Qi, or chi as it is commonly pronounced in Western cultures, is within traditional Chinese culture the force that resides within every single living thing. The word is often translated as ‘natural energy’, ‘life force’ or ‘energy flow’; however, a more literal translation would be ‘breath’ or ‘air’. Qi is considered to provide the very essence of the living thing that it inhabits, and without it, that living thing would die. Similar ideas to qi exercises or qigong exercises can be found in many different ancient cultures, such as in Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. It has also been used within film series such as Star Wars to describe something powerful and elemental that resides within all living things.
In humans, it is believed that qi is vital to keep a healthy balance within the body. Traditional Chinese medicine is based on the idea that qi naturally moves around a person’s body in natural shapes, which are called meridians. If the passage of qi is blocked in one area of the body, then that part of the body will become sick and diseased. The same thing will happen if the qi balance is disrupted within a person – they will become ill. Therefore, the majority of ancient Chinese medicine is dedicated to finding out where these blockages or unbalanced areas are, and then relieving that pressure, allowing the body to naturally heal itself. Techniques to do this vary from practitioner to practitioner, but some include herbalogy, food therapy, acupuncture, and specified martial arts.
One particular Chinese martial art that is used to regulate the life force of qi is t’ai chi. It is practiced by many people, not for defense or attack, but instead for its incredible health benefits. T’ai chi also helps people to regulate their breathing much better, and it is believed that this steadies the flow of qi within the person, helping them to gain qi balance. Although some people cannot believe that such slow movements can help a person get healthier, studies have actually shown that those that practice t’ai chi regularly have much better balance and general psychological health. The age group that has proven to benefit the most from t’ai chi are the older generations.