I used to think Qi (pronounced ‘chee’) was some mysterious, magical force that I struggled to properly believe in, and then I read The Spark in the Machine by Dr Daniel Keown. Dr Keown is a practising Western medical doctor who also studied Chinese medicine. In his extraordinary book, he mixes a bit of physics in with his medicine and explains the physiological basis for the wonderful, magical stuff that is Qi.
It all starts with fascia. Fascia is the clingfilm wrapped snuggly around every muscle, bone and organ in your body. It goes everywhere and holds everything in place. The main ingredient in fascia is collagen, and collagen is amazing! It is constructed as a triple helix that configures its atoms like a crystal (although it is flexible and springy).
The brilliant thing about atoms in this configuration is that they produce electricity when you bend the helix. This electricity flows along the collagen through all the fascia throughout your body, in the same way and along the same anatomical pathways as the ancient Chinese medics described the flow of Qi in your body more than 2,000 years ago!
What about the bouncing?
So what does all this have to do with bouncy children? Well, collagen is also a major ingredient in bones. When a bone is bent slightly – which happens during bouncing, for instance – its collagen produces electricity that sparks the production of new bone cells. In fact, electricity is so important to bone health, that it is used to help fractures heal in many UK hospitals. (We'll get back to the bouncing in a minute.)
Does it matter if it's not a bone?
But does this electricity (this Qi) matter to anything that’s not a bone? Unequivocally, yes! Electricity is what tells cells where and how to form before you have any other signalling system in your body – before you are a foetus, before nerve fibres, blood vessels or hormones. It is, quite literally, what sparks you into life, what organises your body, what ultimately governs every physiological, emotional and mental process within you until several minutes after your death.
Frog electric face
Incredibly, this electricity – Qi itself – was caught on camera and published in New Scientist doing exactly this. The video (titled ‘Frog Electric Face’) shows an electrical impulse forming the shape of a tadpole’s face moments before cells form to create the face in exactly that shape.
Back to the bouncing
So, when children bounce (and they always do) they are powering up their little Qi batteries, ready to tell all their growing cells where and how to form. Although we bounce less as adults, replacing cells, repairing tissue and all that good stuff is just as important to stay alive, so we need Qi too.
In fact, Qi is so vital to health that virtually the whole cannon of Chinese medicine is concerned with getting enough of it and making it go where it should. Acupuncture – which is basically sticking little metal rods into the electrical circuit in your body – modifies your flow of Qi directly. If you don’t have needles to hand, Qigong exercises do pretty well. Qigong’s gentle, specific movements flex your fascia (and so too your collagen) to produce Qi and make it flow in particular ways to enhance the health of your muscles, joints, bones, organs, brain and all the rest.
I suppose we could say that bouncing children are doing their own Qigong. Clever little things!