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All You Need to Know About Qigong

by Cris Puscas

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Loosely translated as "vital energy cultivation" or "mastery of your energy", Qigong (pronounced chee-gong) is an ancient Chinese exercise and healing technique that involves controlled breathing, meditation, and movement exercises. 

Just like acupuncture, tui na (therapeutic massage), and many other forms of Eastern energy work, Qigong’s goal is to stimulate the flow of qi (vital life force) through the body.

Situated at the crossroads of martial arts and meditation, Qigong is an excellent practice to help increase the power of your martial arts technique, help heal your body, and become more self-aware.

When you practice Qigong, there are both external and internal movements; and it’s the latter that differentiates it from almost every other form of exercise in the West.

When practiced regularly, it comes with an abundance of benefits for the mind, body, and soul.

Here, we’ll cover all you need to know about Qigong: its history, benefits, and tips on how you can begin your own practice. Read on and find out whether it is right for you!


The History of Qigong

woman practising qigong

Photo credit: White Tiger Qigong

The earliest beginnings of Qigong can be traced back more than 5,000 years, although the details are hidden in the mist of antiquity.

Chinese farmers observed the rhythms of nature and started to imitate the movements of animals, likely to counteract the effects of the cold and damp weather. More so, the earliest records from archeological discoveries reveal a series of dance-like postures combined with breathing, used for health.

It wasn’t until the XX-th century that Qigong got its name. In 1953, Liu Gui-zheng published a paper named "Practice On Qigong Therapy". That’s how the term Qigong was adopted widely as a formal name for various types of exercises that promoted the circulation of qi, guiding the energy flow (dao-yin), nourishing the spirit, and sitting still.

With the development of the concepts of channels and energy pathways, health was based upon the free flow of Qi through the body’s channels.

Later, all the concepts were integrated into the frame of the Yin-Yang theory. Qigong integrated them into the physical exercises that attempt to harmonize Yin-Yang and keep the Qi flowing freely.

Soon enough, the world of Qigong started to grow as hybrid traditions emerged and the practice became more and more popular.

Together with the development of Qigong, the world of acupuncture also emerged. As it identified points that could both cure and inflict pain, martial arts became more targeted in their attacks.

Unfortunately, after the fall of the Ch’ing Dynasty when Cultural Revolution leaders attempted to reorder the society according to Communist principles, anything remotely linked to religion was taboo. Ancient practices were deemed archaic, including Qigong.

Fortunately, the sentiment changed and the new rulers decided it was wide to continue Chinese medicine and, under that umbrella, Qigong was, once again, practiced.

Fast forward to today and, according to the Qigong Institute, millions of people in China and across the world practice Qigong daily to improve their health and achieve clarity.


The Philosophy Behind Qigong

group qigong practice

Photo credit: Jolie Adventures

In traditional Chinese philosophy, Qi is the fundamental life force or vital energy of the universe. It is responsible for life and vitality.

According to the Qigong philosophy, the mind and body are not separated. The mind is present in all parts of the body and it can move the Qi throughout the body.

We are born with Qi, but we also acquire it from the food we eat and the air we breathe. In Qigong, the breath accounts for the largest quantity of acquired Qi. More so, the balance of our emotional, mental, and physical levels also affects our Qi.

Qi travels through the body along 12 meridians. Qigong uses the mind to move the Qi where it’s needed to heal the body.

Just like in Tai Chi, Yin & Yang are also important in Qigong. Everything in the universe can be described by Yin & Yang, two separate principles, that complement each other.

One of the Qigong’s goals is to balance the Yin & Yang within the body. For example, strong moments are balanced by soft ones and internal techniques by external ones.

»Read more: All You Need to Know About Tai Chi


Types of Qigong

practicing qigong with a teacher

Photo credit: Quintinha do Mar

There are many forms and styles of Qigong, but under its umbrella, there are two greater paths:

  • Personal Cultivation: All Qigong paths being as a personal journey of self-discovery. It uses breath, movement, and intention. Many practitioners start to practice independently, but there are many benefits to working with an experienced teacher.
  • Clinical Qigong: Clinical Qigong Professionals are able to teach Qigong exercises and/or meditations based on a variety of assessment systems to restore health and wellness. They are also able to use Qi transmission methods to achieve the same result.

Within the larger path of Personal Cultivation, there are three main categories:

  • Martial Qigong: for physical power;
  • Medical Qigong: for healing one-self and others;
  • Spiritual Qigong: for enlightenment.

Medical Qigong is the oldest of the four branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine, as well as the energetic foundation of acupuncture.

There are two types of medical Qigong: self-healing and external healing (qi emission). When practicing self-healing Qigong, the exercises are used by individuals to enhance their health, prevent disease, and address illness.

External healing is similar to distant Reiki healing and it can be described as Qigong practitioners emitting qi energy to heal others. Also, the patients are prescribed specific exercises to help regulate qi.

Martial Qigong focuses on physical power. When Qigong theory is used in martial arts, it can improve the power and effectiveness of muscles, as well as attack specific areas by disturbing a person’s Qi. More so, practitioners can easily demonstrate physical feats considered impossible by modern science, such as sustain physical impact from baseball bats.

Spiritual Qigong incorporates sitting meditations, chanting mantras, mudras, and prayers to pursue enlightenment. Heavily influenced by Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, spiritual Qigong teaches discipline, which leads to tranquility, self-awareness, and harmony with nature and oneself.   


Who Should Practice Qigong

qigong practice in open air

Photo credit: Nam Yang Kung Fu Retreat

People practice Qigong for many reasons, including exercise, relaxation, self-healing, meditation, and martial arts training.

Because it is a low-impact form of exercise, anyone can do it, from the physically impaired to athletes. Seniors and people recovering from injuries can also practice Qigong.

Qigong is generally viewed as safe and anyone can practice it, being beneficial for people of all ages.

That said, when starting a new form of exercise, make sure to check with your general practitioner or health care provider to make sure it is a safe option for you.


Benefits of Practicing Qigong

qigong in nature, by water

Photo credit: EarthMind Wellness

Unlike Tai Chi, Qigong has not been widely studied for its health benefits. However, practicing Qigong is not unhealthy and only entails relaxation and gentle movements.

That said, some studies have been carried out and they do list positive results for those practicing Qigong. Some of these benefits include:

Qigong may reduce depression and relieve stress.

A study found out that practitioners feel less anxious and have better moods compared to those who didn’t do Qigong. The same study showed that Qigong has positive influence on cardiovascular and bone health, as well as improves balance.

Qigong may boost your immune response

A review of several studies showed that Qigong increases the levels of certain immune cells in regular practitioners. This helps your body fight viruses.

Qigong may lessen chronic fatigue

There isn’t a known cause for chronic fatigue and, unfortunately, it doesn’t go away with rest, making it hard for affected individuals to go on with their daily lives. A study has shown that improvements were seen after practicing Qigong regularly for four months.

Qigong may help reduce blood pressure and control diabetes

While further studies are needed to confirm results, a study showed that practicing Qigong has a mild positive effect in lowering blood pressure; while another study concluded that it has a mild positive effect on controlling diabetes. 

Qigong may help you regain natural flexibility and strength

If you aren’t generally too active or you are sitting too much, you should give Qigong a try. Its natural movements help the muscles and joints improve blood and oxygen supply, which helps them regain their natural flexibility and strength.


How to Get Started Practicing Qigong

qigong pose

Photo credit: White Tiger Qigong

Ready to get started? Although Qigong is one of the safest forms of exercise and martial arts, for a beginner, when trying to figure out the different styles, poses, and exercises, it can be quite challenging and daunting.

You can begin your journey into Qigong in several ways:

  • Take an online course: Nowadays, it’s very easy to join an online course from the comfort of your home. Make sure you have enough space to practice and that your internet connection is stable. A lot of online Qigong training courses are self-paced so there’s no pressure on the practitioner. You will be given feedback and guidance so that you can correct your form.
  • Attend a Qigong training camp: Learn Qigong with the help of certified teachers, in a stunning location. If you want to study where it originated, join a Qigong camp in China. Also, there are plenty of options in other countries throughout the world.
  • Install an app: Of course, there’s an app for this, too. In fact, there are quite a lot of them, depending on your goals: some focus on the physical part while others lean into the meditation aspect of Qigong.
  • Watch YouTube videos: just like apps for your smartphone (or tablet), YouTube has a wealth of videos ready to help you dip your toes into the world of Qigong. Set aside 10 to 20 minutes when you want to practice and reap the benefits in no time.

Hero photo credit: FangYuan TaiChi Centre

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