One of the things that some of my colleagues are surprised to learn is that I rarely talk about “qi” with my patients. This surprises them because the idea of qi is one of the most basic fundamentals of acupuncture and on which every treatment we do is based. When an acupuncturist does acupuncture, he is doing so to “manipulate the qi”, “harmonize” and restore balance to the qi flow within the patients body.
I’ll get into more details about what exactly qi is in another post, but for now lets just say that it is the “bio-electric energy” within your body. It is the energy that makes you alive versus dead and it flows along certain pathways in your body (similarly to blood flows along certain pathways called veins). A dead body does not have any qi flowing, but a live body does.
According to the old Chinese physicians that invented acupuncture, whenever someone is sick, it is because the qi is not flowing correctly; its either blocked, its deficient or its vacuous (cool word); in other words, its stagnant. Acupuncture “disinhibits the qi”, and reestablishes correct qi flow. When qi flow is circulating properly, you have good health.
So if someone is sick, it is up to the acupuncturist to figure out in what way the qi is stuck or stagnant. They unblock the qi flow, stagnation is relived and proper health is restored. I often compare it to un-kinking a water hose or breaking a hole in a beaver dam; all we need to do is reestablish proper qi flow to restore good health.
So how can you improve your own qi flow at home? What are some things that you can do to build qi, prevent stagnations and improve your own qi circulation. There are many things, but here are some basics.
- Stay hydrated. One of the most important things you can do to improve your qi flow is stay hydrated. I often use the metaphor of patients being “swampy”, meaning that their qi flow is stagnant; like a swamp. Things are slow and really not circulating well at all; they are just stuck because there is not enough “back pressure” to move things forward. How do you clear a swamp? Not by draining it, but by flooding it with more water. There is a statistic that 75% of Americans are chronically, clinically dehydrated. So if you are feeling “swampy” and stagnant, be sure that you are drinking enough water. I’m sure you have heard that you should drink 64 ounces of water every day (8 glasses), but if you aren’t into drinking that much water, don’t sweat it; you can “eat” your water by getting that amount of fluid from juicy fruits and vegetables as well. For instance, a medium size apple has about 5.5 oz. of water in it. In a perfect world, you’d want to have your drinking and bathing water un-chlorinated and un-fluoridated. City water has both of those chemical halides added. Maybe consider spring or well water. Either way, drink water and stay hydrated.
- Get some sun. In Chinese “5 element theory”, we need fire to warm, dry and invigorate the body. We get that from the sun. From a modern perspective, you need vitamin D for survival, and we can only get vitamin D from the sun (unless it is in a pill or eat organs meats like liver). The majority of Americans are chronically short on vitamin D. It turns out that the average American gets less than 20 minutes of direct sunlight every day. We are indoors 95% of our day. It was such a health emergency that the government mandated that it be put in milk. Milk does not naturally have vitamin D, but it was a common food, so the USDA decided that a good way to add it into our diet was to sneak it into our diet by adding it to something most people drank every day. But today, many people have cut back on milk. Incidentally, calling D a “vitamin” is a bit misleading, because it is actually a hormone. A fat. It is needed for a healthy immune system, the production of testosterone and warding off cancer. There are many studies connecting the shortage of vitamin D to cancer. So make it a priority to get at least 20 minutes of very direct sunlight every day on your face, chest and arms. If you can’t then take a vitamin D pill. So whether you look at it from a traditional viewpoint where you need the sun to charge you up with fire, or a modern point of view where it is necessary for proper hormone function, get some sun.
- Breathe Deeply. One of the older english translations of qi was “breath”. Most people now agree that that isn’t the full picture; just part of it. Qi is breath, but it is so much more. We will get into the nuance of this topic in another post, but for now let’s just agree that you need air to live and be healthy. If you are not getting adequate air, you smother like a smoldering fire. Every function in your body needs fresh oxygen on a continual basis. And although breathing is pretty much on auto pilot, you can still intentionally improve your oxygen consumption by breathing with purpose. There are many techniques for breathing with intention, but the one I want to mention here is the Wim Hof method (that is the name of a Norwegian guy). Try this; start taking deep breaths for 30 breaths, and with each breath really expand your belly; as if you are filling your belly with that air that you are breathing in. On the last breath draw in a big one and hold it for 20 seconds. Then exhale. That is one cycle. Do 2 more. If you do this every day, you will quickly find that you can hold your breath for longer and longer periods of times. This hyper oxygenates the blood and you will definitely feel something going on. This deep diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most direct ways to improve your qi flow in your body.
- Take a cold shower. There has been a growing amount of research looking at how taking a cold shower kick-starts testosterone levels in the body (testosterone is like the spark plugs for the body). If you are feeling sluggish or underwhelming, try this simple trick. Just take a quick cold shower every morning. It is like a quick shock to the system and the body apparently responds very positively. It has been linked to improved circulation, heart function, hormone production, weight loss, decreased anxiety and depression and improved mental clarity throughout the day. If you aren’t too keen on cold showers, then try this; at the end of your morning shower, crank the dial to cold just for the last 30 seconds. Studies have shown that most of the benefit comes from those first 30-60 seconds of a cold shower.
- Move. What is stagnation? Correct; the absence of movement. So one of the best ways to promote healthy qi circulation is to move your body. Make it a priority every day to move. Whether it is going for walk, playing some pickle ball, doing some yoga or calisthenics, playing at the playground with your kids or anything else that gets your heart pumping just a little bit. To get your qi moving, you need to move your blood, so doing anything that gets your heart going (even just a little bit) is good. I’m not asking you to commit to going to the gym for an hour every day or running on the treadmill; just do something… anything for 20 minutes every day to get those juices flowing.