Qigong, qi gong, chi kung, or chi gung (simplified Chinese: 气功; traditional Chinese: 氣功; pinyin: qìgōng; Wade–Giles: chi gong; literally: "Life Energy Cultivation") is a holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used for health, spirituality, and martial arts training.
Qigong is now practiced throughout China and worldwide for recreation, exercise and relaxation, preventive medicine and self-healing, alternative medicine, meditation and self-cultivation, and training for martial arts.
Over the centuries, a diverse spectrum of qigong forms developed in different segments of Chinese society. Traditionally, qigong training has been esoteric and secretive, with knowledge passed from adept master to student in lineages that maintain their own unique interpretations and methods.
Although the practice of qigong was prohibited during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s; it was once again allowed after 1976; and disparate approaches were merged and popularized, with emphasis shifted away from traditional philosophy, spiritual attainment, and folklore,
and increasingly to health benefits, traditional medicine and martial arts applications, and a scientific perspective. Since a 1999 crackdown, practice of qigong in China has been restricted. Over the same period, interest in qigong has spread, with millions of practitioners worldwide.
Research concerning qigong has been conducted for a wide range of medical conditions, including hypertension, pain, and cancer treatment. Most systematic reviews of clinical trials have not been conclusive, and all have been based on poor quality clinical studies, such that no firm conclusions about the health effects of qigong can be drawn at this stage.
Gong (or kung) is often translated as cultivation or work, and definitions include practice, skill, mastery, merit, achievement, service, result, or accomplishment, and is often used to mean gongfu (kung fu) in the traditional sense of achievement through great effort.
Although the term qigong (氣功) has been traced back to Daoist literature of the early Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), the term qigong as currently used was promoted in the late 1940s through the 1950s to refer to a broad range of Chinese self-cultivation exercises, and to emphasize health and scientific approaches, while de-emphasizing spiritual practices, mysticism, and elite lineages.
Traditionally, knowledge about qigong was passed from adept master to student in elite unbroken lineages, typically with secretive and esoteric traditions of training and oral transmission, and with an emphasis on meditative practice by scholars and gymnastic or dynamic practice by the working masses.
Starting in the late 1940s and the 1950s, the mainland Chinese government tried to integrate disparate qigong approaches into one coherent system, with the intention of establishing a firm scientific basis for qigong practice.
During the Great Leap Forward (1958–1963) and the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), qigong, along with other traditional Chinese medicine, was under tight control with limited access among the general public, but was encouraged in state-run rehabilitation centers and spread to universities and hospitals.
Along with popularity and state sanction came controversy and problems: claims of extraordinary abilities bordering on the supernatural, pseudoscience explanations to build credibility, a mental condition labeled qigong deviation, formation of cults, and exaggeration of claims by masters for personal benefit.
In 1999, in response to widespread revival of old traditions of spirituality, morality, and mysticism, and perceived challenges to State control, the Chinese government took measures to enforce control of public qigong practice, including shutting down qigong clinics and hospitals, and banning groups such as Zhong Gong and Falun Gong 161–174 Since the 1999 crackdown, qigong research and practice have only been officially supported in the context of health and traditional Chinese medicine.
The Chinese Health Qigong Association, established in 2000, strictly regulates public qigong practice, with limitation of public gatherings, requirement of state approved training and certification of instructors, and restriction of practice to state-approved forms.
Today, millions of people around the world practice qigong and believe in the benefits of qigong to varying degrees. Similar to its historical origin, those interested in qigong come from diverse backgrounds and practice it for different reasons, including for recreation, exercise, relaxation, preventive medicine, self-healing, alternative medicine, self-cultivation, meditation, spirituality, and martial arts training.
Qigong is commonly classified into two foundational categories:
As a form of gentle exercise, qigong is composed of movements that are typically repeated, strengthening and stretching the body, increasing fluid movement (blood, synovial, and lymph), enhancing balance and proprioception, and improving the awareness of how the body moves through space.
In various Buddhist traditions, the aim is to still the mind, either through outward focus, for example on a place, or through inward focus on the breath, a mantra, a koan, emptiness, or the idea of the eternal. In the Confucius scholar tradition, meditation is focused on humanity and virtue, with the aim of self-enlightenment.
There are numerous qigong forms. 75 ancient forms that can be found in ancient literature and also 56 common or contemporary forms have been described in a qigong compendium.:203–433 The list is by no means exhaustive.
Tai Chi Yang Sheng Zhang (太极养生杖): a tai chi form from the stick tradition.
Shi Er Duan Jin (十二段锦): seated exercises to strengthen the neck, shoulders, waist, and legs.
Daoyin Yang Sheng Gong Shi Er Fa (导引养生功十二法): 12 routines from Daoyin tradition of guiding and pulling qi.
Mawangdui Daoyin (马王堆导引术): guiding qi along the meridians with synchronous movement and awareness.
Da Wu (大舞): choreographed exercises to lubricate joints and guide qi.
Intentional movement: careful, flowing balanced style
Rhythmic breathing: slow, deep, coordinated with fluid movement
Awareness: calm, focused meditative state
Visualization: of qi flow, philosophical tenets, aesthetics
Chanting/Sound: use of sound as a focal point
The most advanced practice is generally considered to be with little or no motion.
The theories of ancient Chinese Medical Qigong include the Yin-Yang and Five Phases Theory, Essence-Qi-Spirit Theory, Zang-Xiang Theory, and Meridians and Qi-Blood Theory, which have been synthesized as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).:45–57
Qi is believed to be cultivated and stored in three main dantian energy centers and to travel through the body along twelve main meridians (Jīng Luò 經絡), with numerous smaller branches and tributaries.
In contemporary China, the emphasis of qigong practice has shifted away from traditional philosophy, spiritual attainment, and folklore, and increasingly to health benefits, traditional medicine and martial arts applications, and a scientific perspective.
Qigong is now practiced by millions worldwide, primarily for its health benefits, though many practitioners have also adopted traditional philosophical, medical, or martial arts perspectives, and even use the long history of qigong as evidence of its effectiveness.
Qigong has been recognized as a "standard medical technique" in China since 1989, and is sometimes included in the medical curriculum of major universities in China.:34 The 2013 English translation of the official Chinese Medical Qigong textbook used in China:iv,385
defines CMQ as "the skill of body-mind exercise that integrates body, breath, and mind adjustments into one" and emphasizes that qigong is based on "adjustment" (tiao 調, also translated as “regulation”, “tuning”, or “alignment.”) of body, breath, and mind.:16–18
As such, qigong is viewed by practitioners as being more than common physical exercise, because qigong combines postural, breathing, and mental training in one to produce a particular psychophysiological state of being.:15
Conventional or mainstream medicine includes specific practices and techniques based on the best available evidence demonstrating effectiveness and safety. Qigong is not generally considered to be part of mainstream medicine because clinical research concerning effectiveness of qigong for specific medical conditions is inconclusive at this stage, and because at present there is no medical consensus concerning effectiveness of qigong.
Integrative, complementary, and alternative medicine
Integrative medicine (IM) refers to "the blending of conventional and complementary medicines and therapies with the aim of using the most appropriate of either or both modalities to care for the patient as a whole",:
Scientists interested in qigong have sought to describe or verify the effects of qigong, to explore mechanisms of effects, to form scientific theory with respect to Qigong, and to identify appropriate research methodology for further study.:81–89 In terms of traditional theory, the existence of qi has not been independently verified in an experimental setting, and the scientific basis for much of TCM and CAM has not been demonstrated.
Recreation and popular use
People practice qigong for many different reasons, including for recreation, exercise and relaxation, preventive medicine and self-healing, meditation and self-cultivation, and training for martial arts.
Practitioners range from athletes to the physically challenged.
- 261–391 Outside China qigong is used in integrative medicine to complement or supplement accepted medical treatments, including for relaxation, fitness, rehabilitation, and treatment of specific conditions.
Qigong is generally viewed as safe.
No adverse effects have been observed in clinical trials, such that qigong is considered safe for use across diverse populations. Cost for self-care is minimal, and cost efficiencies are high for group delivered care.
Typically the cautions associated with qigong are the same as those associated with any physical activity, including risk of muscle strains or sprains, advisability of stretching to prevent injury, general safety for use alongside conventional medical treatments, and consulting with a physician when combining with conventional treatment.
Overview of clinical research
Although clinical research examining health effects of qigong is increasing, there is little financial or medical incentive to support research, and still only a limited number of studies meet accepted medical and scientific standards of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Clinical research concerning qigong has been conducted for a wide range of medical conditions,
A 2011 overview of systematic reviews of clinical trials concluded that "the effectiveness of qigong is based mostly on poor quality research" and "therefore, it would be unwise to draw firm conclusions at this stage".
Although a 2010 comprehensive literature review found 77 peer-reviewed RCTs; systematic reviews for particular health conditions show that most clinical research is of poor quality, typically because of small sample size and lack of proper control groups, with lack of blinding associated with high risk of bias.
However, an analysis of the studies that found these results showed that they were of relatively poor quality, with the lack of blinding raising the possibility of bias in the results, so no definitive conclusions could be reached.
but that no firm conclusions could be drawn due to the methodological problems with the underlying clinical trials studies, especially the lack of a control group.
A systematic review on the effect of qigong exercises on reducing pain concluded that "the existing trial evidence is not convincing enough to suggest that internal qigong is an effective modality for pain management."
concluded "that evidence for the effectiveness of external qigong is encouraging, though further studies are warranted" due to the small number of studies and participants involved which precluded any firm conclusions about the specific effects of qigong on pain.
A separate systematic review that looked at the effects of qigong exercises on various physiological or psychological outcomes found that the available studies were poorly designed, with a high of bias in the results.
Therefore, the authors concluded, "Due to limited number of RCTs in the field and methodological problems and high risk of bias in the included studies, it is still too early to reach a conclusion about the efficacy and the effectiveness of qigong exercise as a
Most medical studies have only examined psychological factors as secondary goals, however various studies have shown significant benefits such as decrease in cortisol levels, a chemical hormone produced by the body in response to stress.
Basic and clinical research in China during the 1980s was mostly descriptive, and few results were reported in peer-reviewed English-language journals.:,22060–22063
A 1996 review of selected Chinese research concluded that there are many potential medical applications of qigong. Qigong became known outside China in the 1990s, and clinical randomized controlled trials (RTCs) investigating the effectiveness of qigong on health and mental conditions began to be published worldwide, along with systematic reviews.:21792–21798
Challenges for research
The White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Policy recognized challenges and complexities to rigorous research concerning effectiveness and safety of CAM modalities such as qigong; emphasized that research must adhere to the same standards as conventional research,
including statistically significant sample sizes, adequate controls, definition of response specificity, and reproducibility of results; and recommended substantial increases in funding to address the lack of adequate funding for rigorous research.
Most existing clinical trials have small sample sizes and many have inadequate controls. Of particular concern is the impracticality of double blinding using appropriate sham treatments, and the difficulty of placebo control, such that benefits often cannot be distinguished from the placebo effect.:22278–22306:22
Also of concern is the choice of which qigong form to use and how to standardize the treatment or dose with respect to the skill of the practitioner leading or administering treatment, the tradition of individualization of treatments, and the treatment length, intensity, and frequency.:6869–6920,22361–22370:130–133
Extraordinary feats of martial arts prowess, such as the ability to withstand heavy strikes Iron Shirt, 鐵衫) and the ability to break hard objects Iron Palm, 铁掌) are abilities attributed to qigong training.
T'ai chi ch'uan (Taijiquan) is a widely practiced Chinese internal martial style based on the theory of taiji ("grand ultimate"), closely associated with qigong, and typically involving more complex choreographed movement coordinated with breath, done slowly for health and training, or quickly for self-defense.
In modern practice, qigong typically focuses more on health and meditation rather than martial applications, and plays an important role in training for t'ai chi ch'uan, in particular used to build strength, develop breath control, and increase vitality ("life energy").