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If you look it up in the dictionary, most definitions of the term “Qigong” (chi kung) will read something like this: “a Chinese system of physical exercises and breathing control related to tai chi.

But that basic definition really doesn’t tell the full story, or answer any of the most common questions people ask about Qigong.

Qigong is actually an umbrella term for a variety of Chinese healing arts, all of which cultivate the “qi,” or internal energy, of the person. This serves to promote healing and vitality throughout the body, mind, and spirit of the individual.

The central premise in the practice of Qigong is to improve the energetic essence of the person practicing it, primarily using movement and self-awareness to do so.

Let’s answer a few of the most common questions people have about Qigong, and dispel a few myths while we’re at it.

1 | What is Qigong?

Qigong’s origins are in Traditional Chinese Medicine, with its practice dating back as far as 5000 years. The name is derived from two Chinese terms, “qi” (meaning “subtle breath” or “vital energy”), and Gong (meaning “skill cultivated through steady practice”).

By using a series of body postures, breathing practices, and meditation, Qigong cultivates the “qi,” or energetic life force, allowing the free flow of qi which is necessary for the healthy functioning of the body in both physiological and psychological domains.

There are two main forms of Qigong, and a multitude of specialties and styles within each of these.

The personal practice of Qigong, also referred to as “internal Qigong,” is intended to affect and improve the health of both body and mind by promoting the movement and expansion of the qi.

External qigong” differs from personal Qigong practice, as it is a system in which a trained Qigong practitioner evaluates clients according to the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and projects their qi onto others for healing or protection purposes.

2 | What are the benefits of Qigong?

One of the main hallmarks of those who practice Qigong long-term are the personal health transformations they experience as a result of their practice. From mental health to heart health, the proven benefits of Qigong are many.

Randomized controlled trials show that Qigong, along with it’s eastern partner tai chi, has far-reaching benefits for the cardiovascular system.

Qigong is also effective for treating symptoms of depression and anxiety. In a systematic review of 15 studies between 2001 and 2011, the ancient art also showed its ability to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve mood for the majority of participants.

And for overall quality of life, participants in one study who used regular Qigong were compared to those using other types of exercise, and the Qigong group showed better outcomes in terms of both general health and overall vitality than those using other forms of exercise.

3 | What is the difference between Qigong and Tai Chi?

If you’ve seen Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong in practice, you may have noticed the similarities of some of the movements and wondered what the difference is between the two.

While Tai Chi is a martial art, the term Qigong can apply to any form of qi cultivation. The purpose of Qigong is the cultivation and balancing of qi, whereas Tai Chi – although soft and fluid in it’s movements – is intended for self-defense.

Because energy – or qi – is used in martial arts, Qigong movements are incorporated into Tai Chi. However Qigong lacks the attack and defense principles inherent in Tai Chi.

4 | Is Qigong religious?

While Qigong does incorporate self-awareness and betterment, it is not inherently a religious practice.

The early Qigong techniques were not used for religious purposes, although over the years Buddhist and Taoist leaders incorporated Qigong into their forms of spirituality.

As with many self-awareness practices such as meditation, Qigong certainly can be used as part of a personal spiritual protocol, however for many in the West, it is not used this way.

How the spiritual side of Qigong – or lack thereof – is presented will also depend upon the school, style, and lineage of Qigong, because some schools have a much more religious perspective whereas others will present it in a secular way.