In western culture the understanding of Qi often gets mystified. Some want to earn money with magical healing and most cannot really explain what Qi is about and how we use it in Qi Gong and Tai Chi.
My views on Qi are more of Taoist origin and focuses on practical principles. These might differ from other cultures like Indian for example.
Qi can mean a lot and you are free to interpret the meaning of it. Qi can mean breath, vital energy, power, force or similar things. While in Chinese this word is ok and understandable for each situation, we have problems in our western language to define a good meaning of Qi. Since we want to define the meaning of Qi as close as possible lets leave it at these three words: breath, vitality, power.
Breath (Generating Power)
Breathing is the most vital thing for our body to get energy. Our secondary energy sources are sunlight, eating and drinking. All of this will increase our energy if done in moderate amount. The right breathing is important and can be learned. Stress and other problems can make our breathing less efficient and our vital energy also will become less. Breathing is connected with relaxation for mind and body. According to Chinese medicine breathing should be done with the belly to prevent “flat” breathing. The oxygen intake for “deep breathing” (down to belly) will improve the oxygen intake for each heartbeat and results in more power. This breathing can be learned in Chinese Qi Gong exercises and is the foundation for all internal arts.
Vitality (Energy, Blood)
Vitality is often mistaken for feeling good and active. This is only partly true and cannot be a permanent condition. Coffee, tea and other things can give us the illusion of having more vital energy. If we ignore our “real” energy we give our inner organs more work to do than needed and we grow old faster. The primary indicator for vitality is blood quality. If you have good blood you usually feel very powerful and active. The Chinese believe that Qi is transported over the blood. Our western insight says that blood transports important minerals, blood cells and oxygen. Both say that Qi is related to blood quality which is important for our general well being. With good blood quality we become less sick and our body works more efficient. This is what to strive for when we want to be healthy. Blood quality is decided from many different things: food, drink, sport, emotional state and so on. Training internal martial arts is important to improve the blood quality (Qi). Often stretching is overlooked in training. Internal stretching to promote the blood circulation in your inner organs will also improve blood quality.
After reading the last two points we understand where power comes from and how power is transported. In martial arts a physical generation of force can also be called power. This kind of power comes from an internal movement and can result in a more powerful physical movement outwards. In Wudang this is called “energy transformation”. It takes practice and time to control this more efficiently. When a Chinese master is telling you to use your Qi in a movement, this principle applies.
My final words are about storing the Qi; in western culture we might look at it like this:
When a plant grows in a good environment it will survive a long winter. When a plant struggles everyday in bad environment it is much harder to survive a long winter.
Chinese masters tell you to save Qi when you can and use it when you need it. How can i store Qi? There are many methods but the most basic principles are: sleeping and meditation. Zhan Zhuang practice is also considered to store Qi. Biggest mistake about storing Qi is to try to get Qi from your environment or from somewhere which is not in your body. According to Chinese medicine this is not possible and not within the understanding of Qi. Qi is only generated from within your own body. Good environments (forests, beach, nature..) reflect in our inside and will result in feeling better, but this has nothing to do with getting Qi from it.