Measuring the Qi in Tai Chi

Externally, Tai Chi is gentle, flowing movement.  Internally, Tai Chi fosters the development of mindfulness and the cultivation of a life force known as Qi.  What is Qi?  Qi is “bioenergy”, a subtle energy associated with biological organisms.  Qi is in the food we eat and the air we breathe, and it is produced by all the cells in our body.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qi is the energy that moves through the acupuncture meridians or channels.  When Qi is strong and flowing smoothly throughout the whole body, we experience health.  Illness occurs when there are blockages (i.e., stagnation) or a deficiency of Qi.  To restore the proper levels and functioning of Qi in the body, Traditional Chinese Medicine recommends diet, herbs, acupuncture, qigong and Tai Chi.

Can we measure Qi?  Scientists have attempted to measure bioenergy or Qi, with varying success, using many different types of meters and instruments.  Most promising have been the studies using voltmeters and magnetometers to measure the electrical and magnetic fields surrounding energy healers and Qigong practitioners.  In Japan, Seto and colleagues (1992; 1996) recorded extremely large magnetic fields adjacent to the heads, bodies and hands of Qigong practitioners during breathing meditations and during external Qi emission.  Elmer Green and colleagues (1991) recorded surges in the electrostatic potential (“body-potential”) of healers during distant healing sessions at the Menninger Clinic in Kansas.  In my laboratory in Terre Haute, Indiana, we have observed a distinct magnetic field waveform – a symmetrical chirp wave (0  ̶  40Hz) – which appears with high frequency during energy healing sessions.

In June, 2006, my student Danny LaPlante and I recorded magnetic field activity in several Tai Chi classrooms during Dr. Paul Lam’s 1-week workshop in West Terre Haute, Indiana.   Most interestingly, we observed the ‘chirp wave’ (described above) in each of the classes we recorded, including the advanced Sun 73 form, the Sword form, and the Fan form (Figure 1).


Figure 1.  Example of a magnetic field ‘chirp’ wave observed during a Tai Chi workshop for advanced students (73 sun style).  The same wave is illustrated in upper and lower traces, with the upper trace recorded at fast speed and the lower trace, at slow speed.  In both traces, note the magnetic field oscillations slowing and then reversing, forming a characteristic ‘chirp’ wave.  Bar = 10 milliGauss.

What is the significance of the magnetic field ‘chirp’ waves which we observed in the Tai Chi classes?  During a break in the Sword class, a student sat down next to one of our magnetometers: she then proceeded to give a big yawn and a big stretch, and a magnetic field wave appeared on our screen, like it had rolled off her body.  At that moment, it seemed evident that these waves represent some sort of discharge.  Green and colleagues hypothesize that energy healing involves an increase of charge in the healer’s body, followed by an emission of charge.  In many respects, the human body functions as an electrical condenser – it accumulates charge generated by cell currents in the body.  To remain healthy, we must periodically discharge some of that accumulated charge, and exercise is one way to do this.  In the Tai Chi Fan class, Master Trainer Sheila Rae observed how the spiral movements of the Fan form facilitate, “the releasing of old stuff”.  Tai Chi, in general, may be particularly good at helping us to discharge and release, leading to energetic balance and increased health.

In the advanced Sun 73 and sword classes, we observed some evidence suggesting magnetic field coherence.  In other words, the magnetic field oscillated at one or a few frequencies very strongly, specifically, 13 and 78 Hz (Sun 73), and 39 and 49Hz (Sword).  Tai chi students can sense when the group is synchronized and moving as one.  This synchrony may be measurable with magnetic field recordings.

But are these waves “Qi”?  Seto and colleagues speculate that, “Qi is not magnetic field but “deep force” behind our observable dimension rather than existing physical quantity such as magnetic field.”  Like Seto, we suspect that there is more to Qi than a magnetic field wave.  In future experiments, we will broaden our search for Qi by measuring other frequencies, testing our hypothesis that Qi is a complex mixture of light, sound waves and/or electromagnetic fields.


16 thoughts on “Measuring the Qi in Tai Chi

    1. “acupuncture and all those stuff help with the flow of the chi, right?” That’s the theory. Not sure what sort of images you are looking for?

  1. This is a very comprehensive article for a beginner to understand the notion of Qi. Can I re-post this on my blog? If not, it’s ok, I’ll email my readers to check it out.

    1. Yes, Evelyn, you may re-post the blog. If you could please reference where it came from, that would be good. Thank you. Incidentally, your blog,, looks great!
      Margaret Moga, PhD, Indiana University School of Medicine – Terre Haute

  2. This is interesting, I didn’t know that anyone in the Terre Haute area was into this type of thing. I have training in Fa Kung healing myself. I also teach Qigong and Tai Chi at Yost Wing Chun Academy in Terre Haute. Thanks for posting this online.

  3. I am a qigong therapist and I would love to learn more about measuring EQ or external Qi. if you would post on this matter more and share other resources that would be very helpful too. Thank you for the great post!

  4. If Qi is life force, than qi is also awareness and able to bring order into chaotic systems.

    Our cells in our body has electrical charge because of the natrium and potassium (as also calcium) which forms electrical differential between their surrounding and the inside of the cell.

    This electricity flows in a chaotic manner in all directions. Our life force (qi) change the flow of this electricity in a manner that if flows ordered in meridians and “nadis”. This is simply done by changing the “probability” where it flows. In quantum mechanics it is said that this would not break the law of energy conservation. Indeed the energy is already there, but where it flows depends on the Qi. So Qi is not energy but probability and potential.

    1. I disagree. I have felt Qi – it is palpable, hence, detectable. Not just probability and potential. Likewise, consciousness. Many now say that “consciousness is information”. Yes, it contains information, but it too is an energy.

  5. Chi is now recognized and documented as a unique source of energy. It has documented properties that are unique and different from all other sources of energy. check out a paper i published in the universal journal of psychology, march 2014; brain trauma and the energy paradigm. The paper was well received by the academic community

  6. Qi is some type of electromagnetic energy. If we can figure out the wavelength, we might be able to measure it. It would be interesting if there were cameras that could see it, the way infrared cameras see heat signatures. Qi users are able to focus their energy, as if they were channeling all of it into one area, or generating a ton. This usually ends up in their palms but I’ve felt it where it covers the entire body.

    1. I have always wondered about Kirlian photography. Some type of electrical energy is presented and or created to somehow “see” or record the aura of a subject(ususally a leaf is the demo photo with a written article). Also, if you remember 8th grade science, we had a static generator and you could feel the static charge, especially if you did not hold on tightly to the wires. My 1st question, could Kirlian photography be used to qigong’s energy field around some practitioner, secondly could simple static discharge be used to amplify ones energy field maybe allowing increased healing ability, and is the practitioner’s aura involved or invoked? Just wondering…

      1. There are actually devices to measure charge buildup in human body, which, I think, would be better to use than Kirlian photography. I suspect that there are meditations which are effective in raising one’s ‘charge’.

  7. I have a physical problem resulting from ill advised use of Qigong. I practiced Qigong for years, on my own, and built up substantial energy in my Dan Tien. One day I focused the energy downward at the end of my session and it resulted in a catastrophic failure. Later I broke my back and that triggered intense energy surges too strong to withstand. After a month I found that if I take opiates they block the energy surges. The intense radiating power surges up my back, penis, anus, lasting 10 to 15 seconds and recurring every 10 to 40 seconds. I have to curl up in a ball and squeeze all my muscles to expend the energy each time. By 4 a.m. I am exhausted and finally fall asleep. I hate taking pain medicine. Any suggestions?

    1. Sounds like a kundalini awakening, which can take many different forms. Check out the websites on kundalini awakening, some offer one-on-one sessions. Other suggestion is to work with an energy healer, to help balance your energy field. Sounds like you opened an energy gate, which needs to be closed or healed, for now anyway. Another suggestion, find an experienced Qigong master to help you, even at a distance. Don’t try to solve this alone.

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