5 Words We Feel, But Cannot Touch…

5 Words We Feel, But Cannot Touch

Some words have been used around the world for many centuries but even today nobody is able to explain exactly what any of them actually are.

Prana, Qi, Mana, along with their metaphysical brethren, Ruah and Ruuh are five such words. Between them, these five words embrace the most fundamental concepts of existence itself but putting a finger on exactly what the ancient Indians meant by prana or Arabs mean when they refer to your ruuh is not easy.

In this brief article, rather than seek a precise definition, we explore how these various words from around the East are used and the crossovers between them.


Probably one of the most easily recognised of the five words, the word Qi (or Ch’i) originated in China and spread quickly to neighbouring countries such as Japan (Ki).

Literally meaning ‘breath’, Daoist philosophers coined the term Qi as long as 2,000 years ago to describe a vital energy force which they believed flowed invisibly throughout our bodies, from our lungs to our veins.

Lifestyle techniques were developed by these scholars which aimed to control and direct the flow of Qi appropriately through the body for better physical and mental health. Yoga, meditation and acupressure based meridian massages such as Tui Na and Anma (today better known as Shiatsu) are some such examples.


From neighbouring India comes the equally established word, prana.

Deriving from Hindu philosophies, prana also literally translates as ‘breath’ but was not created to describe the act of inhaling air. Just like its Chinese equivalent, prana refers to the concept of an invisible eternal energy which gives all living forms vitality and a continuance of existence.

Many of the popular remedial Ayurvedic healing methods in use today were devised and developed thousands of years ago around a framework based intrinsically on Hindu prana teachings.


Whilst not nearly as ancient as Prana or Qi, the peoples of Polynesia from Hawaii to New Zealand have used the term ‘mana’ for over 200 years to describe what they believe is a mysterious supernatural force that gives people and even inanimate objects extreme power.

Like the other terms here, it refers to an ethereal spiritual energy. However, mana focuses more on the concept of where a higher strength or power comes from rather than a vital force necessary for the existence of life.

It is used to describe everything from the energy that gives some people more authority over others to the forces which causes powerful storms and seismic events. You might even say mana is a bit like the ‘Force’ in George Lucas’s Star Wars films.

The popular Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage is an intense and emotionally moving treatment designed to improve physical and mental health by targeting both a recipient’s torso but also their spiritual energy. It is often performed in tribes by religious clerics who have studied mana philosophies for many years.


The ancient Hebrew word ruaḥ, literally meaning ‘wind’, continues the theme of the existence of an ethereal life force taking ancient teachings from the Far East and reinterpreting them in Middle Eastern cultures.

Scholars believe that ruah refers to wind in the same way that ancient Chinese and Indian scripts philosophised about an ethereal life force but also refers to an unseen power that can set things in motion, much like the Polynesian mana.


In Arabic, the word ruuh translates as the spirit or soul of living creatures and is sometimes referred to as a sacred breath without which there is no life.

In Middle Eastern culture it is generally believed that human beings and other living creatures exist as an integrated single unit. This means each living organism’s physical and meta-physical elements are inextricably linked and one part cannot survive without the other. Conversely, ancient Asian philosophers believed it was possible to survive purely in a physical form without vital energy, albeit in a disturbed and unhealthy state.

An International Breath

Even as we continue to move further west, we find the ancient Greeks used the word pneuma (‘breath’) when philosophising about the existence of vital energy and invisible life forces.

So it seems clear that since ancient times and across the continents, people have believed – and still do believe – in the existence of an invisible life force. The breath of life, so to say.

We may use different words to describe the concept and even have slightly different interpretations on exactly what spiritual life force is, but one thing seems certain: a vital energy has always and continues to connect all of us.


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Kate Piatkowska

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I am an experienced healer and internationally qualified massage therapist. I have over 12 years experience of working with a…

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