Ch'i (氣)




T'ai Chi
Regulating the flow of Ch'i for health and long life in Chinatown, Los Angeles. Photo: hoveringdog.

Ch'i (also spelled Chi or Qi) is a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy and culture. Found in Chinese traditional religion but especially Taoism, Ch'i literally means "air" or "breath," but as a concept it refers to the energy flow or life force that is said to pervade all things.

The nature of ch'i has always been a matter of debate in Chinese thinking. Some believe ch'i is a separate force from the physical world, while others think ch'i comes from physical matter. Still others, especially Chinese Buddhists and Taoists, hold that matter arises from ch'i.

The quality, quantity and balance of Ch'i is believed to be essential to maintaining health and achieving a long life. One author explains it this way:

"Qi is the basic material of all that exists. It animates life and furnishes functional power of events. Qi is the root of the human body; its quality and movement determine human health. There is a normal or healthy amount of qi in every person, and health manifests in its balance and harmony, its moderation and smoothness of flow." -- Livia Kohn, Health and Long Life: The Chinese Way

In addition to living a healthy life (both physically and psychologically), Ch'i can be regulated through practices like breath control, Ta'i Chi, massage and acupuncture. Nearly all techniques in traditional Chinese medicine are based on the concept of Ch'i.





Breath control is considered especially fundamental to balancing the levels of Ch'i in one's body. Controlled and meditative breathing, called hsing-ch'i, allows ch'i to permeate the entire body by imagining the breath as a visible current moving through the body. Another type of breathing exercise, t'ai-hsi, attempts to revert one's breathing to that of an fetus in the womb. This is considered especially powerful for longevity and immortality (especially in Taoism).

The traditional Chinese art of placement and arrangement of space called Feng Shui is also based on the flow of ch'i, as well as the five elements, yin and yang and other factors. The retention or dissipation of ch'i is believed to affect the health, wealth, energy level, luck and many other aspects of the occupants of the space. Color, shape and the physical location of each item in a space affects the flow of ch'i by slowing it down, redirecting it or accelerating it, which directly affects the ch'i of the occupants.

Sources

  1. "Ch'i." John Bowker, ed., Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions (2000).
  2. Livia Kohn, Health and Long Life: The Chinese Way
  3. Qi - Wikipedia (January 2007).