Qi or “chi” is a principle of traditional Chinese medicine. Qi is the vital life energy that supports and enlivens the body/mind system, flowing throughout the body like water through a river, and running through every major organ in the body. Each organ has its own qi that it is responsible for, and a deficiency or stagnation of its qi can result in health problems and symptoms.
There are lifestyle practices and herbal medicines that can be used to bolster qi and improve the health of specific organ systems. When your qi is strong and healthy you feel good, your digestion is strong, and your energy is vibrant. When qi is weak, fatigue is the most common symptom with other possible symptoms such as digestive weakness, breathing problems, and aches and pains.
Here are a few excellent qi tonics that can be used to support qi and vitality:
Regular Exercise This is the cheapest and most available qi tonic. Moving your body on a regular basis, and training it to develop strength, flexibility, endurance, coordination, and balance helps build and move qi in your body. Movement should be thought of as your primary qi medicine. Consider walking and other more demanding forms of exercise—light jogging, yoga, tai chi, swimming, biking, and other forms of movement. They are all highly prized qi tonics.
A Healthy Diet Next to movement, eating well is your next best qi tonic. Good eating habits mean different things to different people, but two of the biggest things you can do to improve your diet is to eliminate or reduce your sugar consumption (pop, white sugar, sweets and treats, and hidden sugars in packaged foods) and boost your intake of green leafy vegetables. Sugar saps the body of qi but green leafy vegetables deeply nourish your body and help to build qi. Include green leafy vegetables in your daily diet and make sugary sweets the exception—not the rule.
Breathing Exercises As your lungs bring in life giving air, they simultaneously draw in qi. This “lung qi” is an essential part of your body’s total qi and can be enhanced through proper breathing and specifically deep breathing exercises. Take a few minutes each day to breath slowly and deeply into your belly. Keep your shoulders relaxed and feel your belly expand as you breathe in, and feel it sink as you breathe out. Try 10 breaths once or twice per day. Yoga, qi gong, tai chi, and other martial arts focus on the breath as an integral part of the practice making them superb qi tonics.
Herbal Tonics Herbal tonics can be used to boost qi and are often a very effective adjunct to the qi tonics previously mentioned. There are different kinds of tonics—each with slightly different properties. Here are a few of the most common qi tonics and the type of individual they are best suited for.
Korean or Chinese Ginseng This is the “king” of herbal tonics—commonly used in many Chinese medicine formulas. This ginseng is a “hot” type, meaning it gives the body qi while adding warmth to it. Thus, it is not ideal for those with “hot constitutions” or for use during the hot summer months. It is often best for individuals over 40 who are pale and weak. It can also strengthen digestion and respiratory function.
American Ginseng This type of ginseng is similar to Korean or Chinese ginseng but has a cooler, moist energy. It supports the “yin” of the body—useful for those with symptoms of heat and dryness. If your tongue is fully red (heat) and has little or no coat (dryness), this may be the best choice for you.
Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus Senticosus) While not a true ginseng, Siberian ginseng also tonifies qi. It has a more neutral energy than the other two ginsengs and is more specific for improving endurance, concentration, and strength. It also holds anti-arthritic properties.
Reishi Mushroom Growing in popularity, reishi is one of the oldest and first recorded herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. It is a very safe general tonic for the whole body. It is a powerful immune tonic and can also help allergies, food sensitivities, high blood pressure, and range of other concerns. It is both calming and revitalizing at the same time and can be used year round. It is appropriate for most types.
Herbal qi tonics should be used with discretion. They are not to be used as a crutch if the rest of your lifestyle is in shambles. Clean up your diet, move your body, let go of your stresses quickly and use qi tonics to support you as needed. Qi tonics should not be used during acute infections—colds, flus, inflammations, etc.—as they can help to strengthen the “disease” instead of your defenses. During these acutes try using the herbs echinacea, garlic, olive leaf, or oregano oil—all powerful immune boosters and antimicrobials.