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What is Qigong?

Qigong is an ancient Chinese exercise and healing technique that coordinates body posture, movement, breathing, and meditation.

Qi translates as air, gas, or breath and means’ subtle breath’ or ‘vital energy.’ Gong translates work as practice or ‘skill cultivated through steady practice.’ People practice Qigong throughout China and worldwide for recreation, exercise, relaxation, preventive medicine, self-healing, alternative medicine, meditation, self-cultivation and training for martial arts.

History

Qigong dates back more than 4000 years and derives from principles used in Chinese medicine. There are four distinct periods in this development.

The first period began in 1122 BC with the emergence of the I Ching (Book of Changes). The Indian practice of meditation, moving, and static meditative postures combined with doctrines from the I Ching divination text.

The second period began with the rise of the Hand Dynasty and continued until the height of the Lian Dynasty. During this period, practitioners began to combine Qigong with religious disciplines. Traditional Qigong forms began to blend with Chinese moving and standing meditation.

During the Liang dynasty, practitioners began to use Qigong for martial applications. The principles of Taoist Qigong inspired the creation of many different styles of Qigong.

The final period began in 1911 with the end of the Qing dynasty. During this last period, practitioners started to import traditions from other countries into their Chinese Qigong practice. For example, Qigong imported the concept of Prana Yama from India and the principles of Reiki from Japan. And so, Qigong became the broad discipline that it is today.

Benefits

Qigong movements open the flow of Qi in the body’s meridians. This flow of Qi allows the body to calm and heal itself, which has many benefits.

Increased Balance

Qigong focuses on controlled, slow body movements to improve your awareness of your body in space, which helps increase balance, muscular strength, and flexibility.

In a 2020 study of 95 adults ages 51–96, participants that practiced weekly Qigong for 12 weeks had significant improvements in balance and walking scores.

Interestingly, Qigong can also improve balance in younger adults. One randomized pilot study in 30 people ages 18–25 showed a 16.3% increase in stability scores after weekly Qigong for eight weeks. By comparison, the control group had no observable changes.

Considering that all age groups can safely participate in Qigong, it may be an effective and enjoyable strategy to improve balance and lower the risk of falls.

Lower Stress and Anxiety

Qigong involves meditation, controlled breathing, and gentle movements, which help lower stress and anxiety symptoms. Calm, controlled breathing tells your body there’s no immediate threat and activates the parasympathetic nervous system — the “rest and digest” system. It also slows your body’s stress response system.

Also, incorporating Qigong into one’s daily or weekly practice has been linked to an increased quality of life due to less stress, greater self-efficacy, and better physical health.

May Lower the Risk of Chronic Disease

Qigong is a gentle form of exercise and emphasizes calm, meditative breathing. Together, this may reduce stress on the body, increase blood flow, and improve your overall fitness — all of which can lower your risk of chronic disease. In particular, Qigong lowers the risk and improves symptoms of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Researchers urge that more extensive studies are needed before medical practitioners can recommend Qigong as a standard treatment. But most people can safely practice it in addition to their current medical treatments prescribed by their healthcare provider.

May Improve Focus

Many people need help focusing on tasks due to the busyness of daily life. Qigong requires the participant to focus on their breath, mind, and body. Through regular practice, Qigong may improve your ability to focus and concentrate by helping you learn to regulate thoughts more productively.

Forms

Unofficially, there are many forms of Qigong. Ancient literature contains 75 Qigong forms, and more current literature lists 56 Qigong forms.

According to tradition, an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma began physically training Shaolin monks. Original forms from this time include:

  • Shiba Luohan Shou
  • Yi Jin Jing
  • Xi Sui Jing

In 2003, the Chinese government recognized four Qigong forms as ‘official’ Qigong forms. These include:

In 2010, the government added five more forms to the official list. These include:

  • Daoyin Yang Sheng Gong Shi Er Fa
  • Da Wu
  • Mawangdiu Daoyin
  • Shi Er Duan Jin
  • Tai Chi Yang Sheng Zhang
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