People who practice martial arts always say, “Practice the inner essence, qi and spirit, and practice the outer sinew, bone and skin.” In traditional Chinese culture, the practice of essence, qi and spirit is far more brilliant abut also way too difficult than the practice of sinew, bone and skin. While in traditional Chinese medicine, the concepts of essence, qi and spirit are also very important as well as complicated.
Qi is the most essential substance that constitutes all things on earth. The word “qi’ is widely used in the traditional Chinese medicine. There is source qi, healthy qi, evil qi, nutritive qi, defense qi, organ qi, channel qi…… There are three sources of qi of human body: the prenatal qi acquired from parents, that is the essential qi stored in the kidney; the grain and water qi coming from the spleen and stomach, that is the qi transformed from the nutrients taken; and the breathing qi from the heaven and earth, that is the qi transformed from the fresh air inhaled in the lung. These qis form the qi of human body and are in constant motion and variation. The motion of qi is called “functioning of qi” in traditional Chinese medicine. Qi performs different functions in different viscera. It flows everywhere in the body: when it flows into viscera, it is called “organ qi”; when it flows inside and outside of the blood vessel, it is called “nutritive and defense qi”; when it flows to the channels, it is called “channel qi”. The disorder of the “upbearing, downbearing, inward and outward movement” of qi is called”misfunctioning of qi”
When qi gathers and takes shape, it forms into “essence”, which is similar to the substance we say now. The “spirit” represents people’s spirit, vitality and mental activities, and these activities are also the results of qi’s motion and variation. In other words, both essence and spirit are manifestations of qi; only that one has form and the other is formless.
Nourishing and practicing qi, which is often mentioned in TCM, means to adjust the qi’s motion in the body through some specific ways, so as to achieve the yin-yang harmony and a vigorous spirit.