Energy is the vital, vibrating, moving force of nature that directly influences the quality of our health, happiness and aging process. For ages, cultures around the world have given life energy a name; In India it’s called prana; in Hebrew, ruach; in Greek pneuma; in Hawaiian, mana; in Japanese, ki, and in Chinese it’s called qi (pronounced chee).  Qi is associated with the breath because like the breath, it animates our body and brings it to life. When our vital qi is flowing, we feel healthy. When it is blocked we feel pain. When qi becomes weak, we feel tired. When there is no qi left, the body dies.

Qi, however, is not just relegated to living creatures. Energy takes a multitude of forms and is moving through everything in the universe. A rock, a tree, a thought, an emotion, an atom, and even empty space are all vibrating with qi; it is the pulse that beats our hearts and the pulse of a star. According to most spiritual traditions, when we die, although the vital qi is extinguished, the qi of the spirit passes on to another form, heaven or incarnation. This belief echoes Albert Einstein’s famous quote: “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed.”

Essential oils are filled with qi, and at Aroma Qigong we like to call them “Qi in a Bottle”. This does not mean that qi is a thing you can literally hold on to. Daoist scholar Ken Cohen explains this perfectly: “Qi creates life, it is life; but it has no substance, and anything you measure is not it. It never holds still long enough to be measured.” In other words, qi is not the form; it is the quality of movement that animates form, function or space.

Essential oils are Mother Earth’s most potent and refined expression of a plant's qi.  Every essential oil has its own unique vibration that can attune with your own unique vibration to create optimal health, healing and balance. Here’s how:


Essential oils are volatile liquids carefully extracted from the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, fruits and other parts of plants. The word volatile comes from the Latin, volare, meaning “to fly”. Essential oils are volatile because they change quickly from a liquid state to a gas state when exposed to air. When you first open a bottle, you instantly notice that the aroma is potent and you can smell it even from some distance. These molecular messengers are released by the plant as an immune defense system against bacteria, fungus, parasites and harmful insects. The messengers can also be reproductive signals sent out to attract useful insects.  The V factor, the vibration of qi, expresses the chemical message that the plant is sending out. Recall that qi is a function, not a substance. The quality of qi in an essential oil is a powerful aspect of both the oil’s aroma and the benefits it offers. It's something we intuitively and instinctively experience within seconds of contact. Is the message hot, activating, herbaceous, coniferous, minty, medicated, irritating? Or is it cool, calming, floral, fruity, balsamic, resinous, citrusy, earthy, soothing? As we will come to learn, maybe it is a combination of both. 


Organic chemists are continually studying the science of essential oils to explain their natural health benefits. Essential oil molecular compounds are made up of atoms that are charged through the polarity of electrons, neutron and protons. In his book "Medical Aromatherapy", Kurt Schnaubelt explains how to classify essential oil molecules according to energetic polarities. Molecules that are nucleophilic (yin) give up electrons, while molecules that are electrophilic (yang) take up extra electrons. In general molecules with nucleophilic movement are calming and relaxing.  Molecules with an electrophilic movement are stimulating. Often the molecular make up of an essential oil is a combination of different energetic molecular chains within one structure. An essential oil like frankincense for example, contains both polar opposite electrophilic and nucleophilic molecules, creating a neutral temperament and a balanced yet high vibration. For thousands of years it is has been known that the vibration of frankincense prepares the dense vibration of the physical body to receive the lighter vibration of spirit.


The ancient Chinese could be called the first chemists. They surely were the first alchemists and are famous for Daoist tales of transforming lead into gold with the goal to discover the elixir of immortality. Chinese philosophy believes that since we are all children of Mother Earth there is no better place than to look within our own bodies for answers. So they did! The sages contemplated heaven and earth around them as well as heaven and earth within themselves to gain direct access to the mysteries of life force energy. Their conclusion: Harmony and health are created when conditions arise that energetic polarities come into balance. Alchemists are known to combine two opposing forces to create a third transcendent or refined outcome. This metaphysical principle can be found hidden in the Chinese character for qi.

The Chinese character for qi

The Chinese character for qi

The three lines at the top of the character mean steam, or vapor. The character at the bottom means rice. So the character signifies “vapor” or “mist rising off of rice”. Here vapor can also mean breathe. The vapor is the essence of the rice, and rice is nourishment. So the vapor can be understood as the “essence of nourishment” or life force energy. To create steam from rice one must use the polar opposites of fire and water.  So we find that qi is the union of opposites:  heaven (steam) and earth (rice), fire and water.

Steam distillation is the method most commonly used to extract essential oils.  Essential oils are hydrophobic, so they do not mix with water and as we already learned, they are volatile and evaporate easily. In this method fire is used to produce steam from a water chamber. This steam is funneled into a chamber of plant material where the volatile essential oil rises to the top of the chamber and is directed into another chamber where the oil is allowed to cool. In order to preserve the delicate chemical compounds, essential oils are steam distilled at precise temperatures. The oil then rises to the top of the water, where it is easily separated and bottled.  Once again we find the union of the alchemists most prized elements: heaven (steam) and earth (plants), fire and water. Essential oils are truly qi in a bottle!