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Manipulating Qi with Acupuncture

Manipulating Qi with Acupuncture

Keoni Teta ND, LAc and Jade Teta ND

            Acupuncture is a modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that uses special sterilized needles to manipulate Qi (pronounced “Chi”).  The practice of manipulating Qi with acupuncture is probably about 5000 years old, and definitely has a recorded history of about 2500 years.  So what is Qi? In our practice Jade and I describe Qi as one’s “life force.”  Naturopathic Physicians call it the Vis Medicatrix Naturae or just the Vis, which in Latin means – the healing force of Nature.  Qi is that healing force that pervades our bodies when we are born and leaves our bodies when we die.  It is the God-like force within all of us.  It is that force that can heal a broken bone in two weeks or keep us from getting sick. Yes, maybe it is what many Westerns call our soul.

Qi flows though out our bodies in a smooth and even fashion when we are healthy.  If there is discomfort in the body then a holistic healthcare provider can be certain that Qi is not flowing smoothly.  It is important to know the status of Qi in the body, so that it can be manipulated in an appropriate way.  Besides, all a holistic practitioner does, in a sense, is provide medicines to boost or manipulated Qi so that you, the patient, can heal faster.  Yes, there are many ways to manipulate Qi and holistic healthcare providers use modalities such as functional medicine, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, cupping, homeopathy, reiki, massage, physical medicine, exercise, sleep, and yes, even pharmaceutical medicines if used appropriately.

Qi is actually found in everything.  This means that the Qi in our bodies can be manipulated by our lifestyle habits.  Qi will be deficient or stagnant if we do not exercise, have good nutrition, or have good sleep habits.  The most common sign of Qi deficiency is fatigue, while the most common sign of Qi stagnation is pain or discomfort in the body.

Qi can even be affected by our emotions.   Poor relationships cause significant problems with the flow of Qi.

So from a TCM perspective there are six basic functions of Qi in the body: Transforming, Transporting, Holding, Raising, Protecting, and Warming.  Bear with us here and we will explain these functions giving Western examples.  Note: Organs defined from a TCM perspective in this article have their first letter capitalized.

The function of transforming Qi occurs in all our organs, but occurs primarily in the Spleen (this is analogous to what we know as our pancreas and spleen) and the Kidney (this is analogous to what we know as our kidneys and adrenal glands).  The Spleen extracts and transforms Qi from the nutrition we put in our bodies so that our bodies can use it.  The Kidney takes Qi in the blood and purifies it.  In western terms the kidney filters the blood.  The Kidney, through its adrenal aspect balances Qi so that we have plenty of energy during the day.  This is analogous to the adrenals helping to balance our hormones and blood sugar levels.

The function of transporting Qi occurs primarily in the Spleen, Lung, Kidney and Liver.  All of these organs have to be working optimally for Qi to flow through the body smoothly. The most important organ for circulating Qi is the Liver.

The function of holding Qi is the job of the Spleen.  The Spleen makes sure enough Qi stays in the blood.  This function is somewhat analogous to the spleen whose function it is to clean blood so we can maintain a healthy immune system.

The function of Raising Qi occurs primarily in the Spleen and Kidney.  The Spleen and Kidney help to maintain a good balance between yin and yang, respectively.  If there is too much yin in the body then Qi will sink and could cause prolapsed organs.  Hemorrhoids and hemorrhages are a form of prolapse from a TCM prospective.  If there is too much yang in the body Qi rises causing things like anxiety, migraines, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, etc.

The function of Protecting Qi occurs primarily with the Lung (this is analogous to what we know as our lungs and immune system).  Colds and flu are common illnesses that affect the lungs.  When Lung Qi is strong people will not get these illnesses.

The function of Warming Qi occurs primarily with the Yang aspect of the Spleen and the Yang aspect of the Kidney.  If digestion is poor one will tend to be either cold or hot natured depending on the nature of the Qi disturbance.  If someone has poor Kidney Yang they will tend to be cold and have frequent urination.

Pathology in terms of Qi can manifest in four different ways: Qi deficiency, Qi sinking, Qi stagnation, and Qi rebellion.   These pathological manifestations of Qi just mean that Qi is not flowing smoothly or adequately.  Symptoms of Qi deficiency are low energy, tendency to get sick and low libido.  Signs of Qi sinking are organ prolapse, and bruising easily.  The primary symptom of Qi stagnation is pain or discomfort in the body, and the primary symptoms of Qi rebellion are nausea or vomiting.

So knowing the functions of Qi and pathological manifestations of Qi, a holistic healthcare provider trained in TCM and acupuncture can get a fairly good idea of which meridians to needle.  For example, someone who bruises easily may have deficient Spleen Qi, because it is the Spleen’s job to hold Qi in the blood.  If Qi is deficient in the blood, bruising and hemorrhaging are possible.   In this case, acupuncture points on the Spleen meridian should be needled.   Any musculoskeletal pain in the body is an indication Qi stagnation or Qi not flowing smoothly, and thus points on the Liver channel should be needled.   If someone has nauseas and vomiting, this is Qi rebellion or Qi flowing in the wrong direction.  In this case points on the Stomach and Spleen channels should be needled.  Signs and symptoms of Lung Qi deficiency include shortness of breath, fatigue, and frequent colds and flu’s.  In this case the Lung should be treated by needling the Lung meridian.

Through in-depth history taking and observation (especially feeling the pulse and observing the tongue from a TCM perspective) a holistic healthcare provider trained in TCM and acupuncture will be able to get a good assessment of the status of Qi in body so that the appropriate acupuncture points will be needled to boost your vital force, and thus help you heal faster.


Keoni and Jade Teta are naturopathic physicians and brothers practicing in Winston-Salem at The Naturopathic Health Clinic of North Carolina ( They are also the founders of ME or Metabolic Effect  ( an exercise company that uses exercise as medicine. They can be reached at 336 724 4452.


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