Reiki & Qi In Traditional Chinese Medicine

Reiki & Qi In Traditional Chinese Medicine

Reiki is the transliteration of the Japanese kanji 霊氣 which is variably translated as Universal Life Force, Spiritual Energy etc.. If one were to separate the two kanji characters, one will find that the character pronounced Ki (氣) is also the same character used in Chinese for Qi, one of the fundamental building blocks of life in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as well as in other traditional medical theories in East and South Asia.

So how is Reiki related to Qi, if at all? First of all let’s look at what is meant by Qi.

What Is Qi?

Qi is commonly translated as energy or vital energy.

The concept of Qi is based on the ancient Chinese initial understanding of natural phenomena. That is, Qi is the most basic substance of which the world is comprised. Qi embraces all manifestations of energy, from the most material aspects of energy (such as the earth beneath your feet, your computer, and flesh and blood) to the most immaterial aspects (light, movement, heat, nerve impulses, thought, and emotion). Life, it is said in the Chinese medical classics, is a gathering of Qi. A healthy and happy human being is a dynamic but harmonious mixture of all the aspects of Qi that make up who we are.

Qi is also in a state of continuous flux, transforming endlessly from one aspect of Qi into another. It is never destroyed; it simply changes in its manifestation. Everything in the universe results from the movements and changes of Qi. This concept was introduced into TCM and became one of its characteristics.

After a comprehensive survey of the statements on Qi in TCM documents, it is concluded that the meaning of Qi in TCM has two aspects. One refers to the vital substances comprising the human body and maintaining its life activities, such as the Qi of water and food (food essence), the Qi of breathing (breathing nutrients) and so on. The other refers to the physiological functions of viscera and bowels, channels and collaterals, such as the Qi of the heart, the lung, the spleen and the stomach and so on. In most TCM practices, the focus on managing and adjusting Qi is primarily related to the physiological functions of these viscera and bowels.

The Qi of the human body is classified into the following categories::


This is a composite of Jing (Essence) and Yuan (Primordial Qi) we are born with.

  • Primordial Qi or Yuan Qi (元氣)
    This is the Qi that is inherited at the time of conception and is a combination of your parents’ Qi and the Universal Qi which gathers and forms at conception and stored in the kidneys. It determines our basic constitution, strength and vitality and is essential for growth and development. It could be described as your unique expression of the Universal Life force.

    As a finite resource, it can be conserved but not replenished so when it is depleted, life ends.


This is derived from the food we eat and the air we breathe. The quality of acquired Qi is dependent on our habits, the quality of food and water we consume, our mental and emotional balance, physical exercise, sleep and so on.

  • Spleen Qi or Gu Qi (谷氣)
    This is the Qi that is derived from food, the fuel that sustains the physical.
  • Air Qi or Kong Qi (空氣)
    This is the Qi that is derived from oxygen or the air and is activated through breath techniques and focus.
  • Pectoral Qi or Zhong Qi (中氣)
    This is the gathering of Spleen and Air Qi in the chest.
  • True Qi or Zhen Qi (真氣)
    This is the combination of Spleen and Pectoral Qi gathered in the chest and catalysed by our Primordial Qi. This combined relationship is referred to as the True Qi.

    True Qi itself has two primary forms; the Nourishing Qi and Protecting Qi:

    • Nourishing Qi or Ying Qi (營氣)
      The Nourishing Qi nourishes the internal organs and the whole body. It is closely related to Blood, and flows with Blood in the vessels as well in the channels.
    • Defensive Qi or Wei Qi (衛氣)
      The Defensive Qi is fast moving and “slippery”. It flows primarily under the skin and in between the muscles, especially in the Tendino-Muscular meridians. Defensive Qi protects the body from attack by exogenous pathogenic factors such as harsh weather conditions, microorganisms, and harmful emotions.

Types of Acquired Qi
These are descriptions of the subtle energy called Qi, how it is formed and distributed. However, from a TCM perspective, Qi is only one of the 3 treasures that are the essential components of life, these being:

  • Qi (氣) – Energy
  • Jing (精) – Essence
  • Shen (神) – Spirit.

When the 3 treasures are in harmony the individual is radiant, physically fit, and mentally sharp so one should strive to balance the three treasures through meditation, exercise, and living well in general.

Any disruption of the 3 treasures leads to an imbalance of the whole.

Where Does Reiki Fit In?

To a TCM Practioner, this imbalance can manifest as physical or psychological abnormalities and addressed through the application of acupuncture, moxibustion and/or the ingestion of herbs etc. to restore balance to the Jing and Qi.

From a Reiki perspective, a different approach is taken- the way of Shen.

It could be stated that in today’s world, we have weakened our connection to Shen – Spirit, our focus being drawn to the physical aspects of our lives in striving for the material. It therefore comes as no surprise that as people seek to find meaning beyond the material in the space once occupied by organised religion, the resurgence of the search for spiritual authenticity and wholeness has been gathering momentum over the last 50 years.

The foundations of Reiki lie in the ability to receive and transmit Shen Qi (神氣); also known in the ancient classics as Ling Qi (霊氣) pronounced Reiki in Japanese; to another in order to assist in restoring their inner balance and harmony.

To use a simple analogy, it is rather like jump starting a car with a flat battery. Unlike outgoing Qi Gong therapy, where the practitioner builds and uses their own Qi, Reiki connects to the Universal Life Force or Shen that surrounds us. In doing so, the practitioners own Qi is not depleted. The mystery is how is this achieved?

Within the martial arts community, there are references to various Masters who have the ability to remove what are termed the 3 locks, seals or gates within their students to awaken their latent healing abilities. Likewise, Reiki attunements follow the same principle. By removing the locks or seals, a constant connection to Shen is re-established. This ancient knowledge incorporated in the Usui Reiki System of Natural Healing has led many over the years to acquire this ability.

There are 32 meridians and collaterals that lie in the head connecting to the rest of the body. It is these that are stimulated during the Reiki Initiation or attunement process, allowing the re-connection of Shen (Spirit) to occur.

Working with the Reiki phenomenon, the original 5 hand positions were around the head with the 6th position centering on the place of physical imbalance. So Reiki addresses the physical which often leads on to the mental emotional foundations of disease. Ultimately, the solution lies in the Shen.

Utilising Reiki as part of one’s therapeutic regimen is therefore essential to achieve balance of Qi, Jing and Shen, the 3 treasures that form the essential components of a holistic, healthy and well rounded life.