By Rob Haroth, M.A., MMQ, Certified NQA Qigong Instructor, Certified NQA Clinical Qigong Practitioner
Have you heard of qigong? While this ancient art has thousands of years of history behind it, the term “qigong” didn’t come into use until sometime in the mid-twentieth century (Deadman, 2014). Prior to this, ancient texts and traditions used other terms to refer to the movement and mindfulness practices that would eventually become known collectively under this name (alternately, qi gong, or “energy work”).
According to the National Qigong Association, hundreds of styles of qigong exist, all of which offer a range of physical and mental health benefits. Qigong is safe and simple, can be done just about anywhere, requires no special equipment, and is low-cost if not free. This makes it an excellent self-care practice to learn no matter what your health background or goals are.
Keep reading to learn more about what qigong is and what health benefits you can expect by adopting this practice. You can also visit our Acupuncture Programs at MUIH to learn how it’s important in your practice.
What is Qigong?
Qigong can be described as a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent. There are many Qigong styles, schools, traditions, forms, and lineages, each with practical applications and different theories about Qi (“subtle breath” or “vital energy”) and Gong (“skill cultivated through steady practice”).
Qigong opens the flow of energy in meridians used in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. It enhances our ability to feel the Life Force (Qi) underlying the physical world and to deepen our communication with it.
Physically, slow gentle Qigong movements warm tendons, ligaments, and muscles; tonify vital organs and connective tissue; and promote circulation of body fluids (blood, synovial, lymph). Many studies have shown Qigong to be an effective practice to address health challenges ranging from high blood pressure and chronic illness, to emotional frustration, mental stress, and spiritual crisis. The gentle, rhythmic movements of Qigong reduce stress, build stamina, increase vitality, and enhance the immune system. It has also been found to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic, and digestive functions.
Those who maintain a consistent practice of Qigong find that it helps one regain a youthful vitality, maintain health into old age, and increases the speed of recovery from illness. Western scientific research confirms that Qigong reduces hypertension and the incidence of falling in the aged population. One of the more important long-term effects is that Qigong reestablishes the body/mind/soul (Jing, Qi, Shen) connection.
What is Medical Qigong?
While medical qigong is not intended to replace or stand-in for other conventional medicine techniques, it can be an excellent addition to the treatment or prevention of a range of conditions. To cite just one example, a systematic review published in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine found that qigong is a viable form of physical activity for people with heart disease (Chan et al, 2012).
More well-designed scientific studies will help the medical community embrace the ancient art of qigong as a holistic lifestyle practice that can enhance the lives and well-being of patients from all walks of life.
Medical Qigong therapy is the eldest therapeutic modality of Chinese medicine. It is a comprehensive system of health care, addressing the root cause of symptoms or disease, while treating the client as a whole. Medical Qigong treatments are based upon a differential diagnosis rooted in Chinese medical theory.
In a Medical Qigong treatment, the practitioner, having developed through dedicated study and self-cultivation the ability to sense and manipulate energy, uses Qi emission to restore health and wellness to the client. The practitioner may also teach various Qigong exercises and meditations to further the health of the client. Practiced as an adjunct to Western medicine, medical Qigong and Chinese medicine may successfully treat conditions which Western medicine finds resistant or ambiguous.
Medical Qigong can be used to address many common ailments or health concerns, including mental, physical, or emotional stressors; physical pain; high blood pressure; headaches; anxiety; or depression. Relief may happen quickly for some or can occur slowly over time – every person’s experience is unique.
Health Benefits of Qigong
Both scientific studies and anecdotal evidence reveal numerous potential health benefits of qigong. I invite you to try it for yourself and see if you notice any of the following benefits:
- Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Improved mood
- Increased energy and reduced symptoms of chronic fatigue
- Enhanced immune function
A challenge so far in modern-day research is that a lot of the studies done on qigong have been less-than-ideal in quality and design. This means the strength of the evidence isn’t great. But since this holistic practice is low-cost and safe and gentle on the body—it can even be done sitting down—most doctors agree there is little to no risk in trying it, especially if you learn it from a skilled instructor.
Qigong vs. tai chi
When you start doing research, you might notice many of the studies group qigong and T’ai Chi together. It begs the question: how do these two ancient practices compare to each other?
To be clear, qigong and T’ai Chi are overall more alike than they are different and are founded on similar principles rooted in traditional Chinese medicine (Jahnke et al, 2011). They both incorporate slow, flowing, and meditative movements. Indeed, many qigong postures are the same as ones you might find in T’ai Chi practice.
Some say that qigong is used to address specific ailments or dysfunctions in the body, whereas T’ai Chi is a more generalized practice that incorporates the movement of the whole body. Qigong is also considered the more ancient discipline that many elements of T’ai Chi are based on.
How can I get started with Qigong?
- Explore some of the many excellent instructional books and videos available to get a feel for modalities and instruction styles.
- Seek referrals in your area and visit local classes. Talk to instructors to get a feel for their teaching style.
- Attend Qigong conferences and events to sample many styles of Qigong and practitioners from around the world.
- Once you find a style and instructor you feel comfortable with, it is important to develop a consistent, daily practice.
When beginners ask, “What is the most important aspect of practicing Qigong?” The answer is always…”just do it.”
Qigong exercises (sometimes called “dynamic meditation”) are used to promote mind and body wellness, restore energy flow and harmony within your body, and alleviate or address specific health concerns you may be dealing with. While exercises include specific postures or movements, they also include the elements of concentration, breath. You’ll find that it is inspired by the ancient philosophy of Yin and Yang, complementary forces such as fast and slow which, when balanced, restore harmony to the self.
Qigong practitioners believe that incorrect posture can disrupt the flow of energy in your body, reduce stamina and vitality, and increase the risk of disease. To this end, postures invite you to become totally aware of your weight distribution, balance, and posture throughout the practice. Postures range from the basic qigong stance to dynamic postures and balance poses.
These days you can find plenty of resources to help you learn how to do qigong. If able and willing, consider finding local community classes where you can learn qigong in-person. Alternately, you can access online resources such as instructional videos that will allow you to develop this practice from your own home.
- National Qigong Association – https://nqa.memberclicks.net/
- Qi Encyclopedia – http://qi-encyclopedia.com/
- The Qigong Institute – https://qigonginstitute.org/
- Three Treasures Holistic Health – http://www.threetreasures.biz/
The ancient discipline of qigong is as simple as it is elegant. As is true for any mindfulness or wellness practice, you stand to gain the most benefits by practicing it regularly. Even just 10 minutes per day can be enough to reap the range of health benefits it has to offer you and your loved ones!
No matter where you are in your life and what your current health goals or needs are, it can be an excellent addition to your lifestyle. If you’re currently being medically supervised for any reason, speak with your provider before starting qigong and consider seeking out individualized training from a skilled practitioner.
Frequently Asked Questions about Qigong
What can you expect during a qigong class?
When you go to a qigong class, you can expect to be led through a simple warm-up followed by a period of focused breathing. You’ll also be guided through a variety of postures and movements. These may be performed standing, sitting, or laying down. Alternative options are often provided.
Qigong instructors often have their own style, so feel free to try several classes until you find an instructor you connect with.
How often should I practice qigong?
Almost all qigong practitioners recommend practicing every day in order to get the best results. You might choose to build up your practice by starting with short routines you can do first thing in the morning or at any other time of day. Occasionally incorporating longer routines can be a good way to enhance your experience.
How do you prepare for qigong?
Qigong is gentle on the body and simple to do. Exercises are always preceded by a simple warm-up session to ensure your body is prepared for the exercises. To prepare, wear comfortable loose-fitting clothing and drink water. Shoes are optional.
What is the goal of Qi Gong?
In the traditional Chinese philosophy, the goal is to restore the flow of the body’s vital energy (qi) and therefore restore harmony, balance, and wellness to the body, mind, and spirit. The use of techniques like movements, breathing, and mindfulness activities work together to promote a sense of well-being.
Chan, J. S., Ho, R. T., Chung, K., Wang, C., Yao, T., Ng, S., & Chan, C. L. (2014). Qigong Exercise Alleviates Fatigue, Anxiety, and Depressive Symptoms, Improves Sleep Quality, and Shortens Sleep Latency in Persons with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome-Like Illness. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,2014, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2014/106048
Lin, C., Wei, T., Wang, C., Chen, W., Wang, Y., & Tsai, S. (2018). Acute Physiological and Psychological Effects of Qigong Exercise in Older Practitioners. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,2018, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2018/4960978
Johnson, J. A. (2002). Chinese medical Qigong therapy (Vol. 1). Pacific Grove, CA: International Institute of Medical Qigong.