qi and the meridian system

What is Qi?

The meaning of the word Qi (pronounced “chee”) is not simple to define. Chinese characters often contain many components describing something or a process related to something, rather than a fixed definition. The Chinese character for Qi (氣) is made up of two main parts. The uppermost (气) represents wafting clouds or mist (the more ethereal aspect of breathing, or the vapour of the breath). The lower part of the character (米) represents the bursting open of cooking grains.

The Qualities of Qi

Together, the character for Qi hints at the warming, expanding, moving and transforming aspects of the biological processes of life. People who have acupuncture often comment they can feel a warming, moving sensation during their treatment. This emphasizes one of the effects that can occur when the Qi begins to move better through the body. The character also relates to the rhythmic, pulse of the breath that literally ‘breathes’ life through us. This can be compared to to the pulmonary system in the body – the exchange of oxygen through the lungs and the heart pumping the blood around the body to send the oxygen to the cells, tissues, structures and organs.


So we can see, that the essence of the word Qi relates to the vital energy that flows through us and animates us and is inherent in every living thing.

The character Qi has many meanings in Chinese based on it’s use in different contexts. For example, it can mean defensive energy (eg: adopting a protective, immunological role) or nutritive energy (that assists growth and repair ) and so on. It is also used to describe the energetic qualities of the climate/weather. This is how Chinese medicine practitioners begin to make the link with various seasonal and climatic effects on the body. For example, it’s not uncommon for people to complain their arthritis is worse in damp weather, or their asthma is worse for breathing in cold air and so on.

The Meridian System

The meridian system is a network of discreet pathways that carry the Qi and cover the entire body and access every part of it. While this occurs at the superficial level (the skin and hair) it also occurs at the deepest level (bones and marrow). During their acupuncture treatment, people sometimes comment that they can feel a sensation along a specific line of their body, which relates to one or more meridians.

These are like the arteries, veins and capillaries of the vascular system (or the neurological pathways of the nervous system) in Western medical terms. Although the meridian system is not the same thing, there is a close relationship with the Qi the circulation of blood in that one is said to influence the other.

Points along the Meridians

Along the course of these meridians, there are approximately 360 main acupuncture points and many hundreds of other points. All of these influence the flow of Qi in the body and can affect the more physical aspects of our functioning (eg: muscles and blood flow). It can also affect the more ethereal aspects of our functioning (eg: the mood and emotions).