Qigong is an effective form of meditation that involves slow movements and breathing techniques to improve health and well-being.
Although Qigong meditation is popular among celebrities and influencers, there is little research proving its effectiveness.
What is Qigong meditation?
The word ‘qigong’ is made up of two parts: ‘qi’ and ‘gong’. ‘Qi’ can be translated as ‘breath’ or ‘life force’, while ‘gong’ refers to a skill developed through regular practice. Qigong, or the continuous practice of harnessing the power of qi in the body, is an important aspect of Chinese culture.
This belief is based on the ancient Chinese practice that the flow of energy, known as qi, can lead to better physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological health. It is believed that disruptions in this flow can lead to health problems.
By practicing controlled breathing, gentle movements, and meditation, qigong enables qi to flow throughout your body.
What are the different types of Qigong meditation?
Qigong meditation can be divided into two categories: active and passive. Active qigong is used for medical purposes, while passive qigong is used for martial arts and health purposes.
Qigong can be divided into three broad categories based on the goal of this practice:
- Medical qigong: Focuses on healing and is further divided into two categories based on the need of a teacher or therapist:
- Internal qigong: Also called self-treatment, a form of qigong that is practiced alone to heal yourself.
- External qigong: Also called qi emission, involves the guidance of a trained qigong practitioner to direct or emit their qi to you by touching you or moving their hands over your body without touching.
- Spiritual qigong: Done for the purpose of spiritual growth or enlightenment.
- Martial (sports) qigong: Done to improve physical ability, strength, and dexterity.
There are two types of qigong: active and passive. Active qigong involves movement, while passive qigong is performed while stationary.
- Active qigong: Also called dynamic qigong or dong gong, involves coordinated, intentional, yet gentle body movements.
- Passive qigong: This does not involve active body movements but instead involves breathing techniques, stillness, and meditation to enhance the flow of qi through the body.
How is qigong meditation done?
Qigong meditation techniques differ depending on the type. However, basic guidelines usually involve a combination of the following:
- Breathing techniques
- Certain postures and movements (in the case of active qigong)
- Guided imagery (a relaxation technique that involves focusing on positive images in your mind under the guidance of a trainer or teacher)
Talk to your doctor before starting qigong if you have any underlying health conditions. The movements are gentle, but it’s better to be safe.
Possible Health and Wellness Benefits of Qigong
1. Lowers Blood Pressure
Assuming you would like a summary of the text: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for heart disease. Lifestyle habits that involve being physically inactive and chronically stressed can lead to hypertension over time, according to the Mayo Clinic. Bringing exercises like qigong into your normal routine, in addition to your regular medical care plan (such as medications and other types of exercise), may help get your blood pressure back to a healthy level.
The findings of a study suggest that qigong may help to lower blood pressure in people who have hypertension. One of the seven studies included in the review found that qigong had similar effects on blood pressure as a conventional exercise routine. This could potentially benefit heart health, as the repetitive movements involved in qigong improve circulation.
The intentional breathwork associated with qigong may help to lower blood pressure and stress levels. Slow, deep breathing quiets the nervous system responsible for the fight-or-flight response, which controls processes like digestion, breathing, and blood pressure. In turn, it stimulates your body’s parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) response. The parasympathetic side controls the “rest and digest” response, which slows the heart rate and increases the production of digestive juices. According to the Hospital for Special Surgery, a well-functioning parasympathetic nervous system that’s in balance can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The autonomic nervous system can be actively controlled to manage stress, and qigong is one of the most effective ways to do so, according to Chris Bouguyon. He is a co-founder of SimplyAware Wellness and Training Center, the president of the NQA, and a certified medical qigong therapist who specializes in trauma.
More studies are needed to see if qigong is an effective therapy for lowering blood pressure for different groups of people.
2. Reduces Anxiety and Depression
Qigong may improve your mental health because it requires you to slow down and be present.
An analysis of multiple studies has shown that qigong can help reduce anxiety and stress in healthy people. Qigong may have a more immediate effect on decreasing anxiety levels when compared with only listening to music or performing structured movements, according to two of the included studies. Although the authors are careful not to overstate their findings, they are limited by the small number of studies on this topic.
The potential ability of qigong to help alleviate depression is examined in a systematic review and meta-analysis published in November 2019 in Frontiers in Psychiatry. The review looked at nine studies across varied people coping with depression who were generally physically healthy otherwise, as well as participants with breast cancer or hypertension. According to the study, improvements in depression levels were seen in five out of nine cases. The remaining four studies observed no change in participants. The people who saw an improvement in their depression generally practiced qigong for at least two hours per week.
The authors found that the most valid explanation for qigong’s effects on depression is its ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and shut off the sympathetic nervous system.
If the sympathetic nervous system is always active, the immune system will produce more cytokines, which could lead to brain changes associated with depression, according to research.
Inflammation may play a role in some forms of depression and fatigue, according to a review published in July 2019 in Frontiers in Immunology.
Although there are some positive reviews, more unbiased, high-quality studies are needed to determine if and how qigong can help with anxiety and depression.
3. Relieves Chronic Pain
We tend to tense up and restrict our movements when we’re in constant pain in order to protect ourselves from further discomfort. When a person experiences a muscle injury, the reduced circulation to the area of the injury lengthens the healing process and increases the amount of pain felt.
The qigong postures that have low impact help to introduce gentle movement to muscles and joints that are tight and painful. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, qi can become blocked in these areas. If you move more, you will improve your circulation and this will help you heal, Bouguyon says.
Some guidelines support Bouguyon’s claims. The 2017 clinical practice guidelines set by the Ottawa Panel state that tai chi may improve the quality of life, lower pain, and function in people with wear-and-tear knee osteoarthritis. As the cartilage gradually wears away in knee OA, pain, swelling, and stiffness can occur, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Qigong may help with chronic low back pain, too. A study published in 2019 followed 72 office workers with low back pain. Half of the group took part in an hourlong qigong class once a week for six weeks. The office workers were given advice on how to manage low back pain. Qigong classes significantly improved pain, function, range of motion, and core muscle strength for the workers who took them. The control group didn’t experience changes within these parameters.
Although there is some evidence that qigong may be helpful for chronic pain, more research is needed. The authors of a review published in November 2019 in Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that the existing studies of qigong and chronic pain were of poor quality and did not all show beneficial or reliable results.
4. Improves Well-Being in People With Cancer
Many cancer patients use integrative and complementary therapies to help them cope with stress and anxiety. Research suggests that qigong may be an effective option.
Patients who practiced qigong twice a week for 10 weeks along with receiving conventional medical care reported greater improvements in quality of life than those who only received conventional medical care. Patients who did qigong as part of their care routine reported feeling less tense, anxious, depressed, and tired. Research has shown that mindfulness, breathing, and yoga can help reduce stress. The authors also mention that physical activity is often prescribed by medical professionals as a way to improve fatigue and quality of life for cancer patients.
Meanwhile, a systematic review was published in November 2017 in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. The review searched through 22 studies, which included 1,751 people with various types of cancer. Qigong was found to significantly improve psychological and physiological symptoms related to cancer and cancer treatment. Although qigong has been shown to be effective in managing cancer treatment symptoms, more research is needed to verify the benefits and best protocols to offer the practice.
5. Strengthens the Immune System
The slower movements of qigong are believed to be beneficial for the joints and the circulation of fluids like blood, lymph, and synovial. It is thought that qigong may also help to boost the immune system.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis published in July 2020 in Medicines, researchers reviewed 19 randomized, controlled trials involving 1,686 people of various ages and with different health conditions. The evidence suggests that qigong can improve your immune system and reduce inflammation. The study found that those who practiced qigong saw slightly increased levels of immune cells, as well as improved regulation of hormones related to inflammation. The authors state that it took the participants four weeks of practicing qigong to notice a change in their immune response. There is a lack of understanding of how qigong may improve the immune system, so more research is needed in this area.
6. Improves Fitness
Qigong is a moderate form of exercise that can improve your aerobic fitness and strength. This type of exercise can be beneficial for many people, including those with limited mobility. Some studies have been conducted on qigong, but they are limited in scope and only cover certain types of qigong.
A systematic review and meta-analysis published in March 2017 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that Baduanjin qigong (a type of qigong that involves moving through eight postures) might improve general fitness. The researchers looked at 19 different trials where some people did Baduanjin qigong and some people did not. They found that the people who did Baduanjin qigong had a better quality of life, balance, handgrip strength, torso flexibility, blood pressure, and heart rate than the people who did not do Baduanjin qigong. The benefits of this study were shown in both younger and older adults, with older adults and people with chronic conditions seeing greater benefits.
Working on your flexibility and strength can pay off in more ways than one. A study published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation found that qigong led to significant improvements in both muscle strength and trunk flexibility in the people who practiced it. In a study, 20 young inactive women were given an 8-week qigong training program which included doing 18 moves for 60 minutes each day, 5 days a week. A group of 21 young women who did not participate in qigong sessions served as the control group. After two months, those who practiced qigong had improved back and leg strength and trunk flexibility, while the control group saw no change.
The Bottom Line: Is It Reasonable to Start a Qigong Practice?
Qigong is likely a safe and effective activity for most people. No studies have found any major negative side effects to the practice of yoga, even in older adults and people with chronic health conditions.
Qigong is a form of exercise that has many benefits including improving fitness, reducing anxiety and depression, lowering blood pressure, relieving chronic pain, and strengthening the immune and respiratory systems. Qigong can also improve overall well-being.
You should always consult your primary healthcare provider before starting any new practice, including qigong. You can use directories offered by the Red Thread International Qigong Institute, the International Medical Qigong College, and the NQA to find a qualified Qigong practitioner.