About 2500 years ago, deep in the mountains of Northern China, Taoist priests practiced Qi gong- meditative movement revealing and cultivating the vital life force. They believed this force, qi (pronounced ‘chi’ in China, ‘ki’ in Japan), was inseparable from life itself. They discovered that qi animated not only body and earth, but was the energetic force of the entire universe. Traditional Chinese medicine is a philosophy of preserving health, and is based first and foremost on an understanding of the ultimate power of qi. In contrast to much of Western medicine, traditional Chinese medicine is a preventative practice, strengthening the immune system to ward off disease.
In traditional Chinese medicine, qi is manifested both as yin (cold, dark and ‘interior’), and yang (warm, light and ‘exterior’). In fact, qi is present in all the opposites we experience, such as night and day, hot and cold, growth and decay. And although yin and yang may be perceived as opposites, they are actually inseparable. The recognition of one is essential to the recognition of the other. The balance between them is like the motion of night and day; at the instant darkness reaches it zenith at midnight, the cycle has begun to flow steadily towards dawn. At noon, the zenith of light, the day begins slowly to turn towards the darkness of night. All the internal organs of the body are subject to this nocturnal – diurnal swing of the universe.
This world view further holds that qi, manifesting as yin / yang, makes up the universe in the form of five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. These five elements also represent our bodily constitution as human beings, making us one with the universe. Qi flows into our bodies, up from the earth in its yin form and down from the heavens in its yang form. The energy channels in our bodies through which it moves are called ‘meridians’.
These meridians do not directly correspond to any anatomical component recognized by Western medicine. The best way to understand the flow of qi through the meridians is to compare it to the flow of blood in our veins and arteries. If our blood does not reach out toes, they become dead. If out blood does not flow freely, we have high or low blood pressure. If our blood clots, we have an embolism or a stroke. Similarly, unbalanced or stagnant qi can cause many diseases and ailments. In fact, traditional Chinese medicine is based on the principle that every illness, ailment and discomfort in the body can be explained in terms of an imbalance of qi.
Each meridian is related to one of the five elements. For example, the heart meridian is related to the element fire, the kidney and bladder to water. Along the meridians are pressure points, or ‘gateways’, special places where qi can become blocked. With the help of a trained practitioner, its flow can be freed and balance restored.