Although it sounds mystical and even nonsensical to Westerners, the concept of qi (also called chi) is part and parcel of Chinese culture. As an overriding concept, qi represents energy. It is the motive force of all that is, animating the world, the universe. It is what keeps the lungs expanding and contracting, the heart beating, the blood pumping, the fingers able to grasp something. Like air and electricity, it is not visible, so people find it hard to believe and understand. But you can feel the air as wind and feel the shock of electricity: In these cases and in the case of qi, feeling is believing. When the body hurts or illness takes hold, Chinese medicine points to qi blockage as the culprit.
Qi, Its Channels And Organs
According to the theories of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and corroborated by scientists over the years with special cameras and injections of special dyes, qi, or life force energy, travels within the human body along channels known as meridians. These are pathways that begin in one organ or region of the body and travel to another and then another, until the entire human system is connected by a series of “energy roads.”
The qi energy moves along these meridians in a specific sequence and at a specific rate. In TCM diagnostics, these phenomena point to reasons why someone may have pain in the shoulders at certain times a day and not at others, why sweating happens at night or why rashes come out at specific times and on specific areas of the body. All of this points to underlying blockages or changes away from what is considered normal in a meridian and the qi or energy moving through it.
Moreover, the specific route the qi follows connects specific organs together, making them pairs. In TCM theory, organs are thought of as solid (yin) and hollow (yang). The yin organs are those that nurture the body and sustain life. The yang organs are those that move substances through and out of the body. Yin organs include the lungs, heart, spleen, kidneys and liver; yang organs include the large and small intestines, gall bladder, bladder and stomach.
The 24-Hour Qi Cycle
TCM theory holds that qi circulates through the body from organ to organ in a specific sequence. Moreover, the qi in a given channel (meridian) is at “high tide” for a specific two-hour period every day. The high tide sequence includes:
- Lungs: 3-5 a.m.
- Large Intestines: 5-7 a.m.
- Stomach: 7-9 a.m.
- Spleen: 9-11 a.m.
- Heart: 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
- Small Intestines: 1-3 p.m.
- Bladder: 3-5 p.m.
- Kidneys: 5-7 p.m.
- Pericardium: 7-9 p.m.
- Triple Warmer: 9-11 p.m.
- Gall Bladder: 11 p.m.-1 a.m.
- Liver: 1-3 a.m.
At the end, the cycle repeats, starting with the lungs again.
How This Can Help Diagnosis
While this all sounds strange to Westerners, there are some generalities that can be gleaned from this to help understand what health issues you may be having. For example, in terms of the paired organs, let’s look at lungs and large intestines. Often when someone is experiencing bronchitis, asthma or other respiratory issues, he experiences diarrhea. And many people who are nervous, anxious or fearful (conditions that affect the lungs, breathing) experience lower abdominal cramping. And when one has diarrhea or constipation or a bug in the intestines, he commonly experiences breathing issues, especially difficulty taking a full breath. Knowing that the lungs are paired with the large intestines, one can use calming breathing exercises to reduce stomach knots or intestinal pain. When experiencing breathing difficulties, evacuating the bowels has shown to offer some immediate relief. Yes, this sounds strange, but I observe this a great deal in my life and in those of my clients.
If we consider the time travel issue of qi energy, we notice that the lungs are at high tide between the hours of 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. Many people who experience asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory issues generally find themselves awake and coughing or wheezing between these very hours. In TCM, traditionally, the doctor would try to treat the patient’s ailment when the energy was at its peak for that organ system. These days, this is not realistic; but the patient can do things to help himself during those times, with self-directed wellness actions.
The location of the external meridian line (near the skin surface) can also help with diagnosis. For example, those who experience very tight shoulders and neck should consider the gall bladder as possibly playing a role. The gall bladder helps support fat digestion. When overworked, gallbladder qi, or the energy manifested by the gall bladder, may overreact and cause pain and tightness in the gall bladder meridian, which runs along the shoulder and up the back of the neck. Moreover, the gall bladder is paired with the liver, which is an organ affected by stress. And we all know when feeling stressed our shoulder and neck tend to tense.
Free Flow Is Good Health
There is a saying in TCM: “Where there is free flow, there is no pain or disease. Where there is pain or disease, there is no free flow.” In other words, when the qi is weak or overabundant and the channels are full or blocked, the body can experience many forms of pain, illness and disease. By thinking a bit about the Chinese concept of qi energy, meridian channels, organ pairs and high tide flow of energy, we can begin to see new connections in the body that may help us in thinking about our bodies and states of health. It is best to seek a qualified TCM practitioner for a full diagnosis that will also include tongue and pulse diagnosis, stomach palpation and questions. But I hope this has given you food for thought in considering the way in which the body is connected.