular matrix, amplification and propagation of the signal along connective tissue planes, and modulation of afferent sensory input via changes in the connective tissue milieu.” “Such a mechanism may explain local and remote, as well as long-term effects of acupuncture.” [16] The correlation between connective tissue planes and acupuncture meridians is also evident in Thomas W. Myers’ “Anatomy Trains.” The Superficial Back Line (Figure 7), for example, runs largely in tandem with the Bladder meridian (Figure 8).


Myofascial lines and acupuncture meridians

Figure 7. Superficial Back Line. [14] Figure 8. Bladder meridian. [11]


Referring back to the notion that Qi is an all-encompassing concept that includes, but is not limited to, the physical concepts of energy, matter, and information, let us examine how this definition might apply to human biology and meridian theory. We have established that stimulation by acupuncture transmits signals through the nervous system and connective tissue network. The downstream effects of this stimulation are systemic and influence key processes, such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and metabolism, all of which affect and are affected by cellular respiration. Cellular respiration is a set of metabolic processes that convert chemical energy from nutrients and oxygen molecules into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary carrier of energy in cells. ATP can, therefore, be equated to True Qi (真气, Zhen Qi), which, as stated earlier in this article, is the product of the combination and refinement of Qi derived from the air we breathe and the food we eat, and the Qi that is said to ultimately flow through the meridians. Thus, in the context of anatomy and physiology, Qi can be understood as the biochemical energy that sustains life, the biological materials of which our bodies are comprised, and the biological information that is stored and transmitted throughout the body.



How I Apply My Understanding of Qi in Clinic


My objective, as an acupuncturist and Eastern medicine practitioner, is to improve my patients’ quality of life, using whatever treatment modalities I have at my disposal. In TCM, diseases and disorders are categorized according to the Eight Principles and the Internal Organs. The Eight Principles consist of four pairs of opposing categories: Yin/Yang, excess/deficiency, hot/cold, and interior/exterior. The Internal Organs consist of five Yin Organs – Lung, Spleen, Heart, Kidney, and Liver – and six Yang Organs – Large Intestine, Stomach, Small Intestine, Bladder, Triple Burner (三焦, San Jiao), and Gall Bladder. Patients are assessed using the diagnostic methods of inquiring, inspection, auscultation, olfaction, and palpation. Based on the patterns of symptoms observed, TCM practitioners determine the nature of the disorder and which Internal Organs and/or meridians are affected.


Treatment Principles and Methods


Once I have determined the diagnostic pattern of the disorder, I can then apply the appropriate treatment principles and methods. With regard to the Eight Principles, Yin and Yang must be balanced, excess must be removed, deficiency must be tonified, heat must be cleared, cold must be warmed, and disorders affecting the exterior must be released. Disorders affecting the interior tend to be more complex, and their treatment cannot be generalized with a single verb. To determine the appropriate treatment principles and modalities (i.e., acupuncture, manual therapy, herbal medicine, moxibustion, lifestyle changes, etc.), I consider the diagnostic pattern; the anatomical structures, Internal Organs, and/or meridians that are affected; and the systemic responses I want to achieve. For example, Qi deficiency pattern disorders can be treated by promoting energy metabolism with Qi-tonifying herbs (e.g., ginseng) and acupuncture points (e.g., ST-36 Zusanli); cold patterns can be warmed with heat therapy and warming herbs (e.g., ginger); disorders affecting the exterior can be released by promoting perspiration with pore-opening herbs (e.g., ephedra) and acupuncture points (e.g., LI-4 Hegu). In order to address all of the possible diagnostic patterns, I would have to write a book. Perhaps I will do just that at some point in the future, but, for now, I will use a case study to illustrate my approach to TCM treatment.


Case Study


A 37-year-old male construction worker presented with acute low back pain and chronic fatigue. In addition to the primary symptoms of low back pain and fatigue, this patient reported loose stools, poor appetite, weakness, and heaviness in the limbs. His face was slightly pale; his voice was weak; his demeanor was lethargic; his radial pulse was thin and weak, particularly on the right side; his tongue was pale and slightly scalloped. Assessment of this patient revealed the underlying patterns of blood stasis causing the low back pain and Spleen-Qi deficiency causing the fatigue. Therefore, the primary treatment principles were to remove blood stasis and to tonify Spleen-Qi.


To remove blood stasis, acupuncture, manual therapy, cupping, and postural exercises were applied. The patient’s low back pain was at the level of L2-L5 and lateral to the posterior midline. In order to select the appropriate acupuncture points, I used the meridians as a roadmap of the connective tissue network. The location of the back pain was consistent with the Bladder meridian and the overlapping Anatomy Train, the Superficial Back Line (SBL) [14]. I palpated along the Bladder meridian and found the following points to be particularly tender: BL-17 Geshu, BL-23 Shenshu, BL-24 Qihaishu, BL-25 Dachangshu, BL-26 Guanyuanshu (Figure 9), BL-40 Weizhong, and BL-57 Chengshan (Figure 10). Acupuncture, with needling techniques developed specifically to elicit a De-Qi response, was applied to these points in order to activate the Bladder meridian and deactivate the pain centers of the brain (e.g., LPNN, ACC). Cupping was applied locally over BL-23 to BL-26 in order to replace stagnant blood with fresh blood in the affected area. Manual therapy and postural exercises were applied to relieve tension in the SBL. It is worth noting that acupuncture points are typically located in relation to anatomical landmarks; for example, ST-36 Zusanli (Figure 5) is located 3 cun* inferior to the inferior border of the patella, one finger-breadth lateral to the anterior crest of the tibia. However, in my view and experience, acupuncture points are normally inactive and their actual locations may vary slightly from their textbook anatomical locations. Disorders cause various points to become active. Tenderness with light pressure and/or exhibition of physical change (e.g., change in color, texture, temperature, etc.) indicate the activation and true location of acupuncture points. The mechanism by which points activate is not fully understood; however, my theory is that point activation occurs as a corollary to and as a reflection of signals transmitted through the biological signaling systems.


* The cun is a unit of measurement relative to the patient’s body proportions. For example, the width of the second, third, fourth, and fifth fingers side-by-side at the level of the proximal interphalangeal joint is 3 cun; the length of the forearm, between the antecubital crease and the distal wrist crease, is 12 cun.


Acupuncture points for back pain

Figure 9. Points of the back. BL-17, 23, 24, 25, 26. [11] Figure 10. BL-40 & 57. [11]


To tonify Spleen-Qi, acupuncture, herbal medicine, manual therapy, and lifestyle changes were applied. In order to select the appropriate acupuncture points, I used the meridians as a roadmap of the nervous system. Spleen-Qi deficiency implicates the Spleen and Stomach; therefore, I palpated the corresponding meridians as well as the Ren meridian and found the following points to be particularly tender: SP-3 Taibai (Figure 11A), SP-10 Xuehai (Figure 11B), ST-36 Zusanli (Figure 5), and REN-6 Qihai (Figure 11C). Acupuncture, with needling techniques developed specifically to elicit a De-Qi response, was applied to these points in order to activate the Spleen, Stomach, and Ren meridians; activate regions of the brain associated with metabolism (e.g., hypothalamus); and deactivate the pain and stress centers of the brain (e.g., LPNN, ACC). The herbal formula known as The Four Gentlemen (四君子汤, Si Jun Zi Tang) was prescribed. The Four Gentlemen formula is known to treat Spleen-Qi deficiency; it is comprised of ginseng (人参, Ren Shen), atractylodis (白术, Bai Zhu), poria (茯苓, Fu Ling), and licorice root (炙甘草, Zhi Gan Cao). Lavender essential oil massage was applied to the forehead and scalp in order to promote sleep and reduce stress. Lifestyle changes, dietary therapy, and meditative breathing exercises were recommended to regulate digestion, metabolism, and rest.


Post-treatment evaluation of this patient revealed an 80% reduction in the acute back pain after the first treatment and 100% reduction after four treatments. He also reported a 30% improvement in energy levels after the first treatment and 90% improvement after ten treatments. After ten treatments, the patient returned monthly for reassessment and maintenance treatments. He experienced no resurgence in back pain and maintained a 90-95% improvement of fatigue symptoms, depending on his level of compliance with lifestyle modifications.


Acupuncture points for fatigue

Figure 11. (A) SP-3, (B) SP-10, (C) REN-6 [11]


Qi in the Context of this Case Study


As stated earlier in this article, in the context of anatomy and physiology, Qi can be understood as the biochemical energy that sustains life, the biological materials of which our bodies are comprised, and the biological information that is stored and transmitted throughout the body. In the case study above, the patient suffered from acute low back pain due to blood stasis and chronic fatigue due to Spleen-Qi deficiency. Treatment of this patient revolved around two primary treatment principles: removing blood stasis in the lumbar region and tonifying Spleen-Qi.


Because the low back pain was located along the Bladder meridian and the overlapping SBL, treatment focused on removing blood stasis in the lumbar region and relieving tension in the SBL. The acupuncture points that were activated in response to the blood stasis in the lumbar region were very revealing. The reason BL-23 to BL-26 were activated is very obvious as these points are located lateral to L2-L5, where the low back pain was most severe. BL-40 and BL-57 were likely activated because they are located at significant “stations” along the SBL Anatomy Train. Interestingly, these two points are both traditionally indicated for lumbar pain. The activation of BL-17 (the Influential point of blood) and SP-10 (named Xuehai, which translates to Sea of Blood) is particularly noteworthy because these points both traditionally have the action of moving blood. In the context of my understanding of Qi, the activation of these points is the result of Qi (in the form of biological information) being transmitted through the biological signaling systems, reflecting the nature of the disorder (i.e., blood stasis in the lumbar region). Additionally, the elicitation of De-Qi during acupuncture in order to deactivate the pain centers of the brain (e.g., LPNN, ACC) and to influence the SBL through mechanotransduction can also be understood as the transmission of Qi in the form of biological information through the biological signaling systems. The cupping over BL-23 to BL-26 can be understood as directly replacing the stagnant blood with fresh blood (Qi in the form of biological material and biochemical energy).


Because the patient was diagnosed with Spleen-Qi deficiency, treatment focused on tonifying Spleen-Qi by promoting energy metabolism, regulating digestion, improving sleep, and reducing stress. The acupuncture points activated in response to the Spleen-Qi deficiency were also very revealing. SP-3 (the Source point of the Spleen meridian), ST-36 (the Command point of the abdomen), and REN-6 (named Qihai, which translates to Sea of Qi) all traditionally have the action of tonifying Qi. Also, REN-6 is located over the Dan Tian (丹田), which is considered to be the energetic center of the body. In the context of my understanding of Qi, the activation of these points is, once again, the result of Qi (in the form of biological information) being transmitted through the biological signaling systems, reflecting the nature of the disorder (i.e., Spleen-Qi deficiency). Additionally, the elicitation of De-Qi during acupuncture in order to activate regions of the brain associated with metabolism and digestion (e.g., hypothalamus) and deactivate the stress centers of the brain (e.g., limbic system) can also be understood as the transmission of Qi (in the form of biological information) through the biological signaling systems. The Four Gentlemen formula is traditionally prescribed for Spleen-Qi deficiency. Its primary ingredients of ginseng and atractylodis are traditionally known to tonify Qi. A study by Marilou Pannacci, et al. found that ginseng “improves the energy balance, as demonstrated by increased production of ATP and oxygen consumption.” [17] Another study by Xing-Tai Li, et al. found that ginseng protects mitochondria, the organelle in which cellular respiration occurs, by “inhibiting mitochondrial swelling, and improving energy metabolism.” [18] Atractylodis has been shown to improve gastrointestinal function. [19] In the context of my understanding of Qi, these herbs tonify Qi by increasing levels of biochemical energy (i.e., ATP). Lavender essential oil, which has “anxiolytic, mood stabilizer, [and] sedative” properties [20], was applied along with manual therapy to the forehead and scalp to promote sleep and reduce stress. Improving sleep and reducing stress both positively affect energetic and mechanical restorative processes, increasing efficiency in energy metabolism, biological repair, and signal transmission through the biological signaling systems. It is worth noting that all of the aforementioned treatment modalities do not directly add energy to the system, but, rather, enhance the body’s natural energy-production processes (i.e., the body’s natural ability to absorb nutrients from food and oxygen from air and convert them into usable biochemical energy).



Summary

  • According to ancient Chinese philosophers, everything in the universe (including life and death) is the result of the continuous aggregation and dispersion of Qi to form phenomena of various degrees of materialization.

  • Qi is an all-encompassing concept that includes, but is not limited to, the physical concepts of energy, matter, information, and other non-material entities, such as consciousness.

  • Clinically, the term “Qi” is used in two primary ways. 1) It refers to the refined energy produced by the Internal Organs and functions to nourish the body and mind. 2) It indicates the complex of functional activities of the Internal Organs. True Qi is the product of the combination and refinement of Qi derived from the air we breathe and the food we eat.

  • Qi, in the context of human biology, can be understood as the biochemical energy that sustains life, the biological materials of which our bodies are comprised, and the biological information that is stored and transmitted throughout the body.

  • Acupuncture meridians can be considered a composite roadmap of multiple biological signaling systems that include, but are not limited to, the nervous system and connective tissue network.

  • Acupuncture points are normally inactive and their actual locations may vary slightly from their textbook anatomical locations. Disorders cause various points to activate.

  • I apply my understanding of Qi in clinic by using the meridians as a roadmap to elicit specific responses in the brain and/or certain anatomical structures in order to achieve the desired treatment effect. Treatment modalities are applied to enhance the body’s natural functions and healing abilities.



References


[1] Laozi. The Way – A New Translation by Liu Qixuan. The Mid-America Press Inc., 2002.


[2] Maciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1989. Print.


[3] Einstein Explains the Equivalence of Energy and Matter. Atomic Physics. J. Arthur Rank Organization, Ltd., 1948. The Center for History of Physics, https://history.aip.org/exhibits/einstein/voice1.htm. Accessed 29 Sept. 2021.


[4] Gitt, Werner; Compton, Robert; and Fernandez, Jorge. Biological Information — What is It? Biological Information. July 2013, p. 11-25. https://doi.org/10.1142/9789814508728_0001.



[6] Langevin, H.M. and Yandow, J.A. Relationship of acupuncture points and meridians to connective tissue planes. Anat. Rec., 269: 257-265. 2002. https://doi.org/10.1002/ar.10185


[7] John C. Longhurst. Defining Meridians: A Modern Basis of Understanding. Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, Vol 3, Issue 2: 67-74. 2010. ISSN 2005-2901, https://doi.org/10.1016/S2005-2901(10)60014-3.


[8] Pomeranz B, Stux G. Scientific Bases of Acupuncture. Springer Verlag; Berlin: 1989. pp. 1–199.


[9] Wang, Xiaoling, Suk-Tak Chan, Jiliang Fang, Erika E. Nixon, Jing Liu, Kenneth K. Kwong, Bruce R. Rosen, and Kathleen K. S. Hui. 2013. Neural Encoding of Acupuncture Needling Sensations: Evidence from a fMRI Study. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: eCAM 2013 (1): 483105. doi:10.1155/2013/483105. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/483105.


[10] Wu MT, Hsieh JC, Xiong J, Yang CF, Pan HB, Chen YC, Tsai G, Rosen BR, Kwong KK. Central nervous pathway for acupuncture stimulation: localization of processing with functional MR imaging of the brain--preliminary experience. Radiology. 1999 Jul;212(1):133-41. doi: 10.1148/radiology.212.1.r99jl04133. PMID: 10405732.


[11] Deadman, Peter, Mazin Al-Khafaji, and Kevin Baker. A Manual of Acupuncture. Hove: Journal of Chinese Medicine Publications, 2009. Print.


[12] Oschman JL. Charge transfer in the living matrix. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2009 Jul;13(3):215-28. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2008.06.005. Epub 2008 Jul 30. PMID: 19524846.


[13] Oschman J. Energy Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone; 2000:48. Print.


[14] Myers, Thomas W. (2011). Anatomy Trains. London: Urban & Fischer.


[15] Becker RO, Selden G. The Body Electric. New York: Quill; 1985. Print.


[16] Langevin, H.M., Churchill, D.L. and Cipolla, M.J. (2001). Mechanical signaling through connective tissue: a mechanism for the therapeutic effect of acupuncture. The FASEB Journal, 15: 2275-2282. https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.01-0015hyp.


[17] Pannacci M, Lucini V, Dugnani S, Ciracì R, Zangara A, et al. (2016). Activity of Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer on Energy Production in Mammals. Biochem Pharmacol (Los Angel) 5: 221. doi:10.4172/2167-0501.1000221


[18] Li XT, Chen R, Jin LM, Chen HY. Regulation on energy metabolism and protection on mitochondria of Panax ginseng polysaccharide. Am J Chin Med. 2009;37(6):1139-52. doi: 10.1142/S0192415X09007454. PMID: 19938222.


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