In Chinese medicine, Qi (气） is thought to exist in several forms within the body, each serving a different purpose. Qi is classified based on its role and production, distribution and functional characteristics. Each of the Zang–Fu (脏腑）organs has its own Qi (气） , which can be separated into Yin and Yang （阴阳） components. Qi has six primary physiological functions:
In terms of Chinese medicine theory, the classification of Qi is broken down into:
- Yuan Qi. （元气）
- Gu Qi. （谷气）
- Zong Qi. （宗气）
- Zhen Qi. （真气）
- Wei Qi. （卫气）
- Ying Qi. （营气）
Yuan Qi (Primordial Qi) （元气）
This type of Qi is closely related to the Essence (Jing) （精）. It has its origins in the Kidneys and the functions of Yuan Qi （元气）can be described as:
- Moving Force: – It is the dynamic force that stimulates the functional activity of all the organs and circulates throughout the body in the channels.
- Basis of Kidney-Qi: – It resides between the Kidneys, below the umbilicus at the Gate of Vitality or Ming Men (命门）. As such, it shares the role of providing the heat necessary to all the body’s functional activities.
- Facilitates Transformation of Qi: – Yuan Qi is the ‘agent of change’, transforming Zong Qi into Zhen Qi.
- Facilitates Transformation of Blood: – Yuan Qi facilitates the transformation of Gu Qi into Blood (血）in the Heart （心）,
- Emerges at the Source Points: – Yuan Qi originates where the Ming Men resides, and then passes through the San Jiao (Triple Burner) ( 三焦）, spreading to the organs and channels. The places where Yuan Qi emerges are known as the Source Points.
Gu Qi (Food Qi) （谷气）
The second form in the classification of Qi is Gu Qi （谷气）, which means ‘Qi of Grains’ or ‘Qi of Food’ and is the first stage of the transformation of Qi. Food entering the stomach is digested, or ‘rotted and ripened’ according to TCM theory, and is transformed into Gu Qi by the Spleen. At this stage it is not yet usable by the body. It must rise from the Middle Jiao to the chest and travels to the Lungs, combining with air to form Zong Qi (Gathering or Pectoral Qi). Gu Qi （谷气） also rises from the Middle Jiao （中焦）, through the Lungs and on to the Heart where it is transformed into Blood.
Zong Qi (Gathering Qi) （宗气）
The third form in the classification of Qi is Zong Qi （宗气）, referred to as either Gathering or Pectoral Qi. It is derived through the interaction of Gu Qi with air. It’s a more subtle and refined form of Qi than Gu Qi and its main functions within the body are:
- Warming and nourishing the Heart and Lungs.
- Promoting Lung functions to control Qi and breathing.
- Promotes the Heart function of governing Blood and vessels and promotes blood circulation to the rest of the body.
- It is responsible for controlling speech and the voice.
As Zong Qi is the energy of the chest, the area where it gathers is sometimes referred to as the ‘Sea of Qi’ and it can be affected by emotional disturbances such as sorrow and grief which deplete Lung Qi. If Zong Qi is weak or deficient, the extremities of the body (hands and feet) can become cold and weak.
Zhen Qi (True Qi)
Zhen Qi or True Qi is the final stage of the transformation of Qi. Through the action of Zong Qi , the Yuan Qi is transformed into Zhen Qi. This is the final version and refinement of Qi and results in the Qi which flows through the channels.
Zhen Qi originates in the Lungs and takes on two different forms: Ying Qi (Nutritive Qi) and Wei Qi (Defensive Qi). This is the penultimate classification of Qi.
Ying Qi (Nutritive Qi)
It is also known as Nourishing Qi and has the function of nourishing the Zang-Fu (脏腑） organs and the body as a whole. It holds a close relationship with Blood and flows through the vessels and also the channels. In the theory of Chinese medicine, this is the Qi that is activated whenever an acupuncture needle is inserted into and acupuncture point.
Wei Qi (Defensive Qi)
The final type of classification of Qi is Wei Qi. The word ‘Wei’ means to defend or protect. When compared to Ying Qi it is more coarse. It flows in the outer layers of the body, in skin and muscles. As it resides on the exterior, its function is to protect the body from an attack of exterior pathogenic factors such as Wind, Heat, Cold and Damp.
It also controls the opening and closure of pores while warming, moistening, and partially nourishing the skin and muscles. Through this, it regulates both sweating and body temperature.
Like Zhen Qi, it is also under the control of the Lungs, as such, weakness or deficiency of the Lungs can result in a weakness of Wei Qi which can leave a person prone to frequent colds and/or flu.
How to balance Qi?
All six types of Qi need to be in balance for a normal person to function healthily. If you notice that you have weakness or deficiency in any particular types of Qi, we strongly advise booking a consultation with your physician for a health check up.