Body & Energy in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Our Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Specialist, Philippa Harvey, had shared with us an interesting article about the relationship between body & energy.
The other day in clinic I had a lovely conversation about energy. My patient wanted to know what I thought about life and matter. The question came after I described the TCM meridian system as a structured matrix, just like an electronic circuit. He spoke about Einstein and EM C². From a scientific mathematical perspective “energy“ (E) is the same as mass (M) multiplied by the square root of the speed of light (C²). That is a huge number. In other words, a small amount of mass can be converted into a huge amount of energy. Or the grape that we eat on New Year’s Eve could convert into enough energy for the whole of Madrid including all its Christmas Lights.
We spoke about how in physics, energy is defined as the capacity for doing “work”. It may exist in a potential form (something that is not yet in motion but can do something, a guitar string under tension, for example), kinetic form (everything associated with motion), or thermal, electrical, chemical, nuclear and other forms. In physics, heat and work are energy. Transfering energy from one body to another also incurs a conversion of some of the energy into unrecoverable heat. After it has been transferred, the remaining energy is always designated according to its nature.
Energy can be neither created nor destroyed but only changed from one form to another. This principle is known as the conservation of energy. (Encyclopaedia Britannia)
So, in our conversation we were debating a philosophical question. What comes first: matter or energy? I did not hesitate: I said energy.
The principles behind Traditional Chinese Medicine, Taoism, and many others, are based on an understanding of how we interact with our natural environment and our personal surroundings. This is thousands of years old. How can energy not come first? In TCM we call it Qi (Chee).
Just like our modern understanding of sources of energy defined in physics, TCM has various types of Qi and their corresponding sources, functions, distributions and relevance. For example within the body there are two basic types of Qi. Congenital Qi and Acquired Qi. Congenital Qi is the energy that we are born with. This Qi represents our basic constitution.
Acquired Qi, on the other hand, is derived from the foods we eat and the air that we breathe. The quality of Acquired Qi depends on our lifestyle habits, such as quality of the food we eat, the balance of our emotions, the physical exercise we do, and so on. Just to refine even further, Acquired QI can be sub-divided into, among many others:
- Gu Qi (Essence of Food and Grain Qi)
- Kong Qi (Air Qi)
- Ying Qi (Nutritive Qi)
- Wei Qi (Defensive Qi)
Essentially what this comes down to is that our body energy can convert energy from one form to another in various ways. TCM defines it one way and scientific biology in another. We know living organisms neither consume nor create energy: they can only transform it from one form to another. For example, photosynthetic organisms convert energy from the sun, carbon dioxide and water into their food.
My patient went off to think about what I believe is the most important principle in my practice: energy is the source of life. Understanding the interaction of energy and the body is the science of knowing about the innate forces of the universe and their application to our daily lives. When energy or Qi is sufficient and well-balanced we function at our personal best. When it is not, we have all the variations of poor performance and health issues.
So QI up for happiness and a wonderful New Year in 2020! Just think about that grape on New Year’s Eve and the immense amount of energy it contains.
Much joy and health over the festive season.