the biomechanics of qi

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Ten years I'm immersed in an Eastern perspective of health, trying to understand it enough to explain it to my people, and it was a Newtonian physics-based field of study that finally made it all click for me.

Yes, I've heard the word 'flow' used to describe what qi (or 'ki' in shiatsu-ese) is or does... as in 'flow of vital life force energy'. Or stagnant qi flow. Or excessive qi flow. Or deficient qi flow. You get the idea.

But it was only when a brief statement made in passing by biomechanist Katy Bowman describing what she meant by flow, alluded to practices of acupuncture and the like, did the holy aha! hit me like a ton of bricks.

(Now, I know there are some in the alternative health world that for some reason don't want it explained - believing that it doesn't need to be validated by 'western science' in order to prove its existence. I was one of those.  But this is not really in the interest of validation, and I don't think we're doing people or eastern medicine a service by shrouding very practical and applicable concepts in mystery. Nor do I think it was mystical to the ancient Chinese who were making these observations and arriving at the same conclusions 'western science' is, only using different language, and a more relational, holistic perspective.)

Here's a simplification of what I was hearing her say.

Consider the body - not just as parts, but as a cells... trillions of cells, with various functions but the same basic needs (as with our body as a whole): nutrition, elimination/detox and communication.

Nutrition to the cells is oxygen provided via the blood. Elimination or detox is in the form of lymph which carries waste away from the cells to the liver. Communication takes several forms: sensory nerve information, proprioception (perception of where your body parts are in relation to each other and to space as a whole), bio-electric current (which has also been given as a definition for 'qi'), and physical forces or 'loading' placed on the cells themselves (which we'll visit in another post).

We can call all of this flow, or qi. And as you can see it's a two-way street ... flowing in and out of the cells. But the primary catalyst and conductor for this flow is movement: namely of muscles.

We think of muscles primarily as things that move bones around. But this facilitation of flow is an even more important function ... particularly to the more localized regions of cells and capillary beds. (Of course, there's more involved - the role of fascia, etc.).

We can now theorize from this what phrases like 'deficient qi' or 'stagnant qi'might mean and feel like. Areas of the body that not getting enough varied movement, or are in repetitive tension patterns would be affected, and display qualities like tension, stiffness, numbness, cold, heat, flaccidity, etc.

We can also see how practices such as qigong, which involve flowing, whole-body movements, and full extension and contraction of muscles, would facilitate health down to the cellular level.

I'm still just on the verges of exploration here, and open to your thoughts, as well as wondering how this idea might affect how you relate to your body.

Stay tuned for more on this!