Prana and Qi -The Connection Between Traditional Indian & Chinese Medicine Systems

Prana and Qi -The Connection Between Traditional Indian & Chinese Medicine Systems


Traditional Chinese medicine holds an energy named Qi, responsible for all structural and functional aspects of the human body. It says that a disease or an ailment is the result of an imbalance of Qi in the body. Ayurveda, an ancient Indian medicinal system, holds Prana responsible for all physiological functions in the human body. It also asserts that the prana in the human body is just a form of the prana prevailing in the universe; the Chinese Qi is also thought to be both outside and inside the human body. This article looks into if and how these concepts coincide, and what the similarities are.


Structure and function are two key aspects of the human body according to any medicinal system, be it ancient, traditional or modern. Although modern medicine may disagree, traditional and ancient systems assert that there is a minute difference between a corpse and a living person – that is of the life force. Ancient Indian texts hold this life force in the most important place since it has been experienced by the composers of those texts that the life force is the supreme force existing in nature. These texts include the Vedas, the first scriptures known to mankind, the Upanishads that came after the Vedas, the vedantic hymns of yoga philosophy and the ayurvedic texts. Chinese philosophy agrees with it, too. Let us see what the traditional Chinese and the ancient Indian texts say about this life force.

Qi from Traditional Chinese Medicine

According to Chinese philosophy, Qi makes up everything; and nothing. Qi is matter and Qi is space. Qi is the force responsible for holding matter and space together. Since the Chinese philosophy regards that everything in the universe can be polarized into yin and yang such that one component of anything is yin and another is yang, therefore in a similar fashion Qi is also polarized into material and immaterial. The material form is macroscopic and huge, and the immaterial form is infinitesimally small and invisible to the naked eye. The physical or the material component forms air, water, earth, food, etc. The finer component exists as the life force inside our bodies and is responsible for carrying out various functions.Traditional Chinese medicine says that there should be a balance in the yin and yang of Qi i.e. the material and the immaterial components of Qi. If the balance is lost, health suffers.

These imbalances or disturbances in the healthy balance of Qi cause the person to sail in various respects that could be physical, mental, emotional or social. Balance should be sought in what is present around us (which is what we consume) and what we are made up of (it is what forms our body) so that life cycle is also balanced in itself.

Traditional Chinese medicine aims to restore balance of yin and yang of Qi, and the technique shall depend on what form of Qi is deteriorated or aggravated. Various forms of Qi perform various functions, this again relates to form and function – which is another example of yin and yang in nature.

Forms of Qi

  • Qi of reproduction: also called Yuan Qi, it is passed on to the offspring from the parents at the time of conception. Upon conception the reproductive Qi remains somewhere around the reproductive organs of the parents as well as the child.
  • The Qi of respiration: also called Zong Qi, this kind of Qi lives inside the chest and performs breathing.
  • The Qi of nutrition: also called Ying Qi, this enters the body through food and carries out nutrition and all steps of digestion.
  • The Qi of protection: also called Wei Qi, this is responsible for carrying out defensive activities and reflexes in the body. It is just the yang component of Ying Qi.

Functions of Qi

Qi serves various purposes inside and around a body.

  • It maintains the flow of life energy.
  • It carries out processes of nutrition, growth & development, reproduction, excretion, circulation, respiration, etc.
  • It maintains the state of health by coordinating all physiological processes.
  • It exists as heat or warmth in a body, creating favorable conditions for all physiological processes.
  • It works as an immune system.
  • It holds all the organs and organ systems of the body in their designated positions and well connected to each other via blood channels and connective tissue.
  • It maintains fluidity and lubrication in the body.
  • It regulates nutrient absorption and waste elimination.
  • It regulates circulation of oxygen and nutrients via blood and plasma.

Prana in Ancient Indian Philosophy and Medicine

Prana is energy. Ancient meditators and medicine experts have held prana in such a respectable position because prana actually has abilities to transform into just anything. This power of transformability of prana is responsible for the creation and existence of the universe. Ayurveda has a generic term Vayu for prana. It runs smoothly on all atmospheric processes and interplanetary motions. This Vayu gets aggravated to cause wind, drought, cyclone, tsunami and thunderstorm. Prana moves swiftly inside the human body to facilitate locomotion, nutrition, control and coordination, excretion and respiration. Vayu may get vitiated or aggravated inside a body. This condition is known by us as disease, while the natural and normal state of balance of vayu in the body is known by us as health.

Forms of Vayu

Vayu is a term used to convey the meanings of wind, air, force, and the like. The terms prana and vayu have at some places used interchangeably in the Vedic and Upanishadic texts. It should be noted that first came the Vedas and the Upanishads and much later ayurveda. The first physiological mention of vayus is found in the Prashna Upanishad. There, vayu has been outlined as serving five major and five minor functions in the body as:

  • Prana resides in the thorax and facilitates respiration.
  • Apana resides in the intestines and the pelvis and facilitates excretion and bowel movement.
  • Udana resides in the throat and facilitates speech.
  • Samana resides in the stomach and facilitates digestion.
  • Vyana resides in the whole body and facilitates circulation and locomotion.

These are the major forms of Vayu or Prana. There are minor forms too, that support minute actions like blinking, burping, ejaculation, yawning, sneezing, and decomposition (after death).
Functions of Prana / Vayu

  • Prana or Vayu is responsible for thought processing.
  • It allows all sensory actions such as vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
  • It allows movement of contents across the complete GIT.
  • It allows movement of the bowels.
  • It is responsible for metabolism.
  • It is responsible for locomotion.
  • It is responsible for endocrine function.
  • It carries nerve signals across the central and peripheral nervous system.
  • It carries circulation throughout the cardiovascular system.
  • It maintains all other doshas in their healthy state.

Comparison of Prana and Qi

We have seen that both prana and Qi perform the same function in nature and in our body. They are responsible for all physiological processes of the body. When they get aggravated or vitiated, cause discomfort and disease, and maintain health when normal and balanced. They are responsible for creating progeny since the most concentrated form of life is found in the reproductive cells. Both Prana and Qi are the names of the life force which is responsible for the existence of life.


Certain energy is vital and manifests itself in many unrecognizable forms to create and run the universe. The functions it performs at the interplanetary and global scale are somewhat similar to those it performs inside of an organism’s body. Its imbalance causes natural disasters in the universe and diseases inside an organism. Traditional Chinese medicine calls it Qi while the ancient Indian system of medicine calls it Prana. Both Prana and Qi are similar in essence and are two different terms for one thing, that thing which runs the universe and within the universe; it runs us through health and disease.

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