Sensing Qi – Tuning into the Energetic Realm

» Posted by on Jul 23, 2014 in Article

Sensing Qi – Tuning into the Energetic Realm

This article, written by Donna Pinker, first appeared in the Daoist on-line magazine The Scholar Sage.

I have two jobs, both of which involve working with energy, alternatively referred to by the Chinese name of Qi (Chi). I am a Shiatsu therapist working within a healing capacity with meridians and a person’s energetic imbalances. I also teach Qi Gong; sets of exercises designed to help free movement within a person’s energetic system and bring it into balance. My line of therapy is Shiatsu which is a hands-on massage technique, rooted within a foundation of Chinese Medical theory. But, any other energy-based therapy such as Tui Na, Anmo, Cranial Osteopathy or Acupuncture will deal with similar scenarios to those I describe from my Shiatsu experience.

But what is involved within energy work? Can we feel energy, if so how? What does it feel like? Is it tangible? Are there different types? How do we tune into it? Are there methods to help us? Is it all imagination? Any of us involved within fields of study dealing with the energetic realm have probably asked such questions. And now that I teach Qi Gong, I find myself having to provide answers to these questions.

I like to think of sensing my energy system by employing an analogy of tuning into a station on an old fashioned radio dial. Radio signals surround us all the time, yet we cannot see or sense them. A radio is an instrument that can detect energy waves of a certain frequency band-width, which are converted into audible sounds for us to comprehend. Like-wise the energy frequencies of Qi that permeate our body are not immediately detected by us, on a physical level, utilizing any of our 5 senses. This is often cited as evidence that Qi does not exist. Yet, as with the radio frequencies, it just requires a re-tuning of the human dial, to begin to detect these energies, and further tuning, to obtain clearer signals.  Before a re-tuning is possible, an initial step is required, which is, an attempt to turn down the din in our head. How can it be possible to hear a quiet discussion on Radio4, if all that is playing, is loud thrashing music from another station? If thoughts are streaming through our head, and we have placed our awareness in our head, then this is where it will remain.

We can quiet our thoughts, by placing our awareness inside our bodies, and listening to our breath. The breath is like a bridge, crossing from the physical to the energetic world. The breath contains air and qi, and as such, is both physical and energetic. By re-tuning into the physical sensations of our bodies, we move one step away from our heads; and our awareness situates itself within the same space as the energetic pathways. By practicing Martial Arts, or Qi gong, or receiving Shiatsu, we can re-tune our dial further, and start to sense tingling, or heat, or cold that moves through us. With practice and time, we develop a clearer sense of these sensations, as our brains learn how to interpret the information. Sometimes, new Qi Gong or Nei Gong students will first experience movement of Qi by the physical effect this movement has on the body. Spontaneous, involuntary movement in the physical body can be an effect of blockages within the energetic system, attempting to exit the body. When witnessed occurring to others, human scepticism justifies this as fakery. Yet when this movement is experienced personally, it is truly undeniable. A force takes a limb without our consent, and flings it about, or makes us fall forward. Rather like a water hose pipe with a kink, that wildly snakes about as the pressure increases in an attempt to release the kink; so may a limb fly as the energy rushes through the energetic system, in an attempt to release a pathogenic blockage. Qi Gong exercises help guide this moving Qi, to induce specific circulations and movements along particular pathways, in order to free and clear them.

The physical world contains a vastness of complexity, and is sensed in an array of textures, colours, smells, sounds and tastes. The awesome beauty and multitude of life and nature on earth is astounding. So as such, we should not expect the energetic realm to be monotone, with one expression of Qi. Daoist philosophy informs us, that within the human system, energy divides into five types, known as the Wu Xing, or 5 Elements. As we tune into Qi, we may begin to differentiate the various forms of Qi. Our brain, when experiencing Wood energy, may translate that information as a sour taste in our mouth. Sometimes when treating the Liver meridian, which is a Wood energy, I can detect a rancid smell. Some people may see green, or feel a forward/upward surge, or feel angry. All of these are sensations traditionally associated with Wood energy in Daoist theory. Qi doesn’t have one single expression, it is multifaceted. Besides the types of energies, we can also start to sense pathogens that accumulate within the energetic system. Our brain will interpret the vibrational information from these as Cold, or Heat, or Damp etc; which become more comprehensible with accrued experiences. Moving beyond the sensations of the Wu Xing, we can tune to the pulses of the 5 forces themselves; the rotational flow of Water; the surge of Wood; the encompassing expansion of Fire; the contraction of Metal and the Earth, that feels to me, like the magnetic field surrounding a magnet, or Planet.

Our physical eyes may not see Qi; just as they cannot see radio waves. Neither employs imagination in their detection. If someone were to tell me about Radio4, but I had never tuned my radio into that station, then no amount of imagination could give me the true experience of Radio4. Qi Gong is most definitely not about imagining the Qi flow in the body, it involves re-tuning the human antenna to actually feel and sense it inherently.

Tools exist which can aid us to tune into our energetic system. Calming the mind, and placing attention on the breath are two approaches. Practicing Martial Arts and Qi Gong, allow us to develop a stronger sense. Activation of the Lower Dan Tien, using gentle intent and breath, will initiate its function as a translator from the physical realm to the Energetic realm. Jing to Qi. Once activated, it can also be rotated, to act as a water wheel, generating additional power to the flow of Qi around the meridian circuits.

Realising the body is an energetic frequency antenna, which can be re-tuned, encourages an inquisitive inclination to wonder about the possibilities of re-tuning past the Qi level, to what may lie beyond. Daoism informs us that Shen (Spirit) is the more refined frequency layer above Qi. Tuning into Shen permits us to see the energies of spirit, in the form of light. This is when, what in the West is known as the paranormal realm, becomes accessible.

Daoist levels  
Dao Cannot be expressed
Wuji Stillness / Emptiness
Shen Consciousness / Spirit
Qi Energy / Movement
Jing Physicality


If our awareness is constantly located in the realm of Jing, then our world perception is isolated entirely in the physical. Glimpses of the Qi domain may be detected, because Qi frequency lies nearest to the vibration of the Jing level. When we can hold our awareness in the realm of Qi vibration, the layer adjacent to Qi; the Shen, is now accessible. All of the levels are expressions of the same things, but manifested in finer frequency vibrations. When we can shift our attention onto the Shen level, we “see” light; not with the eyes, but with the pineal gland, or third eye. At the Shen vibrational frequency, the level of Jing, physicality, becomes situated two levels away from our awareness; making it imperceptible. Hence, the physical realm of the body drops away, and disappears from our realm of awareness. When we learn to tune into Wuji, the Qi level has become further away from our awareness, and we cease to experience it. Here, is where we stop breathing.