Qigong is a mind and body wellness practice integrating movement, posture, breathing, and awareness in a new category of exercise called "moving meditation". Meditative Movement is defined by (a) some form of movement or body positioning, (b) a focus on breathing, and (c) a cleared or calm state of mind with a goal of (d) deep states of relaxation.
Qigong translates from Chinese to mean, roughly, to cultivate or enhance the inherent functional (energetic) essence of the human being. It is considered to be the contemporary offspring of some of the most ancient (before recorded history) healing and medical practices of Asia. Earliest forms of Qigong make up one of the historic roots of contemporary Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory and practice.2 Many branches of Qigong have a health and medical focus and have been refined for well over 5000 years. Qigong purportedly allows individuals to cultivate the natural force or energy (“Qi”) in TCM that is associated with physiological and psychological functionality. Qi is the conceptual foundation of TCM in acupuncture, herbal medicine and Chinese physical therapy. It is considered to be a ubiquitous resource of nature that sustains human well-being and assists in healing disease as well as (according to TCM theory) having fundamental influence on all life and even the orderly function of celestial mechanics and the laws of physics. Qigong exercises consist of a series of orchestrated practices including body posture/movement, breath practice, and meditation, all designed to enhance Qi function (that is, drawing upon natural forces to optimize and balance energy within) through the attainment of deeply focused and relaxed states. From the perspective of Western thought and science, Qigong practices activate naturally occurring physiological and psychological mechanisms of self-repair and health recovery.
Also considered part of the overall domain of Qigong is “external Qigong” wherein a trained medical Qigong therapist diagnoses patients according to the principles of TCM and uses “emitted Qi” to foster healing. Both internal Qigong (personal practice) and external Qigong (clinician emitted Qi) are seen as affecting the balance and flow of energy and enhancing functionality in the body and the mind. For the purposes of our review, we are focused only on the individual, internal Qigong practice of exercises performed with the intent of cultivating enhanced function, inner Qi that is ample and unrestrained. This is the aspect of Qigong that parallels what is typically investigated in Tai Chi research.
There are thousands of forms of Qigong practice that have developed in different regions of China during various historic periods and that have been created by many specific teachers and schools. Some of these forms were designed for general health enhancement purposes and some for specific TCM diagnostic categories. Some were originally developed as rituals for spiritual practice, and others to empower greater skill in the martial arts. An overview of the research literature pertaining to internal Qigong yields more than a dozen forms that have been studied as they relate to health outcomes (e.g., Guo-lin, ChunDoSunBup, Vitality or Bu Zheng Qigong, Eight Brocade, Medical Qigong).2, 27–29
The internal Qigong practices generally tested in health research (and that are addressed in this review), incorporate a range of simple movements (repeated and often flowing in nature), or postures (standing or sitting) and include a focused state of relaxed awareness and a variety of breathing techniques that accompany the movements or postures. A key underlying philosophy of the practice is that any form of Qigong has an effect on the cultivation of balance and harmony of Qi, positively influencing the human energy complex (Qi channels/pathways) which functions as a holistic, coherent and mutually interactive system.
1) Qigong Institute
2) PUBMED: Am J Health Promot. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2011 Jul 1., Published in final edited form as: Am J Health Promot. 2010 JUL-AUG; 24(6): e1–e25. doi: 10.4278/ajhp.081013-LIT-248
PMCID: PMC3085832 NIHMSID: NIHMS281835 PMID: 20594090
Authors: Roger Jahnke, OMD,1 Linda Larkey, PhD,2 Carol Rogers,3 Jennifer Etnier, PhD,4 and Fang Lin5