What is Mind-Body Energy

(Adapted from the new book)

The pages that follow include evidence that will help us answer questions such as: is “internal energy” real or imagined? Can mental power influence the strength of one’s life force? Can the power of internal energy in the healing arts be attributed to belief? Related concerns will also be addressed. For example, we will consider whether aspects of the enigmatic force can be scientifically measured. We will also look at how this yet-to-be-named energetic force can be consciously directed through the power of intention, and to what extent it can cure diseases. We will ask if it possesses the power to restore youth and promote longevity.  What exactly is this life force?

Some clues are found in the domain of the acupuncturist and the energy worker (energy healer), while others are provided through the work of the sports trainer and martial artist. There are also hints about the meaning of the life force to be found in the traditions of energetic meditation and yoga. Our investigation will consider ancient sources and their descriptions of “internal energy.” Moreover, our quest will also include newer, often controversial questions. For example, the pages that follow include new proposals for defining the meaning of the meridians / channels* –- those energy pathways of the body that are the cornerstone of traditional Chinese medicine, yoga, and energetic meditation. These controversial proposals include expanded, and in some cases brand-new, explanations of how those channels can be accessed more effectively, to deepen the practices of meditation, qigong healing, and martial arts like t'ai-chi ch’üan. [i]

* In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the current standard translation of the body's jing luo (経絡) energetic lines is, increasingly, “channel.” Formerly, the term "meridian" was favored. However, in the present work, the reader will notice both terms, sometimes used in conjunction with the adjective “myofascial.” The reason for this is that a heterodox description of these lines is presented, first in Section II and later in Section XII. There, it is proposed that the meridians / channels function as much more than simply conduits of energy. In those chapters, they will also be described as demonstrable physical structures that play a physical (as opposed to only a theoretical, or energetic) role in health maintenance and healing. Second, in later chapters, speculation will be presented that they operate as “embedded antenna structures.”  When used, the term meridian is chosen because it more accurately describes the multiple functions that these structures are hypothesized to exhibit.

One of the questions that will be asked is whether, and to what extent, the “energy” described by the Chinese as qi (also written ch’i) might be the same as, or indeed differ from, the invisible life force that in Sanskrit is called prana, and in the Tibetan tantric tradition is called lung, or “wind” (རླུང་)  (See Box 1-1).

A central question presented in many of the chapters that follow addresses whether or not descriptions of the flow of internal energy within the body, as described by Tibetan yogis and Chinese neidan meditators, is actually a yet-to-be-named force of nature, a product of their imagination, or a representation of the energetic meditator’s ability to interact with another dimension. Other challenging questions will be asked, such as: is there really an “energy” that can be projected by a healer to produce non-contact healing? If so, and as it pertains to non-contact healing, what is the real source of the qi master’s ability to heal?  It will also be asked if there is the possibility of internal energy in the martial arts.

The notion of a subtle energetic force that animates body and mind pervades traditional Eastern culture. In the search for a more complete definition of subtle or internal energy, Eastern notions of a subtle energetic force will also be compared with the beliefs of Western indigenous peoples, as well as the notion of a life-spiritual force described in esoteric Christianity. In the later chapters, these will also be compared to current Western research, and the investigation of the power of intention.

Later chapters will look at the link between traditional Eastern descriptions of life energy, known as qi, ki, and prana, among other terms, as well as Western studies of the power of intention. In this light, our discussion will also include details of this fascinating area of investigation now being undertaken in highly controlled Western scientific studies. As mentioned in the Introduction, the goal of the present work is to begin a broad conversation that compares concepts such as qi, prana, lung, thigle, and kundalini in the East, with the understanding of the life force as described in indigenous cultures of the West, such as those of the Native Americans and Hawaiians.


[i] As described in the introductory pages, although the majority of the present work relies on pinyin style Romanization, there are a few exceptions. In this chapter, the Wade-Giles Romanization is used for t’ai-chi ch’üan, 

[ii] The Chinese characters in this paragraph are the simplified (current mainland China usage) versions, since these are the forms most cited in acupuncture and traditional medical texts.

Traditional Chinese Medicine: Subtle Forces and Subdivisions


The concept of qi forms the basis of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). In that tradition, the term nei qi, literally “internal energy,” serves as an umbrella phrase for a range of subtle bioenergetic forces that fall within the purview of TCM. This ancient form of healing includes numerous subdivisions that govern the conversion of different kinds of qi within the body, and the energetic force’s relationship to body fluids, visceral organs, and life processes. These subdivisions include yuan qi (元気 [ii], primordial or original qi), wei qi (衛気, the defensive qi that protects the body from external pathogenic influences), ying qi (営気, nurturing qi), gu qi ( , the qi that is extracted  from the food we eat), ancestral or inherited qi (宗気), and zhen (), or true qi.