Benefits, types, side effects and more
Qi Gong is a meditative practice incorporating techniques of breathing, movement, sound and self-massage. Its origins can be found in traditional Chinese medicine and philosophy.
According to the National Qigong Association, qi means “vital energy”, while gong means “skill cultivated through constant practice”.
There are many different styles of qigong, some focusing on health, while others revolve around martial arts training or spirituality.
This article takes a closer look at qigong, including what it involves, its potential health benefits, types, and how to get started.
Qigong is an ancient practice that people believe can be beneficial for the mind, body, and spirit. It derives from Chinese philosophy and medicine.
Like other traditional Chinese practices, qigong stems from the idea that qi, or life force, circulates in the body. If the qi gets stuck, stagnates, or flows too quickly, it can lead to health problems. Qi Gong aims to restore this balance in the body.
Qi Gong has four components:
- breathing techniques
- body postures
- guided imagery
The practice has grown in popularity around the world – in 2002, 5.8% of American adults participated in tai chi, yoga, or qigong. In 2017, this figure rose to 14.5%.
Types of qigong
There are many types and styles of qigong, some of which no longer draw inspiration from Chinese philosophy. In traditional qigong practice, there are two main approaches.
The “Wai dan” method is above all a physical practice focused on body postures. Practitioners call it “external elixir”.
In contrast, the “Nei dan” approach is an inner-centered type of qigong that relies more on meditation and visualization while seated. Practitioners call this technique “internal elixir”.
People can also categorize styles of qigong according to their main purpose. It could be :
- medical, which focuses on healing
- martial, which improves physical fitness and skill
- spiritual, which looks to spiritual enlightenment
Scientific research into the potential benefits of qigong is relatively new. The existing evidence tends to be of low quality, making it difficult to determine whether the practice provides these health benefits. However, the limited research available suggests that qigong may help with some aspects of health.
Qigong can relieve certain types of pain, including chronic pain, although studies examining this claim have mixed conclusions.
For example, a 2019 study reviewed previous research on qigong for chronic pain. Research has shown that qigong may offer some relief, but the authors warn that more research is needed.
Meanwhile, a 2019 study followed 72 office workers with low back pain. Half of them practiced qigong in a class for 6 weeks, and the other half did not. Compared to the control group, qigong participants reported reduced lower back pain.
Promote physical fitness and flexibility
Baduanjin qigong is a type of qigong that focuses on postures and body movements. In a 2016 review, researchers looked at previous studies to find out how this activity might affect overall fitness. Overall, they found some evidence that Baduanjin’s qigong can improve:
- grip strength
- torso flexibility
- arterial pressure
- resting heart rate
These benefits were present in studies of younger and older adults. Since qigong is a fairly low impact activity, it can be a suitable form of exercise for people with limited mobility or stamina.
Support respiratory health
A 2020 article argues that qigong may have potential as a complementary therapy for the elderly who wish to reduce the risk of developing COVID-19. Researchers state that several qigong breathing techniques can:
The document also suggests that qigong can help people recover from COVID-19 with rehabilitation.
However, while qigong has the potential to promote respiratory health, there are no controlled trials that assess whether it has a beneficial effect on people with COVID-19. Qigong is not a substitute for medical treatment or vaccination against COVID-19.
Learn more about preventing COVID-19.
Improve the quality of life after cancer
A 2017 review and meta-analysis on the benefits of tai chi and qigong for cancer survivors found that both practices appear to improve quality of life.
The researchers looked at 22 previous studies, which included a total of 1,200 participants. The practice of tai chi and qigong had correlations with improvements in depression, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping.
As a practice for body and mind, qigong does not focus solely on exercise and physical health. It incorporates mindfulness, meditation, regulation of breathing and movement, all of which have general links to stress reduction and mental well-being.
Several studies have also shown that practicing qigong can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, although the results are mixed.
The 2017 Cancer Survival Review cited above found that qigong appeared to reduce depression. A 2019 analysis of previous studies also found that the practice had an antidepressant effect, but only in five of the nine studies reviewed. There was also a high risk of bias in these studies.
Additionally, qigong can aid mental health by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that induces a state of rest and relaxation. However, higher quality research is needed to confirm these benefits.
There is no evidence documenting serious risks or side effects associated with qigong.
As with any exercise, it is possible for a person to fall or be injured. However, because qigong uses slow, controlled movements, the risk of injury may be lower than that of more intense forms of exercise.
In addition, no studies have shown that qigong can replace traditional medical treatments. Therefore, it is essential to consult a doctor for any health problem.
There are many ways to start practicing qigong. This can help refine the focus and learning style before searching for courses or other learning resources. A person can try:
- Identify a main objective: It may be easier to choose a type of qigong if an individual has a primary goal in mind for their practice. For example, they might be interested in managing a chronic disease or improving physical condition or mental well-being.
- Choose a way to learn: After identifying a goal, people can think about the ideal way to learn qigong. For example, they may prefer an in-person class, video tutorials, or books.
- Resource search: Once someone knows what they want to focus on and how they want to learn, they can start looking for the information or course they need.
- To ask questions: If a person works with a qigong teacher, they can ask questions about their style and approach before attending a class. For example, they might ask how physically demanding the sessions are or if the style is traditional or modern.
- Sampling of different styles: People may want to sample alternative styles before choosing a type of qigong.
Qi Gong is a practice that traditionally focuses on the mind, body and spirit. It comes from ancient Chinese philosophy and medicine and aims to ensure that a person’s life force, or qi, flows freely through the body.
Some scientists believe that qigong can have beneficial effects on physical and mental health due to the emphasis on mindfulness, breathing exercises, and physical movement. However, high quality research on the practice is limited.
Some may find that qigong helps them stay fit and active, relieve chronic symptoms such as pain, and reduce stress. However, a person should always see a doctor if they have troubling or persistent symptoms.