Qigong, a type of traditional Chinese medicine, has been practiced for over 4,000 years in China.
Qigong (pronounced “key-gong”) is a traditional form of Chinese medicine. It is a system of postures, exercises, breathing techniques and meditations designed to improve the body’s qi (energy). The Chinese have been practicing it for more than 4,000 years.
Qigong has been gaining popularity in the U.S., more recently as a type of martial arts and healing technique. In fact, qigong classes and practitioners are now available in almost every state and most major cities.
It’s all about the qi
According to traditional Chinese philosophy, qi (chee) the fundamental life energy responsible for health and vitality. Practitioners believe that when qi is out of balance, it can signal a deeper physical problem or be the cause of illness.
- Qi is believed to travel through the body along channels called meridians. As defined by the traditional Chinese system, there are 12 main meridians that correspond to 12 principal organs, including lung, large intestines, stomach, spleen and heart. Each organ has qi associated with it, and each organ interacts with specific emotions on the mental level.
- Qigong techniques are designed to improve and increase the balance and flow of energy throughout the meridians. In qigong, the mind is present in all parts of the body, and can be used to move qi throughout the body.
- Balancing qi is the goal both of qigong as well as Chinese medicine. Through qigong exercises, practitioners look to correct energy imbalances within the body that may be causing a certain disease or ailment.
Internal and external
There are two types of qigong:
- Internal qigong requires intense mental concentration, little or no movement and is practiced alone to strengthen one’s own qi.
- External qigong requires a qigong master who has been trained to transmit his/her own life force energy to influence the health of the patient.
In addition, there are three distinct qigong disciplines:
- Healing or medical. Thought of as “acupuncture without needles,” medical qigong focuses on healing from disease or improving health.
- Martial. Focus on developing physical or fighting strength. Martial artists often use martial qigong exercises to improve speed, power, flexibility, balance and coordination.
- Spiritual. This type of qigong typically combines seated and moving meditation, mantras and prayers to enhance spirituality.
Qigong is suitable for young and old alike. Practices can be tailored to individual needs.
Basic components of internal qigong sessions typically include:
- Postures and movements, which are designed to strengthen, stretch and tone the body to improve the flow of energy. They may involve standing, sitting or lying down. They include stretches, slow motions, quick thrusts, jumping and bending.
- Breathing techniques, which involve deep abdominal breathing, chest breathing, relaxed breathing and holding breaths.
- Meditations and mind exercises, which are used to enhance the mind and move qi throughout the body.
Internal qigong can be self-taught through videotapes, DVDs or printed materials, too. Professional instruction and/or classes are often offered at local YMCAs, hospitals, schools, universities, parks and fitness centers.
Well-controlled clinical research using larger groups of people is still needed to learn what effect qigong may have in treating various medical conditions.
A few small studies have suggested that qigong may be helpful for the following:
- Lowering resting heart rate and blood pressure
- Improving blood flow and circulation
- Improving posture, stamina and flexibility
- Easing chronic pain from injury, arthritis, fibromyalgia and cancer
- Lowering stress and anxiety
- Improving balance and reducing falls in the elderly
- Promoting better sleep
More research is needed, though.
The National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine recognizes qigong as a mind-body medicine. But it should never be used as a substitute for required treatment by a doctor.
For reliable information on qualified instructors, practitioners and schools for qigong, visit the National Qigong Association or Qigong Institute.