To understand taiji ball qigong, first you must know what qi and qigong are.  Only then will you be able to comprehend how and why qigong is able to bring you health, longevity, and even spiritual enlightenment. 

A General Definition of Qi

Qi is the energy or natural force that fills the universe. The Chinese believe in three powers of the universe: heaven (tian), earth (di), and man (ren). Heaven (the sky or universe) has heaven qi (tian qi), the most important of the three, consisting of forces exerted by heavenly bodies, such as sunshine, moonlight, gravity, and energy from the stars. Weather, climate, and natural disasters are governed by heaven qi (tian qi). Every energy field strives to stay in balance. When the heaven qi loses its balance, it tries to rebalance itself through wind, rain, tornadoes, and hurricanes, enabling a new energy balance to be achieved.

Earth qi (di qi) is controlled by heaven qi. Too much rain forces a river to flood or change its path. Without rain, vegetation will die. The Chinese believe earth qi is made up of lines and patterns of energy, as well as the earth's magnetic field and the heat concealed underground. These energies must also be in balance; otherwise disasters such as earthquakes occur. When earth qi is balanced and harmonized, plants grow and animals thrive.

Finally, each individual person, animal, and plant has its own qi field, which continually seeks balance. Losing qi balance, an individual sickens, dies, and decomposes. All natural things, including humankind and our human qi (ren qi), are determined by the natural cycles of heaven qi and earth qi. Throughout the history of qigong, people have been most interested in human qi and its relationship with heaven qi and earth qi.

In China, qi is also defined as any energy that demonstrates power and strength, be it electricity, magnetism, heat, or light. Electric power is called electric qi (dian qi), and heat is called heat qi (re qi). When a person is alive, his body's energy is called human qi (ren qi).

Qi also expresses the energy state of something, especially of living things. The weather is called heaven qi (tian qi) because it indicates the energy state of the heavens. When something is alive it has vital qi (huo qi), and when dead it has dead qi (si qi) or ghost qi (gui qi). When a person is righteous and has the spiritual strength to do well, he is said to have normal qi or righteous qi (zheng qi). The spiritual state or morale of an army is called its energy state (qi shi).

Qi can represent energy itself, or else the state of the energy. It is important to understand this when you practice qigong, so your mind is not channeled into a narrow understanding of qi, limiting your future understanding and development.

A General Definition of Qigong

In China, the word "gong" is often used as a shorter form of "gongfu" (kung fu), meaning energy and time. Any study or training, which requires energy, time, and patience to achieve, is called gongfu. Qigong is a science, which studies the energy in nature. The main difference between this energy science and Western energy science is that qigong focuses on the inner energy of human beings, while Western energy science pays more attention to the energy outside the human body. When you study qigong, it is worthwhile to consider the modern scientific point of view, and not restrict yourself to traditional beliefs.

The Chinese have studied qi for thousands of years, recording information on the patterns and cycles of nature in books such as The Book of Changes, 1112 b.c. (Yi Jing, which describes the natural forces of heaven (tian), earth (di), and man (ren). These three powers (san cai) manifest as heaven qi, earth qi, and human qi, with their definite rules and cycles. The rules are unchanging, while the cycles return to repeat themselves. The Yi Jing applies these principles to calculate changes in natural qi, through a process called the eight trigra ms (bagua). From the eight trigrams are derived the 64 hexagrams. The Yi Jing was probably the first book describing qi and its variations in nature and man. The relationship of the three natural powers and their qi variations were later discussed extensively in the book, Theory of Qi's Variation (Qi Hua Lun).

Understanding heaven qi is very difficult, and was especially so in ancient times. But since natural cycles recur, accumulated experience makes it possible to trace the natural patterns. Understanding the rules and cycles of heavenly timing (tian shi) helps describe changes in the seasons, climate, weather, and other natural occurrences. The rebalancing of qi causes many of these routine patterns and cycles. Various natural cycles recur every day, month or year, while others return only every twelve or sixty years.

Earth qi forms part of heaven qi. From understanding the rules and structure of the earth, you understand the process whereby mountains and rivers are formed, plants grow and rivers move, and also where it is best to build a house and which direction it should face to be a healthy place to live. In China, geomancy teachers (di li shi) or wind water teachers (feng shui shi) make their living this way. The term wind water (feng shui) is used because the location and character of wind and water are the most important factors in evaluating a location. These experts use the accumulated body of geomantic knowledge and the Yi Jing to help make important decisions such as where and how to build a house, where to bury the dead, and how to arrange homes and offices to be better and more prosperous places in which to live and work.

Human qi has been studied most thoroughly, encompassing many different aspects. The Chinese believe human qi is affected and controlled by heaven qi and earth qi, and that they in fact determine your destiny. By understanding the relationship between nature and people, and also human relations (ren shi), you may predict wars, the destiny of a country, a person's desires and temperament, and even their future. The people who practice this profession are called calculate life teachers (suan ming shi).

However, the greatest achievement in the study of human qi is in regard to health and longevity. Since qi is the source of life, if you understand how qi functions and know how to regulate it correctly, you may live a long and healthy life. As a part of nature, you are channeled into its cycles, and it is in your best interest to follow the way of nature. This is the meaning of Dao, which can be translated as the Natural Way.

Many different aspects of human qi have been researched, including acupuncture, massage, herbal treatment, meditation, and qigong exercises. Their use in adjusting human qi flow has become the root of Chinese medical science. Meditation and moving qigong exercises are used to improve health and cure certain illnesses. Daoists and Buddhists also use meditation and qigong exercises in their pursuit of enlightenment.

In conclusion, the study of any of the aspects of qi, including heaven qi, earth qi, and human qi, should be called qigong. However, since the term is usually used today only in reference to the cultivation of human qi through meditation and exercises, we will conform to this narrower definition.

The above is an excerpt from Tai Chi Ball Qigong: For Health and Martial Arts by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming and David Grantham.