What is Qi (Chi) vs Prana? Learn their meanings and histories.
Qi, Prana, life force, ki, anima, chi, ruh, inner wind, pneuma, Holy Spirit… You may be familiar with at least one of these words to describe energy. This type of energy has been known to almost every nation and culture in the world as far back as we can date, with some cultures exploring it more deeply for use in daily life and healing practices. Although it seems that the world is vast and cultures differ drastically from one another, energy is the one thing that irrefutably binds us all together.
If you read our blog regularly, you already know that everything is made up of energy. The Big Bang Theory explains that the universe came into existence from an explosion of energy. This explosion caused the formation of subatomic particles, then atoms, then elements, and eventually, the world we live in today. This energy continuously flows throughout everything and begins in a state of potential. This energy manifests into reality when a being focuses on vibrationally aligning its own energy with the potential energy.
Truly understanding this helps us grasp the concept that everything and everyone we see around us has come from the same energy source, which allows us the power of working with this energy and empathizing with our fellow co-creators. This concept was well understood by our ancient ancestors, and therefore it is only natural that healing practices have developed around this grand energy source. The goal of medicinal energy practices is to transform the energy within us. Through our own knowledge, or working with a trained practitioner, we can learn how we are using the energy in our bodies, and become more conscious of its presence.
Although the validity of Qi and Prana, or manipulation of energy in general, is still debated and theorized in the Western world, in China, India, and many other Asian countries, people have been practicing working with energy for more than 5,000 years. They have been able to successfully treat all kinds of diseases, prolong life span, and essentially, fine tune energy to perfection.
What is Qi?
Qi energy is incredibly important in Chinese culture. It’s complexities have been studied so deeply that the entire system of Traditional Chinese Medicine is based around working with Qi. Traditional Chinese Medicine is one of the oldest and most developed practices in the world, focusing on the energy flowing in our body, compared to western medicine which focuses on our anatomy and chemical reactions. Modalities like Qigong and acupuncture are common practices to work with Qi. Plenty of studies have found this method of working with Qi energy to be more effective than western medicine in treating a majority of illnesses, especially chronic illnesses. Chinese medicine has also been recognized as a much safer medical system than western medicine because it does not pose a danger to patients, even when practiced by untrained people. Whereas studies have shown that western medicine is one of the leading causes of death in the western world, with about a quarter of a million deaths in the U.S. alone each year. (1)
Chinese medicine describes pathways in our bodies called the meridian system through which Qi flows. The meridian network is divided into two categories, the jingmai and the luomai, each constraining sets of meridians that travel through the body that create unique points, called acupoints. There are about 400 acupoints and most are located along the 20 major pathways. The 12 Principal Meridians correspond to an organ and are divided into Yin and Yan groups. The Eight Extraordinary Channels are said to store latent energy.
Qigong practitioners are able to see Qi energy in auras. Many masters of the practice have developed a natural x-ray vision and can manipulate energy through this vision (2). This x-ray vision allows people to see the internal organs and detect illnesses and pregnancies. Although it may sound unbelievable that some people possess these kinds of supernatural abilities, there have been tons of accounts from all over the world proving the validity of this gift. Qi Gong Master Li Hongzhi explains that “supernormal abilities are in fact beings’ innate abilities. The higher a being’s level, the more his fully innate abilities can take effect”. This being said, we can understand that these skills that seem to belong only to superheroes are within everyone. It is only those that put true dedication into developing these gifts that become true masters of manipulating Qi. Working with life force energy is not only practiced in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but is common throughout many medical practices in Asia.
With Traditional Chinese Medicine revolving around Qi, Indian medicine and Hindu tradition involve working with Prana. Both Qi and Prana refer to the life force energy that flows through all living beings. While these two traditions share many similarities, the perspective and healing methods that come from each can be very different.
What is Prana?
Prana comes from the Sanskrit word for breath. The concept of Prana was first referenced 3,000 years ago in the Chandogya Unpanishad text and later has been described in many famous Hindu texts, like the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. Hindu literature often describes Prana as originating from the sun and connecting the elements of space, air, fire, water, and earth, or Mahābhūta. Like Qi, Prana is tied to our overall health by acting as the source of all energy in our bodies, regulating all bodily functions, like digestion, breath, cell growth, etc. (3)
Prana is an energy that flows through a network of channels in our bodies, or nadis. Scientists have found that the ancient descriptions of this network are remarkably similar to modern descriptions of nerves and the nervous system. There are about 72,000 nadis working in our bodies. The 3 main nadis are ida, lingala, and sushumna, starting at the base of the spine traveling upwards to the head, with the ida and pingala connecting to the left and right nostrils respectively, and the sushumna connecting up the spine to the crown of the head. The pingala is known as the sun channel, represented by the Sanskrit syllable ha. It is associated with an exhale breath and ‘hot’ emotions, like anger and jealousy. The ida, or tha, is known as the moon channel of ‘cool’ energies like desire, craving, and attachment and is associated with an inhale breath. Sushumna is the central channel or the ‘singing channel’, which references the bliss that is felt when Prana flows freely through this nadi. (4)
Chakras are located where the ida and pingala intersect with the sushumna. Each chakra connects thousands of minor nadis and circulates Prana throughout the body (5). Through experiences of trauma and stress, the chakras can become ‘blocked’ and Prana is unable to flow through which can lead to issues or illnesses that relate to that specific point of chakra. There are 7 principal chakras, each corresponding with a location in the body, color, and health focus:
Muladhara Chakra (Root Chakra)
- Location: Base of the spine
- Color: Red
- Focus: Physical identity, grounding
Svadishthana Chakra (Sacral Chakra)
- Location: Below belly button, above pubic bone
- Color: Orange
- Focus: Sexuality, pleasure, creativity
Manipura Chakra (Solar Plexus Chakra)
- Location: Upper abdomen
- Color: Yellow
- Focus: Self-esteem, confidence
Anahata Chakra (Heart Chakra)
- Location: Center of the chest, just above the heart
- Color: Green
- Focus: Love, compassion
Vishuddha Chakra (Throat Chakra)
- Location: Throat
- Color: Blue
- Focus: Communication
Ajna Chakra (Third Eye Chakra)
- Location: Between the eyes on the forehead
- Color: Indigo
- Focus: Intuition, imagination
Sahasrara Chakra (Crown Chakra)
- Location: Top of the head
- Color: Violet or White
- Focus: Awareness, intelligence
Knowing that our bodies function through a flow of energy, it is said that we have an endless supply of Prana, and that we are only consciously using a fraction of it and the rest is stored in a state of potential. This potential energy is referred to as kundalini, often represented as a sleeping serpent coiled around the Root Chakra (6). When accessing the kundalini, you are opening up sushumna nadi, which allows Prana to flow through the middle channel in our bodies. Opening up this nadi awakens the serpent and guides the Prana along the path through each chakra to the Crown chakra, represented by a thousand petal lotus. The use of this kundalini energy is a union of the crown chakra and shakti, cosmic potential, and shiva, cosmic consciousness. This union is said to merge the individual soul, atman, with the cosmic soul, Brahman, resulting in liberation from all miseries.
With this knowledge, ancient teachers created practices to work with Prana. Yoga, derving from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘union’, is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice. An Ancient Indian sage, Patañjali, is thought to be the author of Yoga Sutras, in which he defines Ashtanga yoga, or the eight limbs of yoga. These limbs include yamas (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). It is important to note that the modern form of yoga as exercise is only one form of Ashtanga. (7)
Along with yogic practices, Indian healers also work with the earth, using healing herbs and flowers in their practices. Rose is considered by the ancient Vedics to be the “King of Flowers”. It is seen as corresponding with the heart, and is therefore used in healing practices to calm and balance the Prana of the heart chakra. It is also believed that the use of rose in teas can relieve stress and irritability, and even transform anger into forgiveness. A study from the International Journal of Research and Chemistry confirms that “The flowers have cooling, cardio tonic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, digestive, carminative, rejuvenating and tonic properties. Tea made from petals can be used as a blood purifier, and for headaches. The petals are rejuvenating and prove to be a tonic” (8). Along with the positive benefits that it can have on your health, rose tea has also been shown to improve skin and have anti-aging properties.
We encourage you to join us in healing our heart chakras through a cup of rose tea. With our 30 Day Rosy Ritual Wellness Set you are on the right track to truly experiencing the healing power of the rose!
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No matter what word is used to describe it, Qi/Prana/Life Force energy is what fuels our whole world. There are endless methods, both ancient and modern, that work with this energy with the goal of healing. In this blog, we have only begun to touch the surface of the complexities of these traditions. We encourage you to explore how to involve this life force energy in the aspects of your life that are important to you, whether that be through food, meditation, exercise, or just in your daily life!
*All images credited to their original owners
Excellent article, thorough explanation. Thank you for sharing this lost knowledge which ought to be common. You are a good person for doing so.