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Taoism and Chi

Personal Chi

In Taoism, certain types of chi are naturally found within the human body. This natural chi is known as "personal," or "normal," chi. Personal chi is a general, umbrella term for the four primary forms of human chi.

There are many different names for these four types, but they are commonly known as prenatal chi, nutritional chi, defensive chi, and pectoral chi. The name of each personal chi reflects its function within the body. Each of the four person chi is described below.


Prenatal Chi: A Gift from our Parents

Prenatal chi, sometimes called primary chi, is transmitted directly to the child by the parents at the time of conception. This personal chi initially locates in and around the kidneys. As the organs of the body begin to function autonomously, the prenatal chi moves into the rest of the body.

The quality of prenatal chi in Taoism determines, in part, our general constitution -- whether we are strong and healthy or weak and sickly. As we progress through life, we draw upon this personal chi, first to develop and grow, and then just to survive. Since there is a finite amount, we gradually exhaust the supply, and our bodies begin to deteriorate.

After birth, prenatal chi must be nourished by the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. Since chi is a primordial substance of the body even more basic than blood in Taoism, we must nourish it in order to nourish our bodies.

The quality of the food and water we consume and the air we breathe has a direct effect on the quality of our prenatal chi. Once inside our system, food, water, and air are immediately transformed into unique types of chi. Each of these have special functions.

Our health, then, is directly related not only to the caliber of the chi transmitted to us at the time of our birth, but also to the quality of our food and air supplies. This means that the strength of our prenatal chi does not entirely dictate our destiny. Even if our prenatal chi is weak, we can still improve our chances of living a long and healthy life.

Nutritional Chi

There are several types of "acquired chi," which enter the body after birth. One of these is known as nutritional chi, and as mentioned above, it is created from the food we ingest. Produced by the spleen and stomach, this personal chi circulates in the blood vessels. Nutritional chi is responsible for producing the blood itself and also for providing the body with nourishment.

When it is found in the human body, chi and blood have always been understood to have a close association. An old Chinese expression says that chi is the commander of blood, but blood is the mother of chi. This means that wherever chi is to be found, the blood will follow.

On the other hand, it is the blood that nourishes the chi. This is one of the core ideas in traditional Chinese medicine. By increasing the amount of chi in deficient areas, the blood, because of its natural affinity to chi, will follow.

This brings additional nutrients, moisture, and a fresh supply of oxygen to the damaged tissue. At the same time, the blood will nourish the existing chi. From this example, you can clearly see the give-and-take relationship, the yin and the yang at play, between the two substances.

Defensive Chi

Defensive chi also originates with the food we eat. Rather than flowing through the interior of the body as does the nutritional chi, its native habitat is close to the surface of the body, where it protects us against disease. This personal chi also is responsible for the operation of the pores, providing moisture to skin tissue and hair, and when necessary, helping to regulate body temperature.

Pectoral Chi

In Taoism, the air that we breathe is transformed into another type of chi known as natural air chi, or pectoral chi, after its location in the body. It enables the lungs to control respiratory functions and enables the heart to circulate the blood. This personal chi is also associated with the ability to move the limbs and trunk of the body and to circulate the chi in the body. People without stamina, and those who are unable to speak clearly or whose voices lack force, are said to be deficient in natural air chi.

On the next page, learn how chi can be experienced through special demonstrations.

To learn more about chi and Taoism, see: