Concept of Energy or Qi in Traditional Oriental Medicine

Concept of Qi, Chi or Ki

Shiatsu acts on the subtle anatomy of the body described as qi in Chinese or ki in Japanese. Qi is a fundamental concept of the traditional oriental medicine and is considered as our "life essence" which maintains and nurtures our physical body , mind and spirit. In traditional Indian medicine it is described as prana. Qi is everywhere. It moves and changes quickly from moment to moment and can easily be replenished on a day-to-day basis. The human body is a field of continually moving energy, circulating through cells, tissues, muscles and internal organs.

The Chinese word qi translates as "breaths". A Japanese dictionary defines qi as mind, spirit, or heart. Japanese vocabulary has hundreds of expressions which use the word qi, most of them ordinary ways of talking about human moods, attitudes, or character. Qi is often characterized as energy.

Within the organ and meridian systems, energy is constantly being exchanged. The energy circulates to fill areas where it is lacking (Kyo) and drain off areas where it is excessive (jitsu). The entire system is designed to be self regulating. Most energy imbalances correct themselves without effort. Treatment is only required for stubborn and persistent blockage or lack of energy in a certain area, which is where Shiatsu and related disciplines come in.

There are a variety of exercises you can do to experience qi and feel its effect on your body. Qi is a real force, made up of electric, magnetic, infrasonic and infra-red vibrations, which can be intuitively perceived and mentally directed. It can be photographed using Kirilian photography. Like air that we depend on for our life, qi is the very source of our vitality. It is the force within us which gives us initiative, which drives and inspires us to move forward in life. When the qi leaves us, we die. According to the ancient philosophers, life and death is nothing but an aggravation and dispersal of qi.

"Qi produces the human body just as water becomes ice. As water freezes into ice, so qi coagulates to form the human body. When ice melts, it becomes water. When a person dies, he or she becomes spirit (shen) again. It is called spirit, just as melted ice changes its name to water."

Wang Chong, AD 27-97

The Meridians

The Orientals believed that energy circulated and nourished the whole person through specific pathways, or meridians as they are usually called. In Indian medicine, this is called a nadi or river. Meridians form a crisscross network of interconnected pathways that link the organs, skin, flesh, muscle and bones in a unified body. (This may be compared to the Interstate highway network in the United States.) The qi that circulates within them may be more Yang in nature, defending the body on the outside, or more Yin in nature, nourishing the body on the inside. These channels run from deep in the organs out through major meridian branches to smaller and smaller ones, ending up at the outside of the body in the skin; then they go back again, just like the pattern of other major body systems such as the nervous and blood systems.

Location of the meridians and acupoints in the body.

Each of the twelve organs is linked with a meridian or channel of energy, named according to the internal organ it affects. The meridians, like rivers of energy, ensure proper nurturing of qi or life force throughout your whole being. When you are healthy, the flow of qi proceeds unimpeded, like the water in a free-running river, and energy is well distributed throughout the meridian pathways. When the river, or meridian, is blocked for some reason, the qi is prevented from reaching the specific area it is supposed to nurture. The result is that the cells, tissue or organs in the affected area will suffer.

Identifying Meridians
Meridians are numbered from 1-12 according to the flow of energy through them.

All meridians start or finish in the head, chest, hands or feet.

  1. Lung - Starts on chest in front of shoulder, finishes in thumb
  2. Large Intestine - Starts in index finger, finishes at side of nostril
  3. Stomach - Starts under eye, finishes in second toe
  4. Spleen - Starts in big toe, finishes at side of chest
  5. Heart - Starts under armpit, finishes in little finger
  6. Small Intestine - Starts in little finger, finishes in front of ear
  7. Urinary Bladder - Starts at inside corner of eye, finishes in little toe
  8. Kidney - Starts on sole of foot, finishes at top of chest
  9. Heart Constrictor - Starts beside nipple, finishes in middle finger
  10. Triple Heater - Starts in fourth finger, finishes by outside corner of eyebrow
  11. Gall Bladder - Starts at outside corner of eye, finishes in fourth toe
  12. Liver - Starts in big toe, finishes on front of chest or below nipple.
Common Abbreviations Used in Designating Meridians

Very often the meridians are abbreviated with the letter indicating the organ it corresponds to. The common such abbreviations are given below:

B Bladder
Lu Lung
CV Conception Vessel (channel)
Lv Liver
P Pericardium
GB Gallbladder
Si Small Intestine
GV Governing Vessel (channel)
Sp Spleen
H Heart
St Stomach
K Kidney
TW Triple warmer
LI Large intestine

Because the meridians serve the whole body from outside in and inside out, they have a dual role. They prevent harmful energies from entering (in the form of bacteria and viruses) the body. They also indicate the presence of harmful energy already inside the body in the form of symptoms on the outside. (See the description of aura later.) These may be felt as aches, pains, heat or cold, and in Shiatsu may be located as areas of particular sensitivity or tenderness.

Any type of "disease" is a sign that the energy within the meridian system is out of balance. When a meridian is blocked, one part of the body is getting too much qi and enters a state of excess, while another part is getting too little and becomes deficient in qi. This will result in one organ becoming overactive while another organ will become underactive and may be fatigued. If you do not correct this problem problem when initially manifested, it can lead to the symptoms getting progressively worse and your disease gets more serious.

Finding these areas is one of the aims of Shiatsu diagnosis and treatment, since their quality and location can tell us a great deal about the origin, location and depth of an imbalance in the entire energy system, which will result in a given disease. The unique nature of the meridians is to reflect this kind of imbalance and then to act as the channel by which the imbalance can be corrected.

Along the meridians you will find more highly charged energy points, which are called pressure points in English or tsubo in Japanese. This is where the qi is most easily affected. Stimulating different tsubo will correct the energy imbalance. In the case of Shiatsu, the affected meridian or points are worked on directly until proper energy flow is restored. By using different shiatsu techniques, such as pressure, stretching, rubbing and corrective exercises, you will be able to release the blockages, "open" the meridian and recharge yourself.

For more description of meridians, click here.

The Five Elements

Yinyang_elem.GIF (3077 bytes)According to traditional Chinese medicine, the universe is composed of five elements-Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. The human body is considered a microcosm of the universe, and so is also composed of these Five Elements. Each element is associated with different organs, meridians, and characteristics. For example, the wood element is connected with anger, and a hostile person would be diagnosed as having an imbalance within that element. To alleviate the anger, appropriate meridians would be treated to restore balance.

Related Topics:

Chakra Therapy


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