What is Qi?

I have to admit that sometimes I cringe when I hear myself use the word 'energy' when I'm talking about acupuncture. Being not the least bit woo-woo by nature, I always feel it sounds a bit original-series-of-Star-Trek and hardly credible at all.

But the fact is we are energetic beings. And it IS a fact.

Where does this stuff come from?

Our bodies are constantly producing electricity, or energy. It's happening as you're reading this. We talk of synapses 'firing' and of 'signals' being relayed by our nervous systems. The action of an electrical charge jumping from one cell to another is what allows us to function: to read something, to keep our hearts beating, to smile, to pick up a pen.

This energy flows around our bodies continuously. As long as there are atoms, there is energy jumping between them. And this is basically what we're talking about when we talk about 'Qi'.

How acupuncture influences Qi

The quantity and flow of Qi (pronounced 'chee') can become weak, excessive or blocked due to various factors such as trauma, inadequate diet or stress. Over thousands of years, Chinese medicine has discovered that Qi can be influenced by inserting fine needles into certain points in the body, and that these points run along meridians, or channels, that are connected to form one big circuit.

Here's an analogy I use with my patients when they first come for treatment.

Imagine these meridians in our bodies are like the M25. On a good day, with good weather and sensible drivers, the traffic moves smoothly round and round. But if someone loses concentration or does something silly, there can be a bump, and then a traffic jam forms behind the accident while the road in front is completely empty. This energetic imbalance is what causes pain and ill health.

So when it comes to keeping your body's energy flowing properly, acupuncture needles are like the RAC: they clear the blockage from the road and allow the traffic to circulate smoothly once again.

Simple! And hopefully not too woo-woo after all.


This is the Chinese character for Qi. Rather beautifully, it represents a pot of cooking rice and the steam rising from it.

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