Qigong (chee-GUNG) is a broad category of Chinese medicine that uses the concept of qi, or energy, to heal the body or maintain health. A person can practice qigong individually or experience qigong sessions with a professional. Though qigong is first a preventative medicine, it has also been effective for treating many different health issues.

The Philosophy Behind Qigong

Ancient Chinese shamans demonstrated the first instances of qigong by leading spiritual dances for the benefit of tribes and villages. This evolved into an understanding that movement could be similarly beneficial for individuals, cleansing and refreshing the body by stimulating internal energy flow.

Qi (“chee”), life energy within the body or “vital breath,” can indicate good health or disease based on the abundance of it and its ability to flow. Stress, injury, emotional turmoil, or other factors can cause a depletion of qi or block its flow. Either case can mean health difficulties, imbalances, and tension.

If energy is not flowing properly, this may lead to a buildup of qi in one area of the body and too little qi in another. Qi buildup might be associated with inflammation and congestion while depletion might take the form of anemia or poor digestion. Chinese energy practices are meant to not only support energy flow in the body that is already healthy, but also stimulate energy flow when it is blocked or stagnant.

Though most early texts on qigong were included in Taoist religious works, contemporary studies and texts are published by doctors. Qigong is now a sanctioned method of disease prevention in China, with over 90 million practitioners there and thousands in the United States.

Qigong in Therapeutic Practice

Taoists held an interest in qigong because it incorporated meditative techniques that could lead to greater self-awareness, spiritual understanding, and harmony with nature. Today, spiritual qigong is still one of the three most common applications of the practice. Deep abdominal breathing and mindfulness contribute to greater psychological immunity–meaning the practitioner is less likely to be plagued by stress or worry.

Another use is martial arts qigong, which uses movement or exercises to improve balance, physical stamina, and strength. These practices focus on building coordination and supporting practitioners in other sports or physical endeavors. Tai chi, a popular dance-like martial arts practice, is one form of this type of qigong.

The primary application, however, is medical qigong, which can involve self-healing or working with a professional on external qi healing. During a session of qigong therapy, the healer will address improper or blocked energy flow by sending their own energy toward the area of concern. The practitioner may lightly touch the client there or simply hold their hands above the body. Generally clients remain clothed and take whatever position allows the practitioner access to the diseased area.

Qigong healing is very gentle. Like other somatic or energy therapies, it does not aim to manipulate tissue or apply pressure to the body in any way. A qualified practitioner addresses illness and discomfort only by way of the body’s internal energy field. Qigong can be combined with other types of bodywork, especially acupuncture, through which practitioners incorporate an added level of energy healing into the practice.

Who Can Benefit from Qigong?

Because qigong is such a broad area of study and practice, anyone can find meaning or relief in at least one of its forms. Qigong has proven effective for dozens of health issues, including:

  • Headaches
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Bronchitis
  • Hypertension
  • Ulcers
  • Chronic pain
  • Inflammation and swelling

External qi healing has even been demonstrated to reduce the size of cancerous tumors. In a 2003 study, fibromyalgia patients recorded improvements over a period of time with qigong movement therapy. People who have positive changes in any of these areas are also less likely to experience a recurrence of the disease or health issue after using external qi healing. Qigong is also highly effective for mood regulation and addressing mental health issues such as depression and chronic worry or anxiety.

Those who practice qigong or receive external qi healing sessions on a daily or regular basis use the therapy as a subclinical or preventative measure. That is, qigong works to maintain balance and proper energy flow in the body even when disease or ill health are not present.

There are no specific contraindications to receiving qigong energy healing; however, if you are interested in seeking qigong, it is best to first consult a medical professional who knows your personal health history. As with any form of bodywork, be sure to select a practitioner who has met all educational and professional requirements to practice this modality, and communicate clearly with that person about your needs, goals, and health concerns.


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