Most people understand qi (chi) to be “oxygen creating life force energy,” or simply breath. But did you know there are many types of qi that help our body function properly? Knowing how they work helps traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners, and each of us, correlate symptoms with deficiencies.

In traditional Chinese medicine, radiant health comes from oxygenating the body and healthy circulation. Qi and blood work together to nourish our systems and when both flow well, we are in balanced homeostasis. 

The qi cycle begins at birth when yuan qi is created. When we begin eating, gu qi is activated and sent to the heart and lungs creating zong qi. This turns into zheng qi before dividing into ying (nutritive) qi and wei (defensive) qi to nourish our blood and strengthen our immune system.

Yuan qi (original qi) is the dynamic force that motivates the functionality of internal organs and is the foundation of our vitality.

Gu qi (food qi) is the first stage of qi transformation from food. Consumed food is digested and sent through the spleen to the lungs where it combines with air and transforms into zong qi (gathering qi) and blood. Cold hands and feet are a sign that zong qi is weak. This qi also influences speech and the strength and tone of our voice, so when our voice is weak, it is considered a lung and zong qi deficiency. If compromised for too long, we may experience impaired immunity. 

Zheng qi (normal qi) is the final stage of qi transformation and has two different forms: ying qi and wei qi. Ying qi (nutritive qi) nourishes the entire body and travels deep inside to reach our internal organs.  It is closely related to our meridians and blood circulation. This is the qi activated by the insertion of acupuncture needles.  

Every two hours the ying qi moves into and nourishes different organs in a specific sequence as demonstrated on the Chinese medicine organ clock pictured here. For example, 3 a.m. – 5 a.m. is the peak of lung qi revitalization. Buddhist monks meditate during this time to maximize their lung energy. The peak of liver qi revitalization is
1 a.m. – 3 a.m. People who enjoy alcohol may find it easy to fall asleep, but often wake up during this time as alcohol interferes with the nourishing process.

Finally, there is wei qi, our protective qi which defends us from external forces like pathogens, wind, cold, heat and damp. It is located on the exterior of the skin and pores (considered a third lung in TCM) and travels in and out of our meridians, opening and closing pores and protecting us from cold and flu. It is controlled by the lungs, and when one is deficient in wei qi, it can lead to spontaneous sweating. 

What’s the best thing we can do for our qi? Eat foods that nourish, rest to revitalize and breathe clean, fresh air to oxygenate.

Diane Sheppard is a licensed acupuncturist and doctor of traditional Chinese medicine. She is the owner of AcQpoint Wellness Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 345.2200 or visit

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