What is qi?
At Bulb, you'll normally find us writing about real science. But in this post we're delving into the more mystical idea of Qi, also spelt and pronounced as chi, the energy of the natural world. There's some good lessons in here, even for a bunch of empirical scientists like Team Bulb.
Qi is the idea of a universal source of energy, one life force that powers us all. It’s an idea with a long and rich history, dating back thousands of years to ancient China. Any energy which has power and strength has qi. That could be electricity, magnetism, heat or light. Even the weather has qi, sometimes called Heaven Qi. Think of it as the Force, if you like. (Or, if you’re Yoda, the Force you may think of it as.)
Back in the earliest Chinese texts, like the I Ching or Book of Changes, they described qi as ‘breath’. One Chinese myth has it that human beings were created when a god brought terracotta statues to life by exposing them to qi, "the breath of the world’s beginning".
It’s something so essential to life that the Chinese character for qi is made up of those for ‘rice’ and ‘steam’. So you can think of it as the steam from a warming bowl of rice, something that keeps you alive.
It’s an energy you only have so much of, so you should either conserve it, or look to gain more.
Can Qi help you?
It’s a fascinating idea. But what good can it do you today? Several well-known disciplines attempt to make practical use of the concept of qi.
In traditional Chinese medicine anything that goes wrong is a sign that something’s getting in the way of your qi. Acupuncturists believe that qi flows down lines in your body called meridians. Unblock them, the qi flows around you more smoothly and you could feel better for it.
Many people believe that acupuncture can have practical benefits for mental wellbeing. This video on the Mindtalks mental health website is a fascinating introduction.
Tai Chi might look like a slow form of exercise, most often done by sprightly older people in the park, but at heart it’s a martial art. The routines are based on defensive poses that shift in time with breathing. The founders of Tai Chi said it’s a discipline where ‘everything is reduced to the use of thought instead of force’. It’s active meditation.
Dave Courtney, an instructor with Fujian White Crane Kung Fu, has been training in martial arts for almost thirty years. He thinks of Tai Chi as a form of preventative medicine. Increase your health and your qi and you become stronger. He says ‘we think that because we can’t measure qi, it doesn’t exist’. But although it’s a tricky concept, he believes that with the right training we can use qi to make ourselves more healthy.
If you’re interested in exploring Tai Chi, Fujian White Crane has clubs offering a mix of Kung Fu and Tai Chi across the UK. And the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain has a national database of instructors so you can find one near you.
Qi, being everywhere, flows through your home too. Feng Shui is a system for creating harmony in your own environment, allowing the all-important qi to flow smoothly, without your clutter getting in the way.
It’s all about balance between yin and yang, the dark and the light.
So a feng shui approach to the home might include positioning items of furniture so that the two sides of a room are in harmony. Here’s a good beginner’s guide from the House & Garden blog.
Bring qi into your life
Some of the philosophy behind qi might sound a bit implausible. But, we think there are lessons from qi we can all benefit from. At the very least, the idea that energy has to be conserved, not wasted, is something we can all get behind.
Here are some simple things you can do to bring qi into your life:
1) BREATHE LIKE A TAI CHI MASTER
Conscious, focused breathing is at the heart of Tai Chi and is a great way to relax and boost your sense of wellbeing. Spend a few minutes in a busy day doing nothing except taking long, deep breaths that you can feel all the way down in your stomach. Here are some detailed Tai Chi breathing guidelines you can follow.
2) HARMONISE YOUR WORK SPACE...
A key principle of Feng Shui is that your environment affects your state of mind. Why not step back and take an objective look at your work space? Perhaps something as simple as adjusting the lighting or moving the desk could make you feel happier and more comfortable. And why not green up your office with some plants?
3) ...AND DO SOME FENG SHUI-STYLE DECLUTTERING
Feng Shui experts advise that you regularly clean out your desk drawers and filing cabinets, and recycle anything you haven't used in six months.
4) STAY IN TOUCH WITH NATURE
Qi is all about the energy of the natural world. It’s amazing how a little bit of time spent just observing the sights and sounds of nature can lift your spirits. Even if it’s just a walk in the park with your phone kept in your pocket!
5) KEEP THINGS IN BALANCE
Whether or not you believe in the concept of yin and yang, balance is a wonderful thing. Remember to keep all the elements of life - work, play, family and friends - in their proper perspective.