What is Qi? Flow and Traffic Jams on the Body’s Energy Superhighway


In it’s simplest sense, Qi is life force flowing through your body.

I know what you’re thinking… “Is Dr. Derek Kirkham a Jedi?”

Not quite, but it’s not a bad metaphor for Qi.

While it doesn’t help you levitate droids and X-wing starships, that all too familiar “Force” in Star Wars starts to give you an idea of what Chinese medicine refers to as Qi.


Qi flows through us throughout our life, through all of our organs, and is replenished from the air we breath and the food we eat. Naturally, the air and food we take in become incredibly important in Chinese medicine.

It sustains us with it’s flow, keeping our body balanced and properly functioning to live long, healthy lives.And so the proper flow and quality of Qi is fundamental to treatment and optimal health in Chinese medicine.

Like “The Force”, it flows through us and it sustains us. And yes, it’s thought to connect us to everything around us as well.

But that is where the relationship ends and the complex system of Qi begins.

What is Qi Really?

Qi (or Chi) is one of the two fundamental roots of Chinese medicine.

The other you’ll easily recognize – yin and yang.

While the concept of yin and yang are about the harmony of opposites, and so the harmony of the whole system, Qi is the vital energy flowing through that system, taking on many forms and purposes.

In the case of our body, that is a sort of life force flowing through our body.

Qi flows through meridians channeling through the body. Key points along those meridians are used in Acupuncture, Acupressure, and other bodywork methods used in Chinese medicine.

Qi is also the foundation of health and healing with Chinese medicine. Practitioners use this unique understanding of the flow and balance of the body’s systems to identify problems and get back to a proper flow and balance. Acupuncture, bodywork, herbs – these practices of Chinese medicine work together to get your Qi flowing and harmonious throughout the body.

When the Qi superhighways are flowing smoothly, your entire body is running optimally and vitally.

Not only that, but you’re able to better heal that knee pain you’ve started feeling when you run, or recovery from that surgery or cancer treatment you just went through.

By manipulating the flow and quality of Qi, acupuncturists, for example, can relieve pain, nausea, headaches, even chronic pains that you can’t seem to ever get rid of.

These Acupuncture points are now being physically revealed in studies such as one published in the Journal of Electron Spectroscopy and Related Phenomena by a group of researchers. They showed through state-of-the-art CT imaging techniques “very distinct structural differences” at acupuncture points that didn’t exist elsewhere in the body – intricate clusters of blood vessels with uniquely high densities.

When the Qi Superhighway System Breaks Down

Google-Maps-MeridiansA healthy and vital body has a smooth and efficient system of Qi cruising throughout the Qi Superhighway (as I’m calling it).

Everything gets where it needs to go with no delays, accidents, or shaking fits of road rage.

When blockages occur, things start to get ugly.

The Qi traffic starts to pile up. Nothing is getting where it needs to go. The Qi the lungs need is stuck two exits away and can’t get through the traffic jam.

Meanwhile, unhealthy excesses are building up in another area of the body and wreaking havoc in the gallbladder.

Suddenly, parts of the system are breaking down as they don’t get the vital Qi they need, or as they accumulate too much of something they definitely don’t need (toxins, overactivity, even excess stress or emotion).

Disease starts to appear. Organs begin to malfunction.

The system starts to fail.

And that’s when you usually come to see someone like me to get everything flowing and functioning properly again.

Restoring Balance to Heal and Revive

Your Acupuncturist/Chinese medicine practitioner brings back proper balance so your body can heal and you can feel good again. They address the things causing the malfunction to happen in the first place:

Deficiency – Not having enough of the right kind of Qi getting to the part of the body that needs it. It can be because of blockages, or it can be that you aren’t getting enough of something your body needs to begin with. Remember how Qi most commonly comes from the air you breath and food you eat?

Excess – You can have too much of a good thing or a bad thing. Either will create excesses that create problems in the body, and disrupt the balance your body critically needs. It can be what you ingest, the environment around you, or internal influences both biological and emotional.

Blockages – A major component of Acupuncture and other body work techniques is releasing the blockages keeping the system from properly flowing, and as a result the disharmony created… inhibiting blood flow and healing. Releasing the proper blockages with Acupuncture, Gua Sha, Cupping, cold laser, and other practices allows the body to restore itself to proper balance and function. In other words – heal!

Injury and Physical Function – The physical impact of injury or from improper body function, repetitive stress, or bad form all have an effect on the whole body. These changes cascade through the channels of the body, and the resulting imbalances are treated by the practitioner to help restore the body’s balance and function.

Can Qi be that Simple?

When you look at the US highway system, what do you see?

A lot of complexity, right?

There are many, many types of vehicles, highways, regions of the country, even different traffic laws.

The Qi Superhighway also gets more intricate and detailed the deeper you look at it. There are many different systems, types of Qi, functions of Qi, and different ways of looking at the systems.

There are six basic functions of Qi:

  • Generation and transformation
  • Moving
  • Containing or holding
  • Lifting
  • Heating or Warming
  • Fortifying or protecting

There are the 12 major meridians:

  • Lung meridian
  • Large intestine meridian
  • Spleen meridian
  • Stomach meridian
  • Heart meridian
  • Small intestine meridian
  • Bladder meridian
  • Kidney meridian
  • Pericardium (Circulation/Sex) meridian
  • Triple Warmer meridian
  • Liver meridian
  • Gallbladder meridian

There are the Five Phases (or Five Elements) of Transformation:

  • Wate
  • Wood
  • Fire
  • Earth
  • Metal

There are the Zang-Fu Organ Systems…

Like any rich practice with immense history, you can go as detailed as you like and there’s always more to learn.

Pain Relief, Healing, and Optimal Health on the Qi Superhighway

Ultimately, Qi is just a way of describing the complicated, intricate system that is your body. It gives a way of looking at how each part relates to all the others, and to the world around you.

It looks at how one part of the body impacts and flows to another. It identifies ways the body can get out of balance and ways it affects your life and wellbeing. And it gives a detailed view into the interconnectedness of everything in our body, and how the air, food, and environment outside it affects how it functions.

It’s good to know the basics.

But, the bigger and richer picture is what I’ve built my career around.

It’s what drives me to keep learning and exploring this fascinating view into our intricately wonderful bodies. And in the end, to..

  • Help people live full and vital lives
  • Heal from injury with less pain and shorter recovery
  • And treat even the most chronic of conditions.

You may be thinking… how does this fit in with Western Medicine?

The simple answer is that it complements it beautifully. In fact, every day I combine modern Western medicine with Chinese medicine practices that have been developed and practiced for over 3000 years.

Pain management in particular, a focus of mine, helps people recovering from injury and from cancer while working alongside other medical doctors also treating their condition.

In fact, I will often have people coming to me for complimentary treatments when their recovery is too slow or painful, and they seek out an additional layer of support.

Qi looks at the functioning of the body from a new angle, and brings another layer of treatment. It brings a natural perspective to healing and pain relief.

Unlike the mostly chemical and mechanical perspective of Western Medicine, Qi brings in a more holistic view of the body. It shows how critical balance, inputs, and environment are to the optimal function of the body. As a result, it doesn’t look at drugs to manipulate the body. Instead, it looks to restore the natural healthy functioning of the body by restoring flow, balance, and optimal healthy conditions for it to thrive and heal.

Chinese medicine looks beyond the symptoms, because it sees how the imbalances have root causes beyond the obvious. It could be a blockage or malfunction in one part of the body causing the problems further down the Qi Superhighway.

If you would like that new, natural perspective to health and pain relief, I recommend seeing a a licensed practitioner of East Asian medicine (EAMP) and Acupuncture. If you live in Seattle, I welcome you to see me to see how I can help you feel healthier, recover quicker, and find natural pain relief.

Discover Even More About the Nature of Qi:

“Color me intrigued,” you say, “Tell me more….”

Qi and Chinese medicine has a rich and fascinating history and depth. You can dive into the multifaceted nature of Qi, as well as the Chinese history of it, in this fascinating exploration on the subject by Jay Bulloch:

Meanwhile, Jim Leary gives some quick detail into the many types of Qi:


But, how does all this Qi relate to practical treatments like with acupuncture?

Tania Grasseschi explains how acupuncture works and in the process shows how integral the concept of Qi is to this powerful form of treatment and pain relief:


But before you go too far down the rabbit hole, why don’t you give me a call and we can see how acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help you »

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