Eastern practitioners have been cognizant of the benefits of qigong for centuries. Qigong — qi (subtle breath or vital energy) and gong (skill cultivated through steady practice) — is known to help prevent and manage a broad range of health problems, and is particularly rewarding for older adults and people who experience significant stress on a chronic basis. Qigong, with its many variations, is now being promoted by holistic practitioners for its proven ability to help us reduce stress, improve flexibility and stay focused.
What is Qigong?
Qigong is an all-encompassing term that involves many different types of gentle movement and concentration practices stemming from China nearly 2,000 years ago. It has been described as a mind-body-spirit practice that improves our mental, physical and spiritual health by uniting posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound and focused meditation. Many experts believe that more than 3,000 styles, school, traditions, forms and lineages of qigong exist today.
The practice itself involves gentle movements that are in sync with the inhalations and exhalations of our breath. And although many regard qigong as a form of exercise, it’s also a mental skill that requires time and attention before it can ever be mastered. As mentioned above, qigong takes on many forms. Two of the most well known being tai chi, which is gentler and best suited for older people, and kung fu — a more spirited version of qigong similar to karate.
History of Qigong
Maintaining health, curing disease and extending ones lifespan has been a crucial part of Chinese culture and tradition for thousands of years. Improving and developing the body, breath and mind is at the core of many of these traditions, qigong included. Of the many types of qigong, some sprouted from Buddhist, Daoist and Confucian sources, while others were purely medical or sought spiritual connection. Many of these practices have been passed down in secret over the centuries with a variety of different names used:
- daoyin (leading and guiding)
- neidan (internal alchemy)
- neigong (internal skill)
- xingqi (circulating vital energy)
- zhanzhuang (standing meditation)
- tuna (exhalation and inhalation)
- lianyang (refining and nourishing), etc.
The term qigong has only been used as a common categorization of these sorts of practices since the middle of the 20th century. It wasn’t until this time that the word qigong was used as an umbrella term to include all of these ancient Chinese traditions.
5 Benefits of Qigong
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that qigong practices can help in nearly all aspects of our lives; however, below are some of the ways qigong has been proven to help us the most:
- Makes Our Hearts Healthier And Improves Blood Pressure
From an Eastern medicine standpoint, qigong sparks our natural energy — qi. Practitioners of qigong report feeling warmer, more flexible and energetic. This translates in Western medical terms as improvements in blood circulation and lymphatic drainage.
Qigong is a wonderful form of exercise because depending on the style and its intensity, it can help settle a restless heart and mind, or, it can increase our heart rates leading to a mild sweat. Studies have shown that qigong often helps improve blood pressure by increasing stamina, strengthening the heart, boosting circulation and reducing stress. Some experts have gone as far as to say that qigong is safe and effective for heart patients who have experienced some form of heart disease, heart failure or bypass surgery.
- Lowers Our Risk Of Falling And Becoming Injured
Studies have shown that adults over the age of 70 who practice qigong regularly for a significant period of time have reported a decreased number of falls and are therefore less afraid of falling. This is a direct result of qigong’s focus on overall balance and inner concentration. It provides those susceptible to falling with an opportunity to build their confidence and improve their physical functionality.
- Reduces Negative Effects Of Stress In Our Lives
Because of the linking body movements, breath, and focus, many forms of qigong and yoga are very similar, and many times qigong is incorporated in yoga sessions. Yoga has a long-established reputation for helping us reduce stress in our lives, so the likelihood that qigong can have the same effect is only a natural assumption.
Qigong helps us make a body, mind and soul connection. In many ways this surpasses what other types of exercises do for our stress levels because it influences us on a much deeper emotional and spiritual level. Practitioners have reported benefits such as deeper spiritual development; ability to concentrate for longer periods of time; increased confidence and self-esteem, and stronger and more authentic personal relationships.
In medical terms, qigong helps improve functions of our parasympathetic nervous system. This helps calm us down, reduce nervousness and anxiety, allows us to breathe more deeply, and promotes relaxation and deep sleep.
- Helps Ward Off Disease And Improves Our Immunity
One of the soul principles of TCM is to keep our bodies free of disease and illness. Traditional Chinese Medicine holds steadfastly to the theory that our bodies contain meridians to which energy flows freely. Ideally, these meridians should be unblocked, allowing for this qi (energy) to flow through our bodies uninterrupted. It is when meridians become blocked, like a dam in a river, that our bodies become more prone to disease and illness. Qigong — along with other TCM practices (acupuncture, yoga, herbs etc. — seeks to keep these meridians free from any obstacles that may poorly influence our health. Studies have shown that qigong helps reduce fatigue, improve immune function and lower cortisol levels, all things that decrease the likelihood of us becoming ill. Whether it is cancer or the common cold.
- Reduces Chronic Pain
For those of us who are experiencing some type of chronic pain, it’s likely that we will be less motivated to perform any type of exercise that may exacerbate this pain. Not only can qigong be an accessible alternative for exercise, but studies have also shown that it can be an affective way to reduce pain. For the same reasons that qigong can reduce our chances of becoming sick, so too can it reduce muscle aches and pains. The key to alleviating any kind of pain or disease is again, allowing the energy in our bodies to flow freely.
Who Benefits from Qigong?
Due to the fact that there are so many varieties of qigong that we can put into practice, it’s safe to say that really anyone can benefit from incorporating it into their wellness routine. However, as qigong gains momentum in the mainstream, we see it becoming widely popular among middle-aged and elderly adults. Practitioners have found that it improves flexibility and helps them to remain strong and calm as they progress into old age. In addition, qigong is known for increasing recovery time from illness or traumatic life events. Based on these ideas about the practice of qigong, people who experience the following symptoms can benefit the most:
- Abnormal or high levels of anxiety and stress
- Heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol
- Muscle and joint pain (osteoarthritis or tendonitis)
- Fatigue, low energy or forms of insomnia
- Difficulty concentrating (ADHD and other learning disabilities)
- Prone to illness and infection (low immune system function)
- Circulatory, lymphatic and digestive problems (intestines/kidneys)
- Poor flexibility and balance (susceptible to falling)
Regardless of the style of qigong, all types are rooted in the same soil: they feature specific body poses (fluid and stationary); movements are synchronized with the breath; involve mindfulness meditation and concentrated focus.
Deadman, P. (2014). A Brief History of Qigong. Journal Of Chinese Medicine, (105), 5-17.