One question that many people ask when they first take an interest in Tai Chi, Chi Gung, yoga or any other energetic art, is “what is the best diet for improving the flow of chi throughout the body?”. Generally the same diet principles apply to a “chi diet” as to any other healthy diet. However some people recommend more organic, vegetarian food. Here are some eating and drinking recommendations for those practising internal martial arts and looking to improve their chi through improved diet.
Which Foods Should You Eat To Boost Energy / Chi / Qi?
Whole grain foods, such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, barley, oats, buckwheat, rye, maize, millet and quino. Other foods made with Wholegrain flour are also recommended, such as pasta, noodles, wholemeal biscuits, cakes, wheat and muesli.
Following with Traditional Chinese Medical theory (see an explanation below), ensure that you eat plenty of fresh locally grown vegetables which are in season, and organically grown if possible. Steaming or stir-frying is best. Vegetarian food such as beans, nuts, seeds, soya bean curd (tofu) are also very good.
If your diet allows meat, then try to ensure you eat mostly organic, free range white meat such as chicken or turkey. Eggs, fish or seafood are also good in moderation for a healthy diet.
There are many milk and dairy alternatives if you are looking for a low fat milk, such as soya, rice and soya yoghurt which can all be consumed.
Less popular in the west is seaweed, such as nori and kelp.
Natural soy sauces should be consumed to add flavour to meals, such as tamari or shoyu.
Fresh fruit which is local and seasonal including dates, sultanas, raisins, figs, apples and berries.
Honey, in moderation, unrefined sugar only if you must.
Food to Reduce Consumption Of
In addition to the foods you should increase for a healthy “chi diet”, you should also try to reduce your intake of these (although maintain food hygiene and health standards at all times):
- White bread
- White flour
- White rice
- Refined processed and tinned foods
- Chemical additives
- Fruit acids
Red meat should be avoided where possible. Red meat includes beef, pork, veal, lamb, venison, or other large mammals. Some poultry and fish that are high in fat and these should be avoided, such as duck, goose and haddock.
Taoist diet advice recommends limiting eggs in general, although avoiding fried is best. Dairy products should also be avoided, such as full fat milk, cheese, butter, lard, dripping, and other animal fats.
There are many other rules which are really very difficult to apply and keep a well balanced diet, so they are not included here. The general rules however are to buy fresh, organic, locally grown, seasonal whole foods whenever possible. Avoid cold food and cold drinks.
Some practitioners of Chinese Medicine believe that cold drink can disrupt the flow of chi. Others however believe that traditionally people would avoid cold drinks as they were less likely to have been boiled, and therefore more likely to contain bacteria that could lead to illness.
Likewise, green tea should be drunk luke warm, not too hot. Other tips include reducing your fluid intake as much as possible, and avoiding drinking heavily before a meal. It is highly recommended that if you suffer from any health problems that you consult your doctor before changing your diet.
Traditional Chinese Medicine for Good Health
So what is chi (qi) and how does traditional Chinese medicine approach general health and wellbeing?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has its foundations in Taoist beliefs and teachings. The principals behind Traditional Chinese medicine are that our physical, mental and spiritual health is connected, each part dependent and affected by each other part.
It is only relatively recently that doctors and scientists have started to investigate the effects of diet on mental wellbeing, but in Traditional Chinese Medicine this link has been known for many years, and diagnosis of medical conditions takes into consideration a the whole person, i.e. their physical, mental and spiritual health.
The Taoist philosophy is to live a well balanced life, one that all things are done in moderation and not in excess, where the individual lives in harmony with nature, with the passing seasons and the environment. There is much emphasis on consuming certain foods at certain times of day, and in certain seasons.
The body clock is important, as Chinese medicine considers the impact on the organs at different times of the day and night. One of the important main concepts of Chinese medicine is what is known as the triple burner concept. This is the role that the organs in the three sections of torso (the upper, middle and lower) play in the overall health of the individual. These theories form the basis of Chinese medical theory and practice.
Twelve Vital Organs and Meridians
Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that the body has twelve vital organs, which are all connected via the meridians (or energy channels). The meridians contain many points the health of the body can be assessed. It is interesting the point out that many Chinese martial arts use the knowledge of the body’s energies, meridians and the other concepts of Chinese medicine to improve their effectiveness. Many people are familiar with the role of chi in Tai Chi for example, but these same rules apply to many other Chinese martial arts as well as the healing arts. In fact, it is not uncommon for an experience practitioner of Chinese martial arts to also become a skilled practitioner of Chinese medicine.
Three Treasures: Chi, Jing and Shen
In Traditional Chinese Medicine there are “three treasures”: the chi (energy), jing (essence) and shen (spirit). These form the basis of physical function and the alchemical transformation. Chi flows through the channels to vitalize the organs of the body and it effects the jing, shen and consciousness.
If the flow of chi is blocked it can impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of the individual. Different external factors can affect the flow of chi in different ways, and therefore have different affects on the body. Extreme temperatures can interfere with bodily function, as can irregular diet, sleeping patterns and other lifestyle factors.
Three Types of Chi: Yuan (congenital), Ying (nutritive) and Wei (defensive)
Chi is at the center of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Chinese symbol for chi represents the earth (rice symbol) and energy/spirit (the symbol for the transformation of water into stream). This represents the nature of chi, in that it is both substantial and insubstantial, physical and energy, yin and yang, hard and soft. TCM actually believes that there are several different types of chi.
Yuan chi (congenital) which inherent in the individual from birth; Ying chi (nutritive, and yin in nature) which is obtained by the consumption and digestion of food; Wei chi (defensive, and yang in nature) which protects the body from external diseases; and finally Zong chi (gathering) which collects in the chest, and brings together the different chi’s in the body with chi from breath.
Chi and the organs
Chi is associated with each organ, and deficiencies and excesses of chi can both have negative impacts on health. Generally if an organ is deficient it leads to a weakness, such as a deficiency of chi in the spleen can lead to digestive problems, indigestion and diarrhea. Excess of chi in the liver can make a person more aggressive, irritable, and often results in them having a slightly higher than average body temperature.
Xue Chi, the Solid organs (Zang) and Hollow organs (Fu)
Chi is also related to bodily fluids. Xue is a combination of the blood and ying chi (nutritative) and aids the functioning of kidneys. Xue circulates around the body through the veins and arteries, delivering energy to the organs.
There are twelve main organs in the body according to Chinese medicine, which are divided into two types, the solid and the hollow. The solid organs are the lungs, spleen, heart, kidney and liver (also referred to as Zang organs). These create and store the vital essences and fluids, known as Yin. The hollow organs are the stomach, small and large intestines, gall bladder and the triple burner (also known as the Fu organs). These are responsible for receiving and transforming nutrients, and excreting waste. These are known as the Yang organs.
The triple burner is responsible for maintaining balance between the upper, middle and lower body and relates to circulation, temperature control and sexual function. In Tradition Chinese Medicine both the Zang and Fu organs are studied, along with the interactions that each set of organs has on the other. The organs can be further divided into yin and yang pairs.
In TCM the heart is more than just a physical organ, it also contains mind and consciousness, and controls mental function and emotions. It can help to regulate sleep and dreams, affects complexion. The health of the heart is mirrored in the colour, shape and agility of the tongue. In fact tongue diagnosis is an important form of diagnosis in Tradition Chinese Medicine.
The Fu organs and Jing
The Fu organs (stomach, small and large intestines, gall bladder and the triple burner) take up the nutritative essences to aid growth and ensure healthy development, in combination with the constitutional essences. Jing governs vitality and longevity. TCM believes that a person’s Jing should not be depleted by excess work, otherwise health may deteriorate.
The organs of the body also contain Shen, which is the spirit. It is believed that Shen can be accidentally released through incorrect acupuncture, acupressure, poor martial arts training and certain spiritual practices.
Each organ is connected to a meridian. Meridians have been studied by western doctors and have been shown to be electrical channels throughout the body, which are located just below the skin. There are twelve major channels that carry the chi throughout the body, which connect together all the inner organs. As channels carry the chi, experienced practitioners are able to measure the flow of chi at the acupoints along the meridians. This is another form of medical diagnosis.
Summary of Traditional Chinese Medicine
In summary, traditional Chinese medicine studies the flow of energy in the human body, and how it affects the different organs through the interaction of those organs with each other, and with the different forms of chi.
Some chi is stored withing the body since birth (yuan, congenital), some chi formed from what we consume (ying, nutritative), some chi defends the body (wei, defensive) and some forms within the chest by combining the bodies different chi’s with breath (zong, gathering).
Traditional Chinese Medicine Today
In Chinese hospitals it is very common for patients to be prescribed chi gung (qigong) once a diagnosis has been made. There are many ways that a persons chi can be manipulated to improve health and treat ailments, such as acupuncture, acupressure etc. but chi gung (breathing exercises with movement) is the one of the most popular ways as people can continue to treat themselves.
Chinese herbal medicine also forms a large part of the treatment in Traditional Chinese medicine. The study of herbs and how the interact and affect the various organs is a very important part of Chinese medicine. Food in general is also a part of healing and health in Chinese medicine. There are different food types which impact on the body in different ways.
Often a persons illness may be attributed to an imbalance in their diet, which may involve the consumption of too much yin and too much yang food types. Traditional Chinese Medicine, like western medicine, is a vast subject which requires many years to master just any one aspect.