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What is Chi?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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In Asian tradition, chi is the life force which permeates the world. In addition to being in all living beings, chi is also found in spaces such as homes and gardens. Although chi is a metaphysical construct, rather than something which can be physically quantified and measured, belief in chi is widespread in many Asian nations and disciplines including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), martial arts, and feng shui, a Chinese art which involves balancing objects within their environment.

Like other Chinese words, chi is seen spelled in English in various ways including qi and xi. The pronunciation of the word is difficult to render in the Roman alphabet, but the word sounds like “chee” when spoken. The meaning of the word is linked to “air” and “breath,” which are believed to vital parts of life. Like air, chi is a form of energy which waxes and wanes in the body depending on health, and in a space depending on arrangement.

Many cultures have a concept of some sort of vital energy which runs through all things, such as prana in the yogic tradition. When it is in a proper state of balance, the energy moves smoothly through the space which it inhabits, and supports rather than fights against the space. Balancing this energy is a crucial part of living a healthy and calm life for many people in Asian countries, and the concept of energetic balance has been adopted by some Western nations as well.

An imbalance of chi can lead to ill health or discomfort in an environment. In the case of living beings, practices like acupuncture, acupressure, and other types of TCM are used to right the imbalance, by unblocking the flow of chi through the meridians of the body. A practitioner of TCM checks in with the patient's whole body in order to assess overall health, and takes corrective measures as necessary.

In the case of spaces, many Asian traditions surround organizing objects within an environment to make the space harmonious. An imbalance of chi in a space is believed to lead to bad luck and ill health, and many rules surround how things should be arranged from bedrooms to graveyards. As the rules which govern arrangements can be quite complex, some wealthy households hire professionals to arrange their spaces, who are analogous to interior designers in the West, although their function goes beyond pure aesthetic consultation.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon169900 — On Apr 23, 2011

I cannot believe anyone would mention the Virginia tech shooter, Xi, and the DSM in a place like this, very odd. The DSM (Diagnostics and Statistics Manual) is virtually worthless and quite dangerous. The current DSM (the fourth or fifth edition) has created a new mental illness called "Oppositional Defiant Disorder". ODD basically makes free thinking a mental illness or a "thought crime".

I wish western academia would recognize the wisdom of the east and realize that their science has severe limitations. What cannot be seen or felt or heard is just as real as what can be seen, heard, and felt.

By anon16975 — On Aug 19, 2008

Researcher...How does Qigong and the manipulation of Qi have anything to do with the Virginia Tech shooter? In your statement you mention that he used the suite common room to study with his laptop and to create "special circumstances". If you have done any research at all into Qi and Qigong, you should know that you cannot gather qi by using a computer and you certainly cannot create the meditative aspects of qi by doing so. Your description of qi as a belief in magic is also way off and rather humorous. You would do well to study the wonderful aspects of qi cultivation rather than resorting to scare tactics.

By anon10006 — On Mar 18, 2008

I want to say that in Nigeria too there exists a believe in Chi. This is taken to be a personal and deep relationship with God, that is God is not just God but my God. This is taken further as when a child is named using the word its meaning is for the child alone for example chidima (pronounced chee dee ma) God is good actually means the God of the child or of the parent(s) is good. That the circumstances that surrounds the birth of the child taken into consideration. posted by alhaj. Sorry I forgot my password.

By maty172 — On Feb 21, 2008

man, that is scary, in his belief of chi, he broke his mind while trying to find peace, and ended up killing people that is messed up!

By Researcher — On Feb 21, 2008

Chi, or Chee, or Qi is a belief in supernatural forces to explain the psychiatric outcomes of performing Qi Gong exercise katas in groups.

It is essentially a belief in magic.

When Qi Gong is performed in groups each person attempts to engage eyes-open meditation to harness the believed Chee energy while performing a slow motion martial arts Kata. As they do that they actually engage a primitive vision driven warning system that will attempt to break your concentration with a startle when movement is detected in peripheral vision.

To be able to continue meditating with eyes-open you must learn to ignore the detected movement in peripheral vision. But that does not turn off the brain system that subliminally detects threat-movement to trigger the startle.

That subliminal detection and your brain's effort to warn you are a Subliminal Distraction. It is a normal feature of all human physiology.

In the 1960's designers accidentally discovered that this subliminal stimulus of the subconscious would eventually cause a mental break.

This feature of Qi Gong is recognized as a Culture Bound Syndrome of China. It is one of the CBS's included in the current DSM. (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness of the American Psychiatric Association)

The Virginia Tech shooter created these "special circumstances" for Subliminal Distraction exposure when he used the suite common room to study with his laptop. As he began to have the usual outcomes of exposure, fear, paranoia, depression, and thoughts of suicide, he acted out the delusions of the mental break by planning and killing 32 people.

By somerset — On Feb 19, 2008

It was suggested to me once that one should have the bedroom furniture arranged so that the bed faced east. I guess this provided better chi?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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