Hmmm, it's happened again, I have gone on the tea buying rampage. From Xiaguan to Douji to the now notorious Dingxing cake, it's all on it's way inbound to The Corn Barn (that's where I live).
I thought I would write something about the topic of 'qi' and my opinion on what it is (this is the sort of thing that crosses my mind on a day off sitting at my tea table). In fact, the inspiration for this was all started by a marvelous sensation in my chest which I squarely attribute to Nada's Bulang which I am revisiting today. A lot is said about cha qi, but what on earth is 'qi'?
Although I am a practicing acupuncturist and herbalist one thing I am not is a member of the spiritual hippy brigade! There is a type of person that is attracted to practicing acupuncture in the west and they are usually middle aged females with a new age, spiritual aspect to them (85% of students at my old acupuncture college fit this stereotype). As a result one of the core concepts of Asian medicine, qi, is rather over romanticised. It need not be.
Do you have to 'believe' in qi? No, not if you have a pair of eyes and nerve endings. Qi describes anything with motion, temperature and function. When you lift your arm and scratch your nose, it is qi. Regardless of the actual biomechanical function that enables you to move you will be perfectly correct in stating that it was an act of qi, it moved thus it was a result of some qi.
You can't grasp it as it is formless. You can grasp your moving arm but that is the substance you have just touched, you have not touched the movement itself. Heat plus water creates steam, you can touch the steam, feel the heat but all that is on your skin is the water. You can touch flames but you can't hold them.
Peristalsis, the movements of your gastrointestinal tract is just another thing that can be labeled qi, it makes you poop and it makes you burp. This isn't magic we are talking about, it's just a word that embodies anything that moves be it the rain or your mood.
Anger, it makes you so mad your face goes red! You want to stand up and punch the nearest inanimate object. You could explain the exact process that flushes blood to your face or you could use the Chinese abstract physiological model that anger belongs to the liver, liver belongs to the wood phase, the wood phase surges upwards and this is why your blood goes to the face and you feel so animated. Is it strictly accurate? no but it does the job of understanding the relationship of things.
So, what is cha qi? If you feel it and it has a moving quality to it, a temperature then you are perfectly correct in explaining it as an expression of qi without having to wear hemp trousers and meditate. Of course, if you like hemp trousers and meditation you can do that too.. ;-)