Thanks to the west’s modern fascination with meditation and other eastern practices in the last century, many elements of tradition and culture have become prevalent within wider society.
This is even true of the more mystical beliefs of Chinese religion and culture, including the phenomenon of ch’i (or qi), a supposed energy force found in all living entities.
But what exactly is ch’i, and is there any truth in it?
History Of Ch’i
Whilst references to ch’i can be found in many Asian cultures, the concept was first referenced in ancient Chinese philosophy from the 5th century BCE.
Discussed as an energy source, ch’i seems to appear much like the soul, the western “four humors” (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile), and the Hindu concept of prana, a supposed life force derived from the sun, which transcends all objects (animate and inanimate) and unites the elements.
In Chinese Medicine
Ch’i also became known as the flow of energy throughout the human body, leading to theories in Chinese medicine, perhaps most notably acupuncture, which specifically alters the flow of ch’i and other elements within the body via the stimulation of pressure points.
Allegedly circulating the human body through various channels, or meridians, ch’i imbalance and blockages were thought to be the root cause of many common and serious ailments in ancient Chinese medicine, which sought to alter the flow of ch’i in the body with herbology, food therapy, physical therapy, moxibustion, and the above mentioned acupuncture.
Moxibustion in particular is considered a common remedy for bodily problems caused by ch’i imbalances, and the practice consists of burning mugwort on specific parts of the body to reestablish a proper flow.
How To Develop Ch’i
Despite its lack of evidence in modern western science and medicine, many people still believe that ch’i plays a vital role in our moods, our energy, and our general health.
As such, there are several techniques thought to bring you closer to your ch’i, and develop it for better wellbeing.
One way to supposedly improve your flow of ch’i is through breathwork.
A common element within all kinds of meditation, breathing is not only what gives us life through the intake of oxygen, but it can also be a calming influence when practiced in certain ways.
Many methods involve inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, splitting it into a 7:10 ratio, breathing in for 7 seconds, and breathing out for 10.
According to Chinese medicine, cycling air throughout your body is vital to establishing a good flow of ch’i, and can help alleviate the onset of illness in the future.
Many promote the uptake of these breathing exercises in day to day life, making it a pattern that you continue, not just for meditation.
Breathwork also plays a large role in modern concepts of mindfulness, which involves a focus being placed on the breath as a means of establishing a connection to the present moment, and banishing harmful thoughts of anxiety regarding the past or the future.
The most commonly known method of physically developing one’s ch’i, is through the practicing of Tai Chi.
Tai Chi also incorporates breathing techniques as a major component, and along with the countless styles and forms you can practice, it is thought to greatly improve the flow of energy throughout the body.
Whilst there is also no proof of this, the practice has been shown to improve physical and mental wellbeing through its yoga and meditative qualities, making it a continually popular outlet for believers and non believers in ch’i alike.
One of these mental exercises is a practice called chi kung, a combination of various practices from different points on the globe, all of which are said to aid your connection to a more spiritual state of being through various forms of meditation.
Claiming to help bring you to the “next level” of ch’i, chi kung involves you focusing on the ch’i energy flowing through your body, focusing on areas where the energy is not flowing whilst exercising or practicing breathing.
The practice is also said to help develop the mind, body and soul connection, which is vital for proper ch’i balance, and for overall physical and mental wellbeing too.
Based in what would now be described as mindfulness, this practice is similar to the zen practices of Buddhism, and is thought to be a lifelong pursuit as our connection to our ch’i is constantly changing due to the stresses and unpredictability of our daily lives.
So, Is Ch’i Real?
Whilst there is no physical or scientific proof that ch’i exists as a “real” force of energy, many of the practices surrounding its balance are grounded in common understandings of meditation, breathing, exercise, rest, and yoga.
As such, the health benefits gained from those specific practices are well known and widely recognized.
Because of this, it could be argued that ch’i does exist as an abstract concept, or as a spiritual metaphor, despite having no grounding in science and nature.
Other practices like moxibustion and acupuncture remain ever popular, both in Asia and the western world, and along with practices such as cupping (where heated glass bowls are placed on the back and other parts of the body) they seem to bring customers a lot of joy and relaxation.
So, perhaps in that way alone, there are at least some mental benefits to engaging in these practices, even if their effects may be psychosomatic.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about ch’i, the practices surrounding it, and the authenticity therein.
Whilst no proof technically exists, it remains an important belief system for many cultures and people around the world, and the health benefits have several crossover points with modern western medicine.
Why not give some of these a try?
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