Chi represents radiance and vitality in life, and health and order in your body. It means having compassion: loving yourself through good decisions and bad, and loving others the same way. Chi is the essence of who you are. To discover it is to discover yourself. By following practices that nurture body, mind, and soul, you can find balance in your chi and achieve true joy, pure energy, and a feeling of center.
The meaning of chi
Chi is the source of energy for all life, the force that runs through and animates your body. This idea of a hidden energy source is a core component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), an ancient system of medicine that strives toward mental, physical, and emotional harmony.
The concept of an animating life force exists in many ancient cultures, from India, where it is called “prana,” to ancient Egypt and Greece. The Diné, or Navajo culture, references Hózhó as all that is good and life-giving. Nigerians recognize this life force as “ashe,” while in many modern cultures, we might refer to the soul or the spirit. When you dive into the complexities of historical context of this topic across cultures, you’ll typically find that the soul is more often connected to a more physical manifestation and the spirit is more often that intangible life force energy, or chi.
Chi, also spelled qi and pronounced “chee,” means “invisible,” or “the indication of something unknown” in Chinese. Other interpretations translate chi to mean “breath” or “air.” In broader terms, chi is the invisible source of energy that flows through all life. Without chi, there is no life. Chi is the energy that runs through all objects and living beings on earth.
But it’s incomplete to say that chi is just energy. The other half of the equation is conscious intelligence that “gives chi its meaning and purpose.” Chi allows your body, the natural world, and the universe to communicate with each other and find balance. It’s how birds know to travel south in the fall, and your body knows how to adjust its rhythm with the seasons. Chi connects all things.
The many manifestations of chi
There are different types of chi, including:
Ancestral chi. The energy we are born with.
Protective chi. The protective sheaf of energy that flows through the surface of the body.
Nutritive chi. This type of chi circulates through the blood vessels and provides energy to the body.
Post-natal chi. The energy we absorb throughout our lives from air, water, food, and energy-balancing practices.
Two major types of chi forces are yin chi and yang chi, the fundamental feminine and masculine energies. Protective chi is a type of yang chi, while nutritive chi embodies yin energy. It is essential to balance masculine and feminine, nurturing and protective forces, for healthy bodily functioning.
Yin and yang, and the 5 phases of transformation
Yin is solid and material, while yang is composed of immaterial energetic vibrations. Every thing on the planet that contains yin also contains yang. These two substances ebb and flow, constantly readjusting to maintain balance. One way to look at the stages of yin-yang flow is through theYin Five Phases of Transformation. The University of Minnesota defines these five phases:
Water is associated with the potential of new life hidden in the dark ground beneath the snows of winter.
Wood is associated with the exuberance of new growth as it shoots up from the earth in the spring.
Fire is associated with the process of maturation that takes place under the warmth of the summer sun.
Earth is associated with ripening of grains in the yellow fields of late summer.
Metal is associated with the harvest of autumn and the storage of seed for next years planting and a new cycle.
SIGNS YOUR CHI IS IMbalanced
Yin and yang naturally adjust as seasons change and bodies age. But disruption in the stages of transformation can result in imbalance.Many things can cause an imbalance of your chi. Lack of basic necessities, including sleep, good air, shelter, clean water, and nutrient-laden food, can result in a chi deficiency. Chi deficiencies can also be caused by lack of mental stimulation or social connections.
On the other hand, environmental toxins and excess “physical activity, stress, negative emotion, or overeating” can result in an overabundance of chi. In other words, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.
A study from the Journal of Chinese Medicine relies on five primary symptoms to diagnose a chi deficiency:
Shortness of breath or no Desire to talk
Swollen tongue with teeth marks on the side
The most basic symptom of chi deficiency is a lack of energy. Fatigue, thinning hair, weak nails and joints, low energy—all of these signify a chi imbalance. The constant business of the Western world can drain you of chi, resulting in stress, burn-out, and even chronic medical conditions.
Chi imbalance can also manifest in the digestive system. This is called spleen chi deficiency. Symptoms include nausea, bloating, loss of appetite, indigestion, acid reflux, and stomach pain.
You may associate these symptoms with other illnesses, and that’s not wrong. Chi deficiency is simply another way to look at the ailments in our life. Striving for a well-balanced chi can help promote whole-body health and resolve symptoms and illnesses that have long been troubling you.
Achieving balance through chi
An imbalance of chi can be remedied by incorporating natural healing practices into your own life. These practices are the foundation of healthy living. They provide balance and help you find your center. Practices for balancing your chi give equal weight to three categories: mind, body, and soul. By balancing physical, mental, and emotional/spiritual concerns, you can restore your chi and find true wellbeing.
Sleep naturally helps balance your chi. Sleep is fundamental to wellbeing. Lack of adequate quality sleep, even for just one night, can result in brain fog, insulin resistance, decreased immune functioning, poor decision-making, and a depressed mood. And the long-term effects of poor sleep can be life-altering: depression, chronic illness, and even a higher risk of death. Sleep makes everything else work: it helps us digest, process information, and even process waste products in our brains. Getting quality, adequate sleep is one of the first steps toward balancing your chi. Listen to your body and follow its internal schedule to get enough sleep.
Rest actually makes space for embracing chi. Of course, there are other forms of rest besides simply sleeping. In our busy lives, we sometimes forget to stop and simply do nothing—just letting our brains and bodies rest. In fact, we’re so bad at doing nothing that there are books devoted to the subject, such as Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing. Practice rest by taking breaks throughout the day, logging off of your phone for set periods of time, setting aside dedicated alone time, and making time for restful practices, such as meditation and yoga.
Mindfulness helps you tune into chi energy. Mindfulness is often linked with meditation, but it can also be a habit you implement into your daily life—paying attention to your senses as you complete everyday activities, such as brushing your teeth, making dinner, or commuting to work. Instead of focusing on your phone or your worries, make it a habit to notice what you see, feel, hear, taste, and touch. This practice of mindfulness has real-world implications, reducing anxiety, depression, and even implicit bias while increasing self-satisfaction and focus. It helps you tune into your own chi and notice the energies that flow through the world around you.
Meditation can help you tune into your chi. Like yoga and tai chi, meditation allows you to step away from the world and give your brain a rest through concentrated mindfulness exercises. Meditation has proved surprisingly effective at managing a host of ailments, from high blood pressure and IBS to chronic pain and mental illness. As with yin and yang, action and rest need to be balanced, and meditation is one way to correct an over-busy life.
Physical movement builds chi. Walking, hiking, running, biking, even strength training—we know exercise has plenty of benefits, from its effects on lifespan to its ability to reduce symptoms of depression. Mindful, focused movement is one way to balance or discover your chi, and it has long-term health benefits, too.
Massage & Cupping
Massage & cupping can help move chi. Both massage and cupping, a therapeutic form of alternative medicine that involves suction cups being placed directly on your skin, are thought to remove toxins, lower inflammation and pain, and increase blood flow. These forms of self-care can promote rest and wellbeing and help your body heal from stress and trauma.
Acupuncture opens channels to move chi. Acupuncture is a mainstay of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Although no one is totally sure how it works, studies have proven acupuncture to be an effective pain reliever. Acupuncture uses thin needles placed strategically in various places on the body. Practitioners of TCM believe this practice reroutes the energy in your body, easing obstructions and stimulating nerves, muscles, and connective tissue. Clear pathways allow for chi to flow more easily through you.
Powerful herbs can help restore chi. Adding medicinal herbs to your routine can help you restore balance by supplementing your natural energy. TCM has used herbs and roots for thousands of years to treat common ailments, including indigestion, inflammation, and insomnia. Judicious use of plants such as licorice, ginger, and salvia can help you restore your chi.
Nutrition plays an important part in balanced chi. Eating well is a powerful way to balance your chi. Start by eliminating processed foods, including all refined grains, oils, and sugars. Focus on a planty-heavy, whole-foods diet, full of leafy greens, healthy fats, and sustainable protein sources. Our friend Ben Decker likes to say “if you’re craving sugar, it means you need more sweetness in your life.” We can prioritize nutrition, find healthy sugar substitutes like monk fruit, and focus on finding sweetness in other areas of our life rather than our food intake.
Yoga can help move and balance chi. This form of meditative movement strengthens the mind-body connection and enable greater control over your breath, body, and mind. Chi can be balanced by resting, and yoga is a form of moving rest—a way to step away from worries and schedules, and focus on the present moment. The balancing benefits of yoga have been proven out in research, which says yoga helps lower stress and cortisol levels, relieves anxiety and depression, improves back pain, and helps manage illness.
Tai Chi requires you to embrace your chi. Another practice that links mind and body, tai chi is often called a “moving meditation.” Tai chi uses gentle movements to help your chi flow properly through your body and balance yin and yang: mind and body, movement and stillness. The practice of tai chi can include breathwork along with low-impact movements and a focus on how your body feels. Tai chi is an effective way to fight stress, and it has physical benefits too: flexibility, balance, and muscle strength.
Of course, compassion for yourself and others is an essential element of a healthy chi. Practice self-care by going to therapy, taking time for yourself, building hobbies, keeping a journal, and taking care of your mental health, spiritual health, and physical health. You need to care for yourself before you can adequately care for anyone else. In the words of Lucille Ball: “Love yourself first, and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”
Connections through relationships helps chi flow. Our relationships are a powerful source of wellbeing in our lives, and taking time to build and strengthen relationships can help keep your chi flowing. Spend time in your community—volunteer for a local organization, participate in your neighborhood council, bring soup to your elderly neighbor, or participate in a community garden. Volunteering offers consistently proven benefits, including reduced stress and depression and a stronger sense of purpose. Making those you care about a priority will help put you in touch with the natural energy of those you love the most.
DISCOVER YOUR CHI TO EXPAND IN MIND, BODY & SOUL
Balancing your chi requires caring for yourself. By incorporating self-care practices, including sleep, healing foods, meditative movement, and relationship-building into your life, you can balance the energies that make you, you—and become a better, more fulfilled version of yourself. Our goal at Lakanto is to be your guide to holistic healing, providing information that will help you mend your mind, body, and soul. That’s why our motto is “Discover Your Chi.” Through high-quality health information, we aim to help you discover yourself, nurture your mind, body, and soul, and find true joy, compassion, energy, and purpose. That’s what it means to discover your chi.
Discover your chi.