Chinese Medicine theory; What is Qi 氣?

Qi is Vital Air

Chinese Medicine theory; What is Qi 氣?


Behind Chinese Medicine is a foundation around the word Qi (氣) but many have heard many difference explanations to exactly what it is! So what is it?

In Chinese Medicine terms Qi litteral translates to Vital Air. Qi in the body is the metabolism of oxygen in the body, and the movement of oxygenated blood through the vascular system. Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture focuses on the movement of blood and the movement of oxygen throughout our cells, and its importance on our health.


I have been told that my Organ such as Kidney or Lung Qi is weak, what does this mean?


This might be a way that an Acupuncturist describes a weakening of the function of a particular disease. In many cases this is a pre-clinical disease state where over time the function gradually declines until a disease is present. An example of this would be Kidney Qi deficiency could be early stage renal failure (1).


Energy; The incorrect translation


Many still believe that the term Qi in relation to Chinese Medicine is Energy. Many references explain that Acupuncture works on an invisible energy called Qi and moves this energy around the body. However recent studies into ancient texts of Chinese Medicine have debunked this theory;


“Qi is one of the very few Chinese terms we have chosen to transliterate rather than to translate. It should be noted that the interpretation of Qi as “energy”, so widespread in TCM literature today, lacks any historical basis.” (2)


The concept of Qi being energy unfortunately is so common and widespread, that even some Acupuncturist believe it! There are many alternative health care systems that work on energy but unfortunately Acupuncture isn’t one of them.


This is not to say that some different characters, which are pronounced the same do not describe energy. One example would be the character used in Qi Gong 气功, which translates to Life Energy Cultivation. Just in case you were interested Qi Gong is a holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used in the belief that it promotes health, spirituality, and martial arts training. I would highly recommend, but as you would probably notice the characters used are not the same.


Health in Chinese Medicine


One of the concepts of health in Chinese Medicine closely links to the concept of Qi. As one of my teachers Robert Doane would say health in Chinese is not physically fitness, a common mistake in our Western society who view skinniness and physical fitness as health. Just google health see what images you see. When actually physically fitness is the ability to do an exercise over and over again. Many athletes, instagram models and so forth aren’t actually healthy, as sometimes physically activity such as marathon training actually puts tremendous pressure on our heart.


So what is health in Chinese medicine?


Health in Chinese Medicine is high oxygenated and highly nutritious (so free from inflammation) blood flowing freely throughout the body!

Oxygen is health



  1. Eric P. Hunstad (2017): Acupuncture information manual (AIM); An evidence based resource manual on the use of Acupuncture in over 40 common medical conditions,
  2. Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen, Vol. 1 An Annotated Translation 2011, Prolegomena, p.20, Unschuld and Tessenow


About the author
Lauren LanzoniLauren Lanzoni is the Acupuncturist, Chinese Herbalist and owner of Balanced Life Health Care. To find out more about Lauren click here and to make an appointment to see Lauren at her clinic in Ferntree Gully click here


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