The Science of Qi

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“Qi” (氣) literally means gas in Chinese. The pictograph shows steam coming off of a pot of rice. A more ancient pictograph shows smoke coming off of fire. In either case it refers to gasses or vapors. This is a fundamental part of how yoga, acupuncture and meditation practices work.

Chinese medicine has long recognized that gasses within the body play a role in the warming, holding, energizing and providing communication within the human body. Medically there are names for many kinds of gasses based on their actions in the body. While they lacked the technology to identify and measure the exact gasses, they were keenly aware of how these gasses permeated the body and the points at which they exited the skin.


Gasotransmitters were discovered in the early 1990s and their discovery is redefining the way we think about medicine. They are small molecules of gas such as nitric oxide, hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide. They can pass freely through membranes, transmit signals from neurons to target cells.

Gasotransmitters are involved with nearly every process in the body. They have well-defined functions. Some send messages to tell cells how much energy they should be producing. When the right proportion of gasotransmitters reaches fat stores, they begin to transform fat into useable energy and heat.

Comparison of Qi and Nitric oxide
 Chinese Medicine’s Concept of  Qi “Gas” Gasotransmitters
Can travel through the body. Can travel through the body.
Provides a communication function in the body. Provides a communication function in the body.
Is created by combining breath and food. A combination of gasses drawn in from the lungs, amino acids and endogenous production from microbiota. Some gasses such as nitric oxide can be synthesized from most cells types.
Is influenced by a special gas in the kidneys, which is associated with sexual function. Hydrogen sulfide is a gasotransmitter associated with sexual function. It influences nitric oxide.
Serves as a source of energy. Mitochondria release nitric oxide which signal the breakdown of fat into usable energy and tell mitochondria to begin producing more ATP. ATP is the body’s energy currency.
When qi is unevenly distributed it causes a lack of energy. Nitric oxide regulates metabolism of energy However, high concentrations of nitric oxide inhibit the mitochondrial respiration and limit energy production.
Has a warming function. Nitric oxide converts fat into heat. It can improve the thermogenesis of brown fat.
Involved with the body’s metabolism. Involved with the body’s metabolism.
Has overlapping functions with nerves, but cannot be limited to nerves alone. Nerves release gasotransmitters which travel through membranes and make their way to other nerves.  In the central and peripheral nervous system, nitric oxide serves as a neurotransmitter. In the nervous system, nitric oxide regulates neurotransmitter release and it can play a key role in synaptic plasticity and morphogenesis.
Controls blood circulation and has a close relationship with blood.  Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels influencing blood circulation.
Travels along acupuncture channels and exits at acupuncture points. Nitric oxide contents and neuronal nitric oxide synthase expression are consistently higher in the skin acupoints/meridians. Enhanced nitric oxide in the acupoints/ meridians is generated from multiple resources.
Too much causes inflammation. This is known as “Liver qi stagnation” Large amounts of nitric oxide, generated primarily by iNOS can be toxic and cause inflammation. Particularly oxidative damage to the liver.
Influences water metabolism. Nitric oxide plays an important role in controlling enzymes such as sodium potassium ATPase. This enzyme is essential for the body’s cellular pumps to control how much water is kept inside cells.
Can be directed by intention. Neurotransmitters connect the brain and spinal cord with cells and peripheral neurons. These neurotransmitters release nitric oxide.
Facilitates the actions of the internal organs and endocrine system. Facilitates the actions of the internal organs and endocrine system.
It’s even flow influences emotional states and endocrine function. Herbal formulas which have a sedative influence on the body seem to lower levels of nitric oxide. In addition acupuncture therapy which is used to regulate the flow of nitric oxide in the body has been shown to be effective for depression.
Controls gut balance. Nitric oxide kills off certain microorganisms while allowing others to thrive.

The sensation of heat many people feel while meditating is in part due to gasotransmitters unlocking stored energy and turning it into heat and usable ATP energy. If you are tired and have fat to spare, the problem isn’t supply, but rather distribution. By taking time to work on regulating gasotransmitters, you can free up more energy and enjoy a better life.

For references and to learn more, check out:



Enlightenweight-Cultivate the Garden Within 

PodcastBotanical Biohacking

Episode #8:How Breathing and Plant Flavors Influence Gasotransmitters

Episode #7: ow Gases and Bacteria Can Unlock Extraordinary Abilities

monk kid

Creative Commons License The Science of Qi by Andrew Miles & Xuelan Qiu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at Enlightenweight-Cultivate the Garden Within .



7 thoughts on “The Science of Qi

  1. Hey you guys!! Long time!! I enjoyed your piece. Very informative. It’s great to compare the west and the east, I hope one day science will make the best of both worlds. Hope you are well, sendin’ my best 🙂


  2. This is very interesting. When I do Chi Gung work I feel something electrical. If I work diligently I can produce a feeling between my palms that feels like trying to push two like-poled magnets together. I noticed years ago the the lymph system follows the path as meridians in TCM. I was working on the concept that increased oxygen from pulling breath deeply into the lungs and therefore massaging internal organs worked the Dan Tian like a wet battery. (I got that from Yang Jwing Ming) The gas concept is intriguing as to how all this works. Thank you for this information!

    Liked by 1 person

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