Experience Qi Today!

Click the pic to see:
“My Qi Explosion” post

Today’s Goal: To feel Qi outside your body!
Question: Is it real?
Spoiler: I don’t think it is, but let’s see.

Your body and the universe are enlivened by an invisible energy–Qi .  “Qi” is the Mandarin Chinese word for that invisible energy but it is known in many cultures, by various names: Hei (Cantonese), Ki (Japanese), Prana (Sanskrit), Lüng (Tibetan), Mana (Hawaiian), The Force (Star Wars), Etheric Energy (Theosophical Society) and many more.
You get the idea. (see Wiki if you want more)

Qi is a central concept in Traditional Chinese & Indian medicine, Martial Arts and Feng Shui. Having been surrounded by the concept for decades, I assumed everyone knew what I knew.  But while writing this post in the coffee shop today, I asked three different friends and none of them really knew what it was, yet alone had ever experienced it.

Qi is real! People in China, India and Japan know what it is. But have you ever truly felt it? Are you skeptical? Well, if you are even halfway open-minded, I can get you to feel Qi by the end of this post.  Please read each step slowly.
Key Step: until you get to the last step, you won’t really feel Qi

  • Place both your hands on a table in front of you.
  • Let your hands rest for a minute.
  • Don’t move them. Don’t move them during this whole demonstration.
  • Now, I want you to put your awareness in your right hand.Could you feel your attention move to your right hand?
  • If not, if you are already resisting this whole thing, Let’s try something more obvious.

  • Our brains filter signals so that we aren’t overwhelmed. By putting our attention on something, we can become aware of something we weren’t previously aware of.
  • For instance, put your attention on your butt. Feel the chair pushing up on your butt cheeks while the weight of your body pushes down on the chair.
  • I doubt you were aware of your butt before I asked you to pay attention to it. See how good your brain is at keeping you unaware of boring information.

  • Put your attention back on your right hand. Focus on the right hand. But now, let’s get more focused, but your attention on your index finger. Rest your attention on your index finger for a while.Now, shift your attention to your thumb.Rest your attention on your thumb for a while. Remember, do this slowly with careful, clear awareness.
  • Now try to putting your awareness into your little finger. For many of you this will be a little more difficult but spend some time until you clearly feel your little finger — you will get there.

  • OK, now return your attention to your index finger. Keep your attention there until you clearly feel it differently than your other fingers.
  • Now, let’s narrow down our awareness further. Remember, without moving your hand or fingers, put your awareness on your first knuckle. Yep, sense that small area. Focus clearly. It is not hard. You are doing the same exercise — moving awareness.
  • Congrads.Now, move your awareness up to your 2nd knuckle. Feel it?
  • Now move your attention to the tip of your index finger — to the very tip of your index finger. Your sensation should be clear and focused. Keep working until you can clearly feel the tip of your index finger.

  • OK, now, using the exact same method you have used so far, move your attention to about 1/2 inch off the tip of your finger.Yep, put your attention off your body into the space just in front of your index finger.Take your time. Focus. You will feel it.
  • You will feel it in just the same way you did all the other parts of your body above. Use the same process, the same method of acknowledgement.

You should have been able to sense your body beyond your finger.

That was your etheric or subtle body: your Qi outside your physical body. Sensations inside your body are also Qi but this experiment helps you separate  sensations of muscles from sensations of Qi.

I won’t tell you my opinions about Qi here.  I am reporting as a believer – as I first experienced it just as I did in this post too: “My Magical Introduction to Acupuncture“.  Tell me what you think. Your responses may help me in writing my upcoming posts on this issue.

Series Post: This post is part of my series: Confessions of an Acupuncturist.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

35 responses to “Experience Qi Today!

  1. I have done some of this awareness stuff while listening to music. I’d feel one hand then the other in response to the beat. The feeling is much like trying to breath through one nostril only, or just in the moment trying to make one eye the dominant, and then alternate with the other. This may actually be easier than the finger thing.

    For years, as a mental form of pain control, I have tried to feel the pain on the other side of the body. The focused awareness indeed seems to less the pain and regulate to being just another body sensation.

    I’ve got a book somewhere still (I think) describing the Kundalini experience from a physiological standpoint. Quite interesting to read. Maybe I’ll see if I still have it.

  2. roni

    Thanks, Sabio, for the post!

    Myrthryn, I would also be interested in this book.

    I have felt ‘the Force’ many times in my life which gives me a very uneasy feeling for I have no explanation for some of these occurances. The weird ones for me are the interactions with other people, feeling other people’s ‘energy’. I feel uneasy about these because on one hand this really sounds paranoid to me (it is others ‘out there’ who make me feel this way), on the other hand this was (in the situation itself) the only interpretation I had for feeling certain changes of temperature, ‘tinglings’ etc. in my body.

    What I would like to say, I guess, is that framing these experiences as ‘qi, prana,…’ is not comforting for me, I would rather like have a physiological/psychological explanation.

  3. Alex

    Awesome, something I can use to make money off the gullible! Thanks!

  4. @ myrthryn :
    Systematic body scanning/relaxation is very useful.

    But you seemed to miss my main point — of did you? I probably didn’t write clearly. I will touch it up. The important thing is feeling the Qi outside your body. Did you catch that at the end?

    Kundalini has often been turned physiological by referring to “nerve plexus” and endocrine glands. A google search finds tons — tough to find anything scientific if you include “kundalini” in the search: Here and here, for example

    @ roni :
    See my comment to myrthryn. I too like the physiologic explanation. This post was a set up for coming posts. When discussing things, however, I think it is helpful to give listeners experiences similar to your own — or find similar experiences to use as common ground. Thus this post.

    @ Alex :
    Absolutely. You beat me to some points I will be making later. Thanx. (hope you are following comments).

  5. I have to admit that I haven’t done the experiment, but I definitely had a kundalini-type experience once. It felt distinctly like bolts of electricity shooting up my spine. Now, there almost certainly wasn’t anything that ‘objectively’ correlated to that experience going on (if you hooked up a machine that measures electrical currents to my spine I doubt there would have been any difference from normal), but there really, truly was an extra-ordinary experience (and I didn’t prime myself for it either, it was out of the blue). So I can believe that these sorts of experiments work, especially* since they are priming the expermentor to feel them – as for whether these correlate to actual physiological phenomena is an interesting question.

  6. @ James,
    You didn’t do the experiment, AND you didn’t read the post?
    You said, “I believe that these sorts of experiments work” — What ‘sorts of experiments’ — are you simply going by the title of the post?

  7. LOL. No, I didn’t sit down and do it and I will admit that I skimmed the post/comments (I was on the bus at the time). Mea culpa! But I did it now and was indeed able to feel that Qi out there!

    Perhaps ‘experiment’ isn’t the best word to have used, but I certainly have seen people go in for similar things/report similar experiences with enough suggestion. I have known a couple of people who became convinced they could see auras (but I never went so far as to try that myself since they said it took them many hours of practise and it doesn’t seem worthwhile to me). There was a Reiki club at the university and its members would spend a lot of time offering people reiki (it was pretty weird how they would almost mob people, actually) and it was always interesting to see how many people acknowledged that they were ‘feeling it’ – but as for myself, when I let them do their thing on me I just felt slightly embarassed!

    While I don’t actually doubt the sincerity of those who report that they experience these things – like I said, I definitely ‘experienced’ something that felt a lot like kundalini things are supposed to feel – I think it’s an entirely different question as to whether those experiences have actual things associated with them (which I assume is where you’re going with all this).

    Does this help clear things up? 😀

  8. @ James,
    Well, it didn’t “clear things up” — it is just that you finally read the post before responding? 🙂

    Concerning Superficial reads:
    Sometimes readers blast through their RSS readers and read only the title or speed read a post looking for key words so they can make a comment. Fortunately I have very few commentors who do that. You usually don’t. Thanks for the confession.

    Concerning Real vs Not Real:
    So, back to the post.
    You felt the Qi outside your finger. Now the question is, “Do you really think you felt your etheric body?”

    Your last paragraph seems to say you don’t.

  9. Well, it felt like I did, but that leaves open the question of whether that was something real or an illusion caused by subtly tricking my perceptual faculties. I tend toward the latter in my thinking. At least, I will unless someone can demonstrate (or better yet, show me how to see for myself) that the ‘Qi’ is capable of having some sort of effect one would not expect to follow from a merely illusory happening

  10. Michel C

    “Qi” is not a Mandarin word for “invisible energy”. The original meaning of Qi is “something that flows that cannot be grasped”. The word “energy” was used by Soulié de Morant when he translated Chinese medical texts into French in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately his terms stuck when his work was translated into other languages and has led to a lot of confusion on how acupuncture actually works and a lot of skepticism by the scientific community because of this error. BTW, Soulié de Morant also used the word “Meridian” for the Chinese word “Jingluo” (Blood vessels) which is another problem. Please don’t confuse “energy” with “Qi”. “Energy” does not flow through “meridians”. Blood flows through the circulatory system.

  11. @ James,
    I agree with you, but more on that later.

    @ Michel C,
    (1)”Original Meanings” are not valid ways to determine present usages of words. It is interesting information, but present meanings often leave etiology in the dust.
    As you know, the character implies the steam coming of boiling rice — and in China and Japan “Qi” (“Ki”) if often discussed exactly in terms of ‘energy’. Do you feel that Morant influence huge portions of Japanese and Chinese society to forget the “real” meaning of the word and that it has been corrupt since — even in the Orient?

    (2) What is your background? As you know, there are many different schools of acupuncture — some even jīngluò were a later invention. But either way, many schools teach that Qi is a type of energy (and that word has lots of uses in English).

  12. PS, Michel C, is this you? You found me through Kevin’s site. Glad to have you join.

  13. I disagree. I think that in this case the original meaning is valid and had there not been an attempt to translate the word “qi” into something it is not, acupuncture would be widely accepted by the medical and scientific community instead of looked upon with skepticism. Scholar Paul Unschuld, states “that there is no historical basis for using the word “energy” for Qi (see: Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: An Annotated Translation of Huang Di’s Inner Classic). From my conversations with native Chinese, in China “Qi” is discussed as “Qi” not energy.
    However, for the sake of this interesting discussion please define the word “energy” for us.
    PS: yes

  14. Thanx Michel.

    So to keep the conversation focused, we have a few issues here. I think we need to be careful what point we are discussing:

    (1) Did the word “Qi” evolve in its usage over time in China? (I contend it did)

    (2) Should original use make present day uses invalid? (I say ‘no’, that is not how languages work)

    (3) Can mistranslation change understandings between cultures? (Yes, we both agree on that)

    (4) Is “energy” a bad translation for “Qi”? (I will answer this below)

    (5) Is “Qi” used in an energetic sense in modern day Japan and China. (My experience says “yes”, yours says “no”. Do you see people using “QiGong” in an energetic sense? So when you see videos like this, you feel they are misunderstanding Qi?)

    As to how to translate “Qi” — sometimes it is used to have different meanings. All you have to do is scan the English orthodox acupuncture web to find Qi used as “energy” in the West by most acupuncturists.

    I agree, Qi is used complexly. But the notion of “energy” is used a great deal as part of the meaning. Here are some Japanese sites [I translated them. The word “Energy” is written in transliteration from English in each of these original texts — katakana]. Sorry, my Chinese is very weak or I’d give examples in Chinese but that would take me time to find examples and translate. I’m sure others could though. :

    (A) This site says, “ENERGY (Qi) is blocked…”

    (B) This site says, “Acupuncture adjusts the balance of Qi’s flow and ENERGY …”

    (C) This site says, “[illness comes from] an unbalance of our vital ENERGY (Qi, Blood, Water)”

    You may be fighting for a different sense of the word so as to help give Qi some Western credibility, but what do you think of the video above?

    I hope breaking things down like this furthers the conversation. I certainly don’t want argument for argument sake and will go out of my way to avoid that. BTW, you do understand that I am a former acupuncturist (Japan — with experience in China), right? Not that my experience makes me right, but I wanted to make sure you understood.

  15. PS – Michel. Can you feel your “Qi” outside your body as this post’s experiment shows? Do you think that is Qi? Have you seen others use “Qi” this way?

    Or yes, I touched up the comment above, so read the one on the blog rather than the one your received by e-mail — thanx.

  16. @ Michel
    Concerning “The problem with Original Meaning”:
    Take the word “a stoic”. Well, today it means someone who either suppresses or is indifferent to emotions (pain, pleasure, grief or joy …), but the original meaning is very different. See “Stoicism“. It would be fun to list a bunch of other examples in English where the original meaning is largely lost in present day use. And, in this case, I have read authors who fight to change the present day use of stoic — but it is a losing battle.

    Likewise, in theology, similar battles for “original meaning” are taken by folks to try and redeem their scriptures which they feel have been distorted — the parallels here may be uncannily similar.

  17. Michel C

    Sabio, you skirted my question about the definition of energy. I still wonder what your definition is.
    As for the video. This is what I think: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XK4eXZ2I3sU

  18. @ Michel C,

    We may be talking past each other. I love the video you post — I think that Qi can be energy projected outside the body is horseshit. This post was just something to start a short series to discuss that.

    Meanwhile, concerning “definition of energy” — I won’t bother defining. It has many meanings and “energy” is a notion used for Qi in Japan and Asia. You may want to see my post on The Myth of Definitions to see my take on the use of definitions.

    You said, I ‘skirted’ you question. Actually, my statement above, where I said,

    “I certainly don’t want argument for argument sake and will go out of my way to avoid that.”

    Perhaps after reading the above and the link you will understand. If you have a favorite definition of “Energy”, you are welcome to share it. If I report that “People say Marilyn Monroe was beautiful.” Then you shouldn’t ask me my definition of “beautiful”, for I am reporting what people say.

    Are you following me? This post is tongue in cheek with follow-up planned. We may still disagree, but perhaps for the wrong reasons at this point.

  19. Qi is probably most commonly used (among Chinese speakers) as meaning ‘gas.’ This is how it is used in Chemistry–Nitrogen Qi, Oxygen Qi… In Chinese medicine, there are several types of Qi mentioned. However, as I wrote about here, http://ancientway.com/blog/?p=201, the commonality of Qi and Prana is as breath (thus Qi Gong and Pranayama have the same root meaning). Since the TCM “rules” are that the blood carries the Qi, the Qi leads the blood, and the mind’s intention directs the Qi, your exercise (and biofeedback) is a good example of this. I think most sensations of Qi are due to the feeling of capillary beds dilating. Relaxed attention on a body part has this effect. It raises temperature, produces a sensation (mild tingling), and if taken to extremes, can lead the brain to perceive the part concentrated on as heavier, larger, floating, etc.
    Putting your focus outside your body is highly unlikely to lead you to actually sense things outside the normal nerve receptors. I think when people are guided to rub their hands together and clap, then imagine a ball of “energy” between their hands, it is just a sensory trick, again based on capillary beds and nerve endings.
    Emliy Rosa is famous for her experiment with Therapeutic Touch. I’ve made my own $500-$500,000 offer for someone who can detect external energy fields, but have had no serious applicants yet: http://ancientway.com/blog/?p=962.
    Donald Kendall (Deke), who wrote _The Dao of Chinese Medicine_, is an outspoken ‘revisionist’ acupuncturist who, like Michel, is pointing out the disservice that talking of Qi as Energy and meridians as “real” does to the acupuncture world.
    Whether Qi is thought of as Oxygen or Energy, the acupuncture world needs to quickly produce some high quality research showing reliably effects greater than credible placebo acupuncture…
    Speaking of the quality of research, I spent quite a bit of time looking at research on external Qi Gong and mostly found horrible studies where massage or cupping were used in the study, but not reported in the abstract. I blogged about it, but have already put enough links in this comment 😉

  20. Great to have you visit ancientwaykevin:

    As you know, I am a former acupuncturist and am aware of the many uses of “Qi”.

    Do you agree that most Westerners and even Chinese and Japanese also use “Qi” to talk about some sort of body energy — and thus QiGong, Reiki and much more?

    I think this stuff is bogus (as you seem to agree) — and I think Michel may agree.

    You seem spot on when you label Michel as a “revisionist acupuncturist” — trying to redeem acupuncture. And you are right to point out that even revisionists have a ton of stuff to prove — correcting the language and trying to make all the physiology copacetic is of no value if the results aren’t there.

    You can see how this sort of rhetorical diversion can be similar to what many liberal Christians do. The parallels are palpably obvious.

  21. Yes, most common usage of Qi, in acupuncture, martial arts, and ‘energy’ healing, is as ‘energy.’ It’s often described as a real force which can be directed by intention outside of the body to affect others at a distance. Putting needles in the body is said to change its direction and rate of flow. Many acupuncturists still teach that twirling a needle clockwise vs. counterclockwise will have opposite effects due to how it changes the flow of Qi. I suspect that research will continue to show that most effects of acupuncture are based on suggestion and expectation, and are ultimately not too different from hypnosis. That’s a bummer, as I still owe $50K in student loans for my acupuncture degree.

  22. Kevin,
    After reading your links, I see that we agree. And thanks for your quick reply. Our experiences are similar though you have been there deeper and longer. So perhaps you can clarify with Michel where I can’t when he stops back in.

    In Japan we learned lots of different needle methods to supplement Qi and disperse Qi depending on the diagnosis. I was suspicious then, and after graduating and practicing for 3 years — I was out. But during my 9 years of acupuncture devotion, I packed in a lot of experiences. I am sure you have done the same.

    It is amazing what “expectations” (as you say), flexible interpretation, and invested opinion (50K !) can do to our objectivity, eh?

    It is nice to find a fellow traveler who is willing to admit embarrasing mistakes.

  23. I appreciate the attempts by ‘revisionists’ such as Kendall to point out where interpretations of words like Qi and Jing-Luo (Vessels and Conduits) have been overmystified in earlier translations. However, the bigger issue of clinical importance is what acupuncture (or Qi Gong) can do better than placebo. I’m still looking for good studies supporting acupuncture, and still coming up rather short. The most hopeful studies seem to show a small benefit over placebo for treating pain (neck pain, back pain, knee pain, etc.). But some good studies show no difference from even a non-penetrating placebo. And this is for pain, which should be the easiest thing to treat (as it’s subjective). When we get to looking at acupuncture’s claims to treat internal disease (i.e. change the course of a progressive disease such as liver cirrhosis, kidney failure, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, etc.) there is, as far as I’ve found, no convincing evidence.
    Some external Qi proponents have abused research to ‘prove’ their effects by having no control or placebo group, confounding their variables by adding stretching and other exercises to the patient’s regimen, etc. So many skip over proving the basic premise, i.e. the existence of an external energy field which can be detected by any means and then changed by some means.
    What much of this research has shown is the power of the placebo effect, but also its limitations…

  24. Great points Kevin,
    Have you compiled a list of studies. If so, you could list them, annotate them and share them on a page. Maybe someone has already done that.

  25. Sabio,

    Thanks for the encouragment. I reviewed a huge number of External Qi Gong studies, some of which I linked to in earlier comments. Here is another one: http://ancientway.com/blog/?p=1307 .

    I plan to do a similar evaluation of acupuncture studies. One of the CEU courses I did was a PDF called “Acupuncture Works and the Studies that Prove It” which unfortunately included many studies which concluded it doesn’t.

    I’d write more but have to go do more acupuncture. Good thing some of my patient insist they get good value out of my treatments…


  26. I used to practice qigong and kundalini yoga. Through the practice I was able to experience many bodily sensations. I could (probably still can, I just haven’t done it in a long time) evoke a tingle that ran up my spine to the top of my head, making my hair “stand on end” as they say, simply by thinking about it. I could induce a full body orgasmic feeling just by laying down and relaxing and breathing for a few minutes. I experienced other sensations, often directly as they were described in the qigong manuals that I was using.

    I remain agnostic about what these sensations were. They were real, to me. I definitely felt them, and I could definitely repeat them. And they were completely outside of my normal experience.

    But was my kundalini rising? Did I open my microcosmic orbit? I don’t know… actually I doubt it. I think it’s just as likely that I trained my body to feel these sensations and it was strictly psychosomatic.

    I cannot put out candles simply by shooting qi, nor can I knock people out with gentle touches to their pressure points. I don’t feel like a superman. I never experienced qi sickness or the Kundalini sickness/madness that some people describe. I’m just me, same as I was before. Except I bet I could go lay down and have a non-orgasm orgasm if I wanted. Haha.

  27. Even if this is all just suggestion and expectation, though, I have to wonder what the practical benefits could be for medical treatment. If you can help someone with their pain, you have helped them with their pain, regardless of whether you have actually treated the condition that caused it or just made them feel it less through suggestion.

    Sorry for two comments in a row!

  28. @ Will,
    But did you do the experiment in this post and feel Qi outside your body?

  29. Will–I, too, had some neat and pleasurable new experiences practicing Qigong and Kundalini Yoga, yet can’t pick winning lottery numbers or shoot frikkin’ laser beams out of my eyes. Darn.
    The problem with making pain go away is that it may be an indicator of a more serious underlying condition. I had an acupuncture patient years ago for low back pain who started mentioning a pain in his ribs, near his stomach. Fortunately I encouraged him to continue his mainstream medical care, though I did do some acupuncture around that rib pain to hopefully make it go away. Unfortunately, he was eventually diagnosed with stomach cancer. It was too far advanced for any treatment. He’s the first person I ever watched waste away and die of cancer with no treatment.
    This was a wake-up call for me to be very careful about treating pain of unknown origin.

  30. Michel C

    Yes, the Western use of the word “energy” for “qi” has changed the meaning in the last 90-100 years. However, that doesn’t mean that it is right. As I stated before it has lead to a lot of skepticism by the scientific and medical communities. As you know, just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t mean it is the correct thing to do. While you cite various websites to justify your opinions I believe we should rely on the authority of scholars like Paul Unschuld. I quote: “It should be noted that the interpretation of qi as “energy”, so widespread in TCM literature today, lacks any historical basis” (Huang Di neijing su wen: An Annotated Translation of Huang Di’s Inner Classic – Basic Questions, p.20). Unschuld as you may know is one of the foremost sinologists and scholars on Chinese medical history. Donald Harper, another scholar and professor of East Asian Studies, who authored the translation and study “Early Chinese Medical Literature” does not use the word “energy” to translate the word Qi. Until you can find someone with equal or superior credentials to these two scholars and translators to back up your “energy” opinion I rest my case. “Qi” is not “energy”.

  31. DaCheese

    I tried the experiment a couple of times, and I just couldn’t feel anything beyond the end of my finger. Maybe it’s because of my lack of proper meditation training, or just general attention issues? I could feel all sorts of sensations in my individual fingers (including some tingling like the capillary dilation effect Kevin mentioned) but when I moved my attention beyond the tip of my finger, there just wasn’t anything there.

    In any case, I would guess that (when it works) this exercise simply alters the brain’s proprioception of that area. Sensations belonging to the tip of the finger are instead attributed to the space just in front of it.

    One of the things I did notice during this exercise was that I often had to work to scrape together enough sensations to be confident that I was really feeling the focused-on body part. I suspect that in some cases (especially with the individual knuckles) I was actually mis-attributing sensations from neighboring areas/nerve-endings as being from the area of focus. It could be that the brain keeps doing this sort of mental fudging when it comes time to focus on the space beyond the end of the finger.

  32. @ DaCheese,
    Fantastic, thanks for playing.
    I think your analysis (and comments of others) point out some of what must be happening, because I too don’t think external Qi is real. I am curious why some of us feel it easier than others. I still feel it. Maybe imagination, hallucination, different body awareness parts of mind ….

    I think the difference in temperament in those feeling ability causes many disagreements and conflicting decisions. Yet few understand the sources of what they often think are “philosophical” differences.

  33. Is Qi real?
    A cautious skeptic might be the best way to describe me.
    I have struggled with asthma since I was a child. I was on Flo-Vent and an inhaled steroid. (They worked but their long term side effects were truly terrifying).

    I had gone to an TCM Dr. & acupuncturist for around 9 months with treatments of acupuncture and herbal teas. I have been totally medicine free (and asthma “free”) for over a year now.

    I know acupuncture is based upon the concept of a Qi energy that is undetectable. I can argue neither for nor against its existence. I only know my experience. It works.

    Do I think Qi’s real? Yes. Can I prove it? No. Do I need to? No.

  34. Perfect introduction to ki (or qi)!

  35. @ red,
    Thank you! I tried to tell it exactly as I experienced it so that people who have not experienced it don’t dismiss those who have as merely delusional.

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