Energy work is a subtle, often misunderstood aspect of personal healing and transformation. Even when everything appears outwardly “okay”, sometimes your mind or body feel “off” for no apparent reason.
It may be that subtle nagging feeling that you’re not truly happy or fulfilled. Perhaps you feel stressed, low on energy, and lacking inspiration, or you’re experiencing a more obvious challenge with your physical or mental health.
The ancient philosophy of Chi or Qi energy may hold some answers to unlocking new levels of spiritual freedom and vitality. But what is chi, exactly?
Chi energy flows through all of life and merges the physical with the mental and spiritual realms. You can be nourish your inner Chi with healthy food, regular movement, and quality sleep, but it also goes far beyond the physical level.
Here we’ll explore the meaning of Chi (Qi), its importance in your yoga or spiritual practice, and how to balance your Chi energy for personal transformation.
What is Chi?
Chi (also spelled Qi and pronounced as “chee”) is the vital life force energy that flows through everyone and everything. It can also be described simply as energy.
In the movie Star Wars, “The Force” is based on the concept of chi. It is an inner power that ripples through and connects everything in the universe.
Chi is a subtle energetic force that is often thought as the ultimate measure of vitality and health. Restoring balance and free flow of Chi is a core goal in healing practices like yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Feng Shui, pranayama (breathing exercises), acupuncture, and other forms of energy work.
In yoga, what we often call “Prana” or “life force energy” is closely related to Chi. This spiritual energy exists in everyone, but it needs to be balanced for us to truly thrive.
It’s helpful to think as Chi as a bridge between physical form (your body energy, emotions, sensations, thoughts) and formless (spirituality, consciousness, awareness).
Chi is the pure energy that comes from inner harmony, peacefulness, higher levels of consciousness, awareness, and calmness. It is the essence of your true self and the Universe.
Healing energy work aims to strengthen Chi energy and remove blockages that are inhibiting its flow.
Signs of Blocked or Unbalanced Chi Energy
Qi can become stagnant, imbalanced, or deficient when your natural state of peacefulness is disrupted. This can occur due to:
- Lack of basic necessities
- A poor diet
- Lack of exercise
- Physical illness
- Alienation or lack of social interaction
- Little time for relaxation or self care
- Excess stress or negative emotion
- Overeating, over-exercising, or over-indulgence
A healthy lifestyle is all about balance, yet the modern world often drains us of our vital energy by disrupting our inner and outer harmony.
If you could sum up a Chi imbalance or deficiency in one word it would be: burnout! This could be physical, mental, or emotional burnout.
A 2015 study in the Journal of Chinese Medicine defines these symptoms as the major indicators of imbalanced Chi:
- Fatigue and lack of overall energy
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden sweating
- Swollen tongue with teeth marks
- Weak pulse
Chi deficiencies can lead to other physical health problems like digestive issues (nausea, bloating, los of appetite, or indigestion), headaches, and chronic medical diseases.
Blockages may also manifest mentally as chronic stress, anxiety, sadness, irritability, anger, frustration, lack of fulfillment, or other psycho-spiritual ailments.
Signs of Free-Flowing or Balanced Chi
Chi flows freely when your life energy is full of vitality. When your Chi is strong, it feels like health, zen, and overall balance in your life.
When Chi can flow freely through your life, you may experience:
- High levels of energy
- Strong physical health
- Strong digestion
- Spleen in a healthy state (this blood-cleansing organ is considered a vital organ in Traditional Chinese Medicine)
- Ease of movement
- Stamina and resilience in the face of challenges
- Confidence, compassion and self-love
- Inspiration and mentally focused work
- Harmony and love with others
- Physical radiance or “glow”
- A feeling of “oneness”
- Overall well being
Balanced Chi energy is essentially a blissful state of holistic health and balance in the mind, body, and spirit.
Below, we will explore an abundance of ways you can get Chi flowing through your body and restore your life force.
History and Roots of Chi Energy
The Chinese word Chi translates to “invisible”, “air”, or the “indication of something unknown”. The concept of Chi originates in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
TCM is an ancient holistic medicine system that aims to create physical, mental, and emotional harmony in the human body. Chi is the source energy of related healing modalities such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong, acupuncture, herbalism, and yoga.
At its root, Chi is an energy current that passes through your body at all times. It flows primarily through chi meridians and chakras (energy centers) that circulate throughout the body.
This ancient life force has been described in many other cultures throughout history, including “prana” in India, “ki” in Japan, “hozho” in Navajo, “ashe” in Nigeria, or simply “soul” and “spirit” in modern cultures.
Scientific and Spiritual Basis of Chi Energy
The concept of Chi is based on vibrational energy currents that, when healthy and free flowing, can pass through your body and radiate outward into your life. But when Chi is stagnant, it can manifest as illness or mental distress.
Both scientific and spiritual schools of thought assert that everything is made up of vibrating energy. At the microscopic level, atoms vibrate at certain frequencies. In scientific terms, these vibrations are measured in Hertz (Hz).
For example, stems of some plants have been found to emit ultrasonic vibrations between 20-100 kHz (that’s 20,000-100,000 Hz!).
Human brain waves in different phases of sleep vibrate at a lower frequency (below 4 Hz) whereas EEG scans have found that brain waves in waking hours can peak as high as 30Hz while people are problem-solving or processing high-level information. Certain brain waves have a calming effect (such as Alpha waves from 8-12Hz during meditation), while others have an anxiety-inducing effect.
All complex science aside, vibrations permeate through every cell in our bodies and every thing on Earth, even inanimate objects.
In spiritual realm, this vibrational energy is far more subtle and difficult to fully grasp on an intellectual level. It is the “vibe” of certain people, places, and experiences. It is the subtle energy that you feel flowing through your body at a given moment.
Types of Qi
You are probably familiar with the concept of yin and yang, or a balancing of opposing forces like male and female, light and dark, day and night, etc.
Chi is interwoven with the yin and yang duality. In fact, the two major types of Chi forces are Yin Chi and Yang Chi. There are also several types of Chi that reside within each category.
Yin Chi embodies feminine energy and includes Hou Tain Qi (nutritive chi), which circulates throughout your blood vessels and acts as a source of energy for the body. Yin is considered solid, physical material.
Yang Chi holds masculine energies, including Wei Qi (protective chi), which is like a sheath of protective energy on the surface of the body. Wei Qi could be considered similar to an aura. Yang is considered only energetic and vibrational, but not material.
There is also Yuan Qi (ancestral chi) that everybody is born with as well as Ying Qi (post-natal chi) that we absorb throughout our lives from water, air, food, and healthy living practices.
5 Phases of Transformation
Everything on the planet has yin and yang energy within it. These two energies ebb and flow together through different elements and phases of our life.
In order to experience lasting personal transformation, Traditional Chinese Medicine describes the 5 elements and phases through which Chi flows in Nature and in our lives:
- Water: birth, potential of new life, seeds beneath the snows of winter
- Wood: growth, exuberance, new shoots, spring time
- Fire: maturation, process, warmth, summer
- Earth: death, ripening, late summer
- Metal: harvest, transformation, storing seeds, autumn, rebirth
Like everything, these phases exists in cycles and can be used metaphorically or literally to help balance yin and yang in different areas of your life.
How to Activate Chi Energy in Yoga
If you want to activate chi energy during your yoga practice, try these pranayama breathing exercises to get energy flowing through the body:
- Start in a comfortable seated or standing position like Mountain Pose or Half Lotus.
- You are going to breathe from the diaphragm rather than the chest. This will help cycle a lot of air through your meridians and chakras, thus activating chi life force.
- As you breathe, focus on emptying your mind. As thoughts arise, imagine them floating away like clouds.
- Begin inhaling very slowly through your nose for 5 seconds.
- Hold your breath at the top for another 5 seconds.
- Slowly exhale as you count for another 5 seconds.
- Then hold your breath after the exhale for 5 seconds.
- Repeat this “square breathing” 7 to 10 times for mental stimulation and clarity.
How to Balance Your Chi Energy
Natural healing practices are the easiest way to alleviate chi imbalances and awaken more inner power. These rituals and exercises are forms of self-care. Equal weight is placed on all three aspects of holistic living: mind, body, and soul.
While balancing chi requires self discipline and modifications to your daily life, the rewards in well-being and vitality are well worth it.
Try these practices to help catalyze personal transformation through balancing your chi:
- Quality sleep: Sleep is one of the most fundamental pillars of TCM and holistic health in general. A lack of proper sleep can lead to brain fog, reduced immunity, a depressed mood, and over time- chronic illness. Sleep helps revitalize qi energy and rejuvenate the brain. Try avoiding electronic devices for at least 2 hours before bed, utilizing blue light blocking glasses, and becoming more in sync with natural rhythms of sunrise and sunset.
- Rest and “the art of doing nothing”: Mindless scrolling, reading, listening to things, and other distractions are often draining on your chi energy. Zen and Tao practices emphasize the importance resting while awake. In other words, just being without distracting your mind. Try taking a walk alone, treating yourself to a bubble bath, or just gazing out a window without any devices or distractions.
- Meditation: Ah, the age old practice of trying to silencing the thoughts. While it may seem difficult, there are profound potential benefits of just 5 minutes of meditation per day. Stepping away from the world to quiet your thoughts and concentrate on nothing is one of the simplest ways to tune into your chi and active your inner energy.
- Yoga and Pranayama: The “prana” life energy of yoga is strikingly similar to chi. By syncing the breath with movement, you build energy int he body. While any form of exercise can be beneficial for activating chi, yoga is particularly powerful for awakening the chakras and activating a flow of energy through the chi meridians of your body.
- Mindfulness: While mindfulness may seem like a vague or overused term, it’s actually one of the simplest daily practices for honing your chi energy. Simply noticing your surroundings, listening to the sounds of the birds, tuning into your breath, or practicing gratitude helps ground you in the present moment and activate chi.
- Nutrition: Some of the best foods for balancing chi energy include lentils, quinoa, oats, root vegetables, squash, miso, orange peels, and mustard leaves. Avoid processed foods whenever possible.
- Herbalism: Herbs have been used in traditional Chinese culture for thousands of years before conventional medicine. Interestingly however, modern research has begun to reveal the science-backed benefits of many herbs for treating health ailments. In regards to balancing chi: ginger, garlic, chrysanthemum, and blue lotus teas are tasty ways to promote qi healing.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a cornerstone of TCM. This healing modality uses strategically placed thin needles to awaken specific channels that move chi in the body. It also stimulates blood flow, nerves, and connective tissues to relieve blockages.
- Tai Chi: Tai Chi is an art form of ancient “moving meditation” is reminiscent of breath-synced yoga, but with gentle movements that aim to balance your yin and yang.
- Other Practices: Martial arts, Chi Kung, QiGong, massage, cupping, and many other eastern healing methods can be added to your practice to stimulate chi balancing.
Chi is the hallmark of vitality and vibrant health. If you want to tune into a deeper level of inner awareness and spiritual connectivity, consider addressing any deficiencies or imbalances you may have in your chi energy through yoga and holistic living.