Qigong (pronounced chi-gong) has been likened to a beautiful dance. In fact, it is a mind-body practice that boasts many health benefits and has a long history of bringing healing and vitality.

The system originated in China thousands of years ago and predates many other health systems, including tai chi. Its many forms and styles are practiced worldwide, enhancing the wellness of thousands of people each year.

While qigong may look like a movement practice, at its root, it is about energy. Its philosophy emphasizes the movement of qi in the body. Also, qi means life-force energy or the universal energy that animates all of life. Gong is translated as work or cultivation, so qigong means cultivating or channeling life energy.

History of Qigong


Traditional Chinese medicine is the foundation from which qigong practices developed. In traditional Chinese medicine, people can achieve health and healing by balancing the flow of qi, the vital life energy. Qi flows through 12 meridians located throughout the body, and a blockage or imbalance at any meridian can lead to disease.

For thousands of years, traditional Chinese medicine has used a variety of techniques that influence the flow of qi. Acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, breathing practices, and focused movement balance and increase the flow of qi. (1) When qi moves freely through the body, optimal health, wellness, and longevity result.

The philosophy and techniques of traditional Chinese medicine gave birth to what we know of as qigong. Above all, it is a formalized blending of many practices that were passed down from master to student for centuries. In the 1940s, qigong was given official recognition by the Chinese government and began to be used widely as a form of healing and physical exercise. (2)

Practicing Qigong

Because qigong arose from the diverse background of traditional Chinese medicine, there are many different styles and lineages. What each practice holds in common is the intentional directing of qi to balance the mind, body, and spirit. Breathwork, meditation, movement, energy work, as well as chanting may all be part of this practice.

Moreover, qigong has many similarities to tai chi. In fact, some even consider tai chi as falling under the umbrella of qigong. However, it encompasses a broader range of techniques and has a wider variety of forms. These two systems share in common their emphasis on “meditative movement,” a category of movement that includes focused postures, controlled breathing, a meditative state, and relaxation. (3)

Qigong Styles


In general, there are two major categories of qigong; dynamic and passive. Dynamic consists of flowing movements focused on the breath and the direction of the flow of qi. On the other hand, passive qigong involves being still in meditation and may include breathwork, mantra, chanting, and energy work. 

In addition, there are many different styles in each category, ranging from very active martial arts forms to still, non-contact qigong in which a master guides qi through the body. The most common types of this practice in the US are dynamic practices that utilize gentle, flowing movements, connection with the breath, and meditative focus. (4)

Qigong As a Healing Practice

Due to its roots in traditional Chinese medicine, qigong has a long history of healing and rejuvenation practices. In the mid-1900s, there were many qigong centers for healing, and people suffering from disease or illness would attend for treatment. (2) Today, the form of qigong known as medical qigong continues to be used in China and is gaining popularity worldwide. (5

Also, research into the effects of qigong on people with cancer shows mixed but promising results in improving quality of life and potentially even survival. (6) Much more research awaits in order to draw conclusions. Still, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health recommends qigong as a safe activity for those dealing with a variety of diseases. (4)

Benefits of Qigong


While scientific studies are ongoing, early research suggests many health benefits of the meditative movement practice. In fact, students who have practiced for years can offer their own testimony to its power.

Decreased Stress and Better Mental Health

Of all the benefits of qigong, the improvement in mental health is perhaps the most common and consistent. For instance, people who do qigong report feeling less stressed and experience improvement in anxiety and depression. (7) (8)

The slow movement and regulation of the breath draw the attention inward and focus awareness on body sensations. In addition, this inward focus develops the ability to be less reactive to emotions and external situations, leading to decreased stress and improved mental health. (8)

Improved Balance and Body Awareness


The movement sequences practiced in qigong strengthen the muscles and improve balance. (9) Qigong also increases proprioception, which is the ability to sense where the body is in space. Better proprioception means better control of movement. (10

Particularly in older adults, qigong improves balance and can prevent falls. (7) Confidence and quality of life are greatly enhanced when the fear of falling decreases. (11) For younger or middle-aged adults, this improvement in balance means better quality of movement and prevention of age-related decline in physical ability.

Better Immune Function

One well-recognized result of long-term stress or poor mental health is decreased immune system function. (12) Therefore, the mental health benefits of qigong directly benefit the immune system and the body’s resistance to illness and disease. 

In addition, qigong increases levels of circulating immune cells and decreases inflammation throughout the whole body. (13) Inflammation not only negatively impacts immune function but also plays a role in many other disease processes. Qigong is a boon to the inner workings of our physical systems.

Heart Health


Like other forms of exercise, qigong has positive impacts on the function of the heart and cardiovascular system. Regular practice reduces blood pressure and lowers the heart rate. (7)  Other markers of cardiovascular health are also improved, including blood lipids numbers and inflammatory cytokines, which are negatively associated with heart health. (7)

Being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease and is one aspect of health that may be improved with qigong practice. Depending on the style practiced and the intensity level, physical movement can promote a healthy weight. In addition, the stress-reducing benefits can be helpful to reach weight loss goals, as high levels of stress are associated with weight gain and difficulty losing weight.

Increased Energy

Practicing qigong combats fatigue and boosts energy levels. After all, at its heart, it is a practice all about energy. It has even been studied as a treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome and shows promise as an effective therapy. (14

The ability of qigong to boost energy is related not only to its physical health benefits but also to improvements in mental function and cellular production of energy. (14) Qigong masters would also credit the balancing of qi as allowing for the free flow of energy and vitality.

Meditative Benefits


Meditation has a seemingly endless list of health effects for the body, mind, and spirit. Qigong, either as a purely meditative practice or as meditation in motion, provides all the benefits of other styles of meditation.

Beyond physical health, qigong is deeply focused on connecting the individual self with the universal energy around us. In meditation, we can experience ourselves as one part of a greater whole. In fact, this perspective allows us to face life’s joys and challenges from a place of acceptance and connection.

Qigong masters relate this effect to the awareness and flow of qi in the body. Since qi animates all of life, we are naturally a part of everything around us. When our qi flows without obstruction from disease or stress, qigong philosophy states we are one with the universe.

This state of oneness or connection results in a life of peace and holistic wellness.

Qigong and Wellness

By most available measures of overall wellness, qigong has much to offer. This practice can improve physical, mental, and spiritual health and teaches self-control and perseverance. 

Qigong asks its students to slow down, be present, and connect with the inner self. It is the type of practice entirely at odds with our fast-paced lives, and therefore, precisely what we need.