Chi relates to all Taoist practices and arts and is one of the most fundamental concepts in all Taoism. The ancient Taoist mystics understood that the entire universe that we perceive was energy in a constant state of flux and transformation. The experience of energy in all forms was what the Taoist mind was geared towards, and naturally their language evolved to utilize the various forms of chi. Their every day language uses the word ch'i both as a prefix and suffix to address subjects with qualities of air, breath, vitality, combustion, or power- all forms of ch'i. A good example of this would be the word ch'i-che which equates to energy-vehicle = car or ch'i-you which is energy oil = gasoline or tien-ch'i which is sky, lightening-power = electricity.
So what is chi and how do we use it? Ch'i is the energy permeating the universe and and is in everything and everyone. Ch'i in man is established in many ways, through air, breath, blood and nerve. It is the essence of life. The English language doesn't contain a word which translates into the same way that ch'i translates in the Chinese language. Other cultures have words like prana, shakti, elan vital and kundalini to roughly mean the same thing.
In Taoist yoga, ch'i manifests in 2 forces that are opposite poles. Ching-chi is an unattached, unrefined potential energy as a function of the body's metabolism. Shen is psychic awareness or projected awareness of the mind which cannot be perceived directly because it is a function of the mind and is projected through the eyes. Ching acts as the yin and Shen as the yang. Ching cannot assume a form unless in the presence of shen and has no form but can constitute ching into chi in a symbiotic cycle. When the two forces interact, the energy of the mind and the energy of the body, they form the ideal western consolidation of the completed union, that of a microcosm to the macrocosmic universe.
The difference between eastern and western philosophy is that western thinking views the mind and the body as 2 different entities. Western man views himself with his mind as separate from everything else. Western man splits what was always believed in eastern terms to be one in the first place and results in unbalancing himself in an attempt to conquer matter, nature or anything determined not man. Eastern philosophy sees that all phenomena is energy and that energy is always preserved and therefore the events are interrelated.
The Chinese believe the human body is governed by 12 orbs of energy or circuits that manifest themselves as the 12 meridians that run through each major organ of the body. As for ch'i itself, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TMC) specifies more then 36 forms that function within the body. Just as many other languages have many words that describe the same aspect, the Chinese also have many forms of chi identified over the centuries with rigorous medical diagnosis and observation. In Manfred Porkert's "The Theoretical Foundations of Chinese Medicine" he lists some of the more important forms of chi as follows:
Ch'i Nativum: Ch'i that is the inborn constitution, the vitalpotential that is gradually used up in the course of life. It may be conserved by hygiene but can never be replenished.
Ch'i Cardinale: Energy Moving through the meridians and integrated into a physiological cycle.
Ch'i Frumentarium: Energy derived and assimilated from food.
Ch'i Magnum: The energy derived through breathing, or that cosmic energy that has been assimilated by breathing (similar to the Indian definition of prana).
Ch'i Genuinum: the physiological motion of the organism resulting from the concurrence of Ch'i Magnum and Ch'i Frumentarium.
Ch'i Mersum: The chi manifested in the pulses.
The ancient Chinese saw human life as an energy structure. The material aspect (ching) being held into place through thought or action of spirit (shen). This human energy structure is composed of certain inborn energy potentials which constitute the qualities and the force of its life (Ch'i Nativum) was established by the energy derived from the process of breathing and eating. What resulted was the well being of the structure of essentially the efficiency to function from the quality of energy running through the meridians, arteries and veins. The combination of all these vital energies constitute the total physiological motion of the structure. The holistic model of human functioning for the ancient Chinese assumes that proper thoughts, spiritual awareness, proper diet, fresh non-polluted air and exercise were essential for good health and long life.