Qi and blood in Chinese Medicine are concepts not easily translated into medical terminology in the West. Both medical systems consider blood to be a vital life substance that circulates in the entire body through the blood vessels. However, Chinese medicine conceptualizes the vital substance in much different terms than does Western medicine. Chinese medicine uses the concept of ‘Qi’ as inseparable from any discussion of blood.
When working with your Chinese medicine practitioner, you may hear about these concepts at times. Below is just a very basic sketch of them.
What is Qi?
Qi (pronounced ‘chee’, often written as ‘chi’) is the universal energy. It encompasses all manifestations of energy we know—from the very material and tangible such as observable movement, to more ethereal forms such as light, heat, thought and emotion.
Qi constantly fluctuates, changing in its manifestations. Life itself is said to be a gathering of Qi and health is considered a dynamic but balanced gathering of it.
Qi and blood in Chinese medicine comprise our vital life substance and are seen as inseparable and interdependent. In fact, the blood is considered a dense form of Qi or universal energy. Without Qi, our vital life substance would be lifeless, doing nothing to sustain us.
Qi and Blood in Chinese Medicine–Our Entire Selves
Blood and Qi nourish, activate and sustain all human systems. Vital nutrients are carried to every part of the body through the bloodstream, lubricating the body’s working parts and enlivening them. We are energetically nourished and sustained during work, stress, crisis and trauma. Thus, our everyday functioning and our biological calls to action in critical times, rely upon blood and Qi.
The spleen is considered to be the origin of blood, producing the root substance of it known as Grain Qi which is transformed by the heart into blood as we know it. The spleen is also responsible for holding the blood in the proper places to prevent bleeding.
For blood and Qi, the heart is the governor. It provides the fire of transformation in which blood is prepared for the maintenance of our lives. It circulates the vital energy and substance to all our physical parts such as the organs, muscles, connective tissues and so on.
The fundamental functions of blood and Qi touch all aspects of what it means and requires to be human. The mind, for example, relies upon the foundation of blood for its functioning, and the state of mind we have is reflected in whether there is adequate Qi (therefore blood) to nourish it. When blood is deficient, symptoms emerge in the functioning of the mind such as feelings of dis-ease, irritability, dissatisfaction, and anxiety, to name a few.
The liver is said to store and regenerate blood and Qi when one is at rest, underscoring the importance of regular and adequate rest. It also governs the smooth flow of Qi and blood throughout the system, balancing the rate of flow needed to meet all of our physical needs.
Blood Imbalances and Pathologies
Fundamental types of blood disturbances include blood deficiency, blood heat and blood stagnation. Here is a very basic sketch of those conditions below.
Blood Deficiency, or Qi deficiency, refers to inadequate blood and Qi to sufficiently nourish the body for healthy functioning. This deficiency can involve all of the body’s organs, but in particular the spleen, stomach are typically involved, and the liver and kidneys are vulnerable to adverse effects as well.
Blood heat occurs when the body holds too much heat. This typically involves the liver since this is where blood is stored and regenerated. Blood heat involves the blood being pushed out of the vessels such as we see in particularly heavy cycles of menses or excessive bruising.
Stagnation is conceptualized as coldness in the blood system. This coldness causes stagnation of Qi, or the slowing and pooling of Qi in which bodily fluids do not move effectively causing such problems as phlegm accumulation.