What is Qigong? Optimising your energy in mind, body and spirit

Emily Whitton
By Emily Whitton,
updated on Nov 29, 2023

Shadow of a person pretending to hold the sun as it sets in the sky.

Discover the ways to bring balance and harmony to the body with the ancient art of Qigong

Qigong (pronounced “chee-gong”) is a collection of coordinated movements, breathing and meditation. It was originally developed in China as part of traditional Chinese medicine, but the version that we know today is very different.

Designed as a way to improve health and wellbeing, Qigong uses both physical and psychological elements. From the slow, gentle movements of the body, to tuning into the mind and drawing on visualisation techniques, this ancient art can be practised by pretty much anybody.

What does ‘Qigong’ mean?

Qigong can be split into two words - “Qi” meaning ‘vital energy’ and “gong” meaning ‘a skill cultivated through steady practice.’ Therefore, Qigong essentially means using the breath, movement and intention to bring balance to the body. You may also see it spelt ‘Chi Gong’ or ‘Chi Kung.’

Is it the same as Tai chi?

There’s a common misconception that Qigong and Tai chi are the same thing. Whilst the two practices are very similar, they do have their differences. Tai chi actually emerged from Qigong in ancient China and is classified as a martial art. Qigong, on the other hand, was intended to foster wellbeing. Nowadays though, Tai chi is often practised for its health benefits, much like Qigong. It’s thought that, of the two, Qigong is a little easier, as the movements are much less complex than those in Tai chi. 

How does Qigong support wellness?

Like many other ancient Chinese medicines, the principle teaching is that people feel their best when their life force energy – known as ‘qi’ – flows freely through their body. It is thought that poor health can occur if this energy becomes blocked or stagnant. Therefore, Qigong teaches its practitioners how to effectively align the body’s movements with the breath to restore this energy and bring back balance. Once this is achieved, other elements such as meditation are usually incorporated.

This may sound simple, but there’s actually a lot going on as you try to tune into your movements and breath. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of Qigong:

  • The slow movements help increase circulation in the body, helping to mobilise joints. 
  • Deep breathing calms the nervous system and allows the body to enter a more relaxed state. This can also aid other bodily processes, like digestion. 
  • Entering this state of relaxation can help lower stress and decrease anxiety and depression. It can also help quieten the chatter in our minds. 
  • It is thought to benefit heart health by helping to lower blood pressure. 
  • It may reduce pain associated with chronic conditions like osteoarthritis. 
  • It can help reduce fatigue and improve sleep quality. 
  • It’s thought to help our organs and internal processes function in harmony. 
  • For many, especially older people, it can improve balance and flexibility. 
  • Qigong is thought to help improve cognitive function and memory.

Is Qigong right for me?

As Qigong is such a gentle form of exercise, it’s suitable for most people. If you’re pregnant or have ongoing medical concerns, however, it’s best to check with your doctor before trying Qigong. Older people and those with poor balance should be aware of the risks of falls with this art, as it’s often done standing. Having said this, it is possible to practise Qigong seated, so this shouldn’t put you off giving it a try. 

It’s really important to work with a professional, especially if you’re trying Qigong for the first time. This is because, whilst it is so gentle, some of the movements can be a little complex. Therefore, following a video online may not be the best way to practice as you might risk injuring yourself or worsening an existing ailment. Instead, you can learn the right techniques to get the maximum benefits by following the lead of an experienced and qualified teacher. 

The types of Qigong 

As mentioned, Qigong was designed to support health and wellbeing. This is the most widely practised branch, known as health or medical Qigong. There are, however, two other forms, which may be more appealing to you depending on your goals. These are:

  • Martial Qigong – This style is designed to improve endurance, strength and flexibility and improve your martial arts skills. 
  • Spiritual Qigong – Whilst you don’t have to be religious or spiritual to practise Qigong in its most popular form, you might be drawn to spirituality. This style focuses on developing self-awareness through spiritual practices, such as using mantras, meditations and prayers. So, if you’re looking to connect with your spiritual side, this might be of interest to you.

If Qigong sounds like something you wish to try, the first step is to ensure you contact a person with the relevant credentials. Once you’ve found a class, you can prepare for your session. The key to reaping the benefits of this ancient art is to simply enter into it with curiosity and an open mind. Don’t expect to be healed within one session, it may take some time and repetition to really get comfortable.

How you heal will depend on a number of factors, such as your teacher, how much you’re willing to embrace it and the other therapies you might be using alongside Qigong. As practitioner Liz Kendall says, “Qigong is a chance to enjoy where you are and lay strong foundations for your healthy future,” so take your time and enjoy the journey.

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