What is Chi?

Esther Ekhart talks about chi energy and 3 ways to connect with it in your body

What is Chi EkhartYoga

Chi is your life force, the energy that flows through you and through everything. It is that which gives you life.

The concept of chi (also spelt Qi) has its roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Martial Arts but the idea of a vital life force energy and its role in our health can be found in many cultures. For example, in yoga and Ayurveda we describe this life force as Prana. 

Chi energy moves through the body like breath and blood and is nourished by a healthy diet, enough sleep and movement practices. However its qualities go beyond the physical or tangible. It can be described as the purest energy that arises out of consciousness, awareness, stillness – through you into your body and all expressions of life. 

In short, chi is the essence of your true self.

The bridge between physical form and pure awareness

Chi energy is like a bridge between your form, which is your body, your thoughts, emotions, sensations, and the formless which is your essence, consciousness, awareness. In a way, when we trace chi back from form to formless, this is the journey of being on the spiritual path.

First there is the body, thoughts, emotions, sensations etc. which could all be described as chi having come into form. Then as part of your spiritual practice you learn to stop identifying with form and start feeling and identifying more with the inner body, with chi, pure life energy.

Eventually, this will lead you back to your essence, which is pure awareness, the formless. 

Working with chi as a healing practice

Various practices including Qigong, Tai Chi, yoga, pranayama (breathing exercises), acupuncture and working with marma points all work to support the free flow of chi or prana. They work on strengthening chi and removing any blockages.

Healing happens when we’re in a state of rest and when chi flows freely and is settled. When we do movement practices like yoga and Qigong that encourage vital energy or ‘chi’ to circulate through the body, this free flow of energy can eventually learn to settle or gather in the lower abdomen, in the lower dantian, which is the seat and reserve of your chi. 

This in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system – the place where all of repairing, healing and growing takes place. This is important for the health of the physical and mental body. 

When you bring your chi down from your head into your lower dantian, you will feel much calmer, less anxious and overwhelmed.

Expressing and manifesting chi

This inner body energy is pure awareness, it flows within you and it flows out in the world, it’s the one life that connects us all. The ground of all our beings. When you begin to start feeling your inner body, that feeling of aliveness within, you are feeling chi. Your energy begins to flow more freely in your body. 

We can also manifest chi by what we put out into the world. For example, in our interactions with others, being present with partners and children. Or through expressing ourselves through art, music, poetry, or teaching.

3 ways to connect with chi in your body 

Here are three quick examples of how you can learn to feel chi within your body.

1. Shake it out or dance it out

Shaking your hands, your arms, your upper body, your feet, legs, your butt and waist. This moves the old energy out of your body so you can begin to feel the inner body, that inner aliveness. Try this for 10 minutes or as part of my Reset with asana, a shake out and Yoga Nidra class.

2. Feeling your hands

Settle yourself as in meditation, with your eyes closed lift your hands, just let them float a little in front of you with the palms facing up. Now tune into your hands and ask yourself how do you know you have hands. You feel them. Next let go of the label ‘hands’, and just feel sensations, you can continue going through different parts of your body like that.

3. Notice the ‘rebound’ effects of Pranayama

Pranayama techniques are breathing exercises which clear the physical and emotional obstacles in our body to free the breath and so the flow of prana – or chi. Practice a few rounds of pranayama such as Kapalabhati or Bhastrika and take extra time after your practice to notice the sensations in your body.

Work with your chi in class in Esther Ekhart’s program

Join Esther for 12 gentle but powerful classes that combine asana, Qigong, meditation and breathing practices to energise and harmonise your energy system. New to EkhartYoga? Start your two week free trial to follow the program!

Main photo credit – by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

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Esther EkhartEsther Ekhart, face and founder of EkhartYoga, brings years of personal yoga and meditation practice, therapy training and study of yoga philosophy into her teaching.