Qi means life force energy. The ancient pictogram of Qi represented mist coming off water or steam coming off rice. The mist and steam signified that Qi was invisible. The rice meant that Qi nourished the body.

Qi is the animating power of the body. It's the difference between a live body and a dead body. When someone dies, the Qi is gone. The body weighs the same, has the same organs and muscles, but is lifeless. Qi is the aliveness. It's the power behind your heart, it's the light in your mind, it's the shine in your eyes, it's the movement in your body.

When I was ten years old, I got inspired to take karate after watching a Bruce Lee movie. He was my childhood idol. After six months or so of class, the teacher brought out a stack of bricks and broke them with a karate chop. I was mesmerized. I was sold. I wanted to learn that. When I asked how he did it, he simply said, "with Qi."

In the Yellow Emperor's classic on Chinese Medicine (I'm sure you've read it, it's a classic), about 360 different kinds of Qi's (not to be mistaken with cheese.) You get Qi, your aliveness, from different sources. For example, you get Qi from food. When you don't eat for a few hours or days, your energy changes. You get Qi from nature, from sunlight, from the wind, from the trees. You get Qi from water. But, the quickest source to energy is your breath.

You can go without food for weeks, go without water for days, but only go without breath for minutes. If you don't breathe, in less than 10 minutes, no more Qi! Breath is life force energy. Learn to breathe properly and you can cultivate more Qi.

What is Energy?

Energy is life; your life and life all around you. When your life and life all around become harmonious, the energy you experience is joyful, exciting, fulfilling. When internal energy and external energy combine in just the right way, we experience love; love for someone, love for each other, love of life.

Ask the mystic, the Qi Gong master, or the Quantum physicist and you get a similar answer to the nature of the body. The Qi Gong master describes the nature of the body as Qi, as life force energy. The mystic says that the physical body is an illusion, a constant process of change. The physicist describes the body as vibration and empty space.

Quantum physicists and mystics from all ages agree that we are literally made of and living within a limitless sea of energy. How is it then, that we suffer chronic low energy, fatigue, or poor health? Medical surveys show that "lack of energy" and high levels of stress are the biggest complaints in physicians' offices today.

The choices we make everyday, from exercise to diet, change the way we feel and work from the inside out. As we cultivate more energy within ourselves, life's stresses that we normally face aren't so overwhelming. As our energy increases, so does our ability to handle stress and create effective solutions. It's when we are depleted that stress seeps into our body and mind.

In Eastern terms, the more energy circulating in the body, the healthier we are.  Abundant energy manifests in the body as better functioning organs, more flexibility in the muscles, supple joints, and balanced emotions. Loss of internal energy creates fatigue, tension, low metabolism, inability to cope with stress, insomnia, depression, and turbulent thoughts.

Energy level is a great indicator of our general health. A Yale University study found that energy levels had the highest correlation with general-health status and were the best predictor of both physical and psychological health over time. Energetic people, the study showed are generally healthy, whereas the enervated are often ill, becoming ill, fighting off illness, or struggling with their low energy condition. Illness, apathy, fatigue, anxiety, chronic stress, depression and the like are all signs that we are becoming depleted.

Nature pulses with energy. In the Eastern forms of exercise, tapping into this abundant energy all around us and within us is one of the goals. Sometimes, cultivating more energy is as simple as getting out of our own way, of letting go of stress, tension, old emotions, and discordant thoughts. Abundant energy is not something that we have to create or make. It is always there, wanting to flow, wanting to express itself as creativity and balance.

Searching for energy in the material world, as we so often do, often leads to disappointment. It is important to remember that the path to more energy is not product related. What we want in the material world is a reflection of an inner feeling—security, fulfillment, health, power, excitement, youth, and vitality. These are all inner qualities. One of my teachers calls this incessant desire for material goods the search for "Dragon eggs." In other words, it is a search for something that doesn't exist.

To cultivate energy from the inside is something that lasts – a way to go to the source of energy and allow it to grow. Happiness and joy already exist inside you. The notion that acquiring something material to elicit this inner quality only leads to continual grasp of external things. If we are constantly pulled outside ourselves in our quest for happiness, it is like trying to capture waves by scooping up the ocean in a bucket. By cultivating energy from within, you can enjoy the material world without attachment. The material world is truly for our enjoyment and experience, but when we approach it from internal balance and strength, we can appreciate all our possessions without being controlled by them.

The key to happiness and vitality is balance: a harmony with your relationship with life in every area, both internal and external – diet, exercise, work, relationships, sleep, play, and contemplation.

Story: Looking for Energy

There was a man looking for the mystery of life. He studied with meditations teachers, mystics, yogi's, qi gong masters, and philosophers. He learned technique after technique. At times he would feel amazing, bliss, elevated, connected to the universe. At times, he felt one with life. He had experiences of unconditional love and present moment awareness…but it would fade and dissipate. He would then be back to the stresses of life and the frustrations of living. He pursued his quest for finding deeper meaning and everlasting happiness. He studied in India, Tibet, and China. He learned about breath, stretching, secret postures, being in the present moment, moving energy through his body. His wonderful experiences continued and faded. The man was saddened by the fleeting nature of these experiences. He finally climbed the highest peak in the Himalayas and called up to the heavens, "God, why am I still miserable?" God replied, "I am constantly giving the most precious energy of life, but you are leaking!"

It's not how much energy we tap into, it's how much energy we retain and contain. In psychology, this would be the difference between a state and a trait. We can drop into certain states—happiness, presence, peace and be pulled out of those states by the next phone call, thought, or traffic jam. Traits are more permanent. They are longer lasting and resilient. States, through repetition lead to traits.

The above is Part 1 of "Introduction to Qi Gong" an original article by Lee Holden.