Qigong exercises are an extensive set of exercises first created in China more than 2,000 years ago and considered as a collective term for these exercises. Today many of the Eastern medicinal practices have gained and continue to gain popularity in the West – acupuncture, meditation, Ayurveda and yoga. Qigong and Tai Chi are also going mainstream.
Today Western scientific research is following the suit that Eastern practitioners have known about the benefits of qigong for centuries. These Western scientists have confirmed that qigong can help prevent and manage many different health problems. This ancient practice is especially to the people who are chronically stressed out and older adults.
In 2010 a meta-analysis was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion. The analysis had found out after reviewing 77 articles on qigong that the research had demonstrated consistent and significant benefits associated with the practice of qigong exercises. Key benefits include:
- better bone density
- cardiopulmonary effects
- better physical functioning
- reduced falls and related risk factors
- improved quality life
- lower psychological symptoms
- better immune function
What are qigong exercises?
Qigong exercises are many types of gentle movement and concentration practices that have been developed in China and are not just a single exercise. It has been believed by some of the experts that today there are more than 3000 styles of qigong in existence today. Today, holistic practitioners promote qigong for its proven stress-reducing benefits, plus its ability to improve flexibility and inner-focus.
The movements that are involved in qigong are gentle, synchronized with inhalations and exhalations of breath. This is very similar to yoga in that it’s a powerful holistic practice for both – “body and mind”. Qigong is also considered a mental skill that must be mastered over time with practice, and not just a form of exercise. It has been confirmed by the scientific research that qigong improves energy, inner peace, strength, sleep quality and vitality. Today there are many different forms of qigong being practiced – just like yoga. These forms include tai chi – a gentler type that’s well suited for older people; and, kung fu, a more vigorous practice which is similar to other martial arts like karate.
No matter the style of qigong, all types usually share several key characteristics:
- They feature specific body positions or exercises, which are both fluid and also held in place (stationary)
- Movements are tied to the breath
- While movements are being performed, concentrated focus is also very important, giving qigong qualities similar to mindfulness meditation
Qigong exercises do not require any equipment. They can be tailored to an individual’s needs depending on their goals and physical abilities. Thus they can be performed just about anywhere. This makes it a good exercise choice for just about anyone who’s looking to improve range of motion and relaxation.
Qigong exercises: 5 proven benefits
Although it’s widely believed in traditional Chinese medicine that qigong practices can help just about all aspects of life, below are some of the ways qigong has been proven to help the most:
- Qigong lowers blood pressure thereby improving heart health
Movement associated with qigong / tai chi is said to stimulate natural energy, known as qi (chi). After practicing, many tai chi practitioners report feeling more energetic, feeling warmer and more limber. In western science, this idea is explained through qigong’s ability to improve circulation and lymphathic drainage.
The qigong has been found to be affecting the cardiovascular system differently depending on the style. Some practices involve slow, steady, deep and smooth movements linked with breath. This helps in calming the racing mind and the mind. A more vigorous practice can increase someone’s heart rate. This causes them to sweat while providing a low-to-moderate intensity aerobic workout.
Studies have shown that qigong / tai chi can improve blood pressure by increasing stamina, strengthen the heart, boosts blood circulation and lowers stress. National Taiwan University Hospital’s recent studies have suggested that tai chi is safe and effective for patients with myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease, heart failure and those who have had bypass surgery.
- Qigong exercises lower the risk of falling and injuries in older adults
It has been found by a 2005 study published in Journal of Gerontology that fear of falling in patients over the age of 70 has been decreased along with decreased number of falls and risk of falling. This happens if these exercises are done three-times-per-week in a 6-month tai chi program. The study also found that even when the patients were physically inactive and limited in their abilities before the study, the patients experienced significant improvements in overall functional balance and physical performance after undergoing the qigong exercise / tai chi program.
- Reduces negative effect of stress
Tai chi / qigong exercises have a beneficial effect for many different kinds of people on a range of psychological well-being measures, including depression, anxiety, general stress management and exercise self-efficacy. This has been proved by a review published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine in the year 2014. Due to stress and digestion being closely linked, tai chi and qigong exercises can also help with issues like gastritis, IBS and ulcers.
Qigong goes beyond what many other types of exercises do often impacting practitioners on a deeper, emotional level. This is due to what has been said about qigong that it helps in reestablishing the body / mind / soul connection. Deeper spiritual development, experiencing body confidence, better attention span and a deeper sense of connection to others are some of the mental benefits that have been associated with qigong / tai chi.
Tai chi and yoga are very similar due to the linking of body movements, breath and focus. Both practices help in improving the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system – calming the body and mind, reducing nervousness and muscle tension, improving deep breathing and relaxation, and, deep sleep.
- Qigong exercises improve immunity and cancer protection
Qigong / tai chi has emerged as one of the most effective of all mind-body interventions that are widely used by the cancer patients to reduce cancer symptoms and in better coping with the disease. This has been established through a report by Guangzhou Medical University in China. The University’s research tested the effect of qigong’s ability to improve the quality of life, and other physical and psychological effects in 592 cancer patients. The results have shown that the qigong practice significantly helps in reducing the fatigue, improves immune function and lowers cortisol level in the majority of the patients.
- Qigong exercises reduce chronic pain
A study was performed by the Peninsula Medical School in 2008 in which a data from 12 controlled clinical trials tested the effectiveness of tai chi for treating degenerative joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and joint pain. The study found that compared to routine treatment, there is a significant pain reduction in patients practicing tai chi. Some evidence of improvement of physical functions and activities of daily living in the tai chi group were found by the researchers. While there’s some encouraging evidence suggesting that tai chi may be effective for controlling chronic pain, researchers point out that future studies done on a larger patient population and for longer treatment periods are still needed before tai chi will replace other standard treatment options.
Qigong exercises / practices
The most popular way to practice qigong is to learn a short series of tai chi. Tai chi is usually practiced as a series of graceful, seamless hand forms which vary in length. It is a simple to learn and perform at home. The tai chi series normally require a significant amount of open space. Thus it is common to practice it outside in a field or in an empty room.
Make sure you first warm up by practicing simple stretches or calisthenics to move your legs, arms and back. Wear loose clothing that allows you to move around and stay cool. For tai chi beginners, it’s usually best to take things very slow and spend 10 to 20 minutes a day learning just a few postures rather than rushing through an entire routine. It takes time to learn proper form and posture, so be patient and try not to force the practice.
- Beginner posture
This is the most basic tai chi pose. It requires your feet to be shoulder distance apart, your toes facing slightly inward, knees soft, chest and chin slightly hollowed, and hips slightly tucked. Some describe the pose like you’re sitting in a high stool.
- Basic stepping exercise
Stepping from one posture to the next is important in qigong. This requires learning how to transition smoothly and gently, rolling / placing the feet with balanced weight. Keep your center of gravity low while stepping and rolling your entire foot so both feet rest on the ground in the end position.
- Catch a ball / ball of energy
Rub your hands together, pull them apart (they are now “filled with warmth and qi”). Then bring them close together again, but don’t allow them to touch. Continue to pull your hands apart and bring them closer together, repeating with a slow and steady rhythm, perhaps stepping at the same time.
- Single whip or ward off
This moving hand position is typically used for jabbing, whipping, striking or even in massage. Place the hand with palm facings downward and the four fingers curled to lightly touch the thumb. The front leg is extended out, body open to the side, front arm moves forward and the wrist bends down as the fingers open and close.
This move uses the waist and is done in a diagonal position. Put weight on left leg and turn waist to the left. The right arm curves to hold a ball against your chest, fingers move upward while left arm arcs first downward, then left arm floats up to shoulder height.
Who can benefit most from qigong exercises?
Based on the fact that qigong can help reduce stress, lower joint pain, build strength and stamina, and enhance the immune system, people who can benefit from it most include those with:
- High levels of anxiety / stress
- Heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol
- Muscle aches and pains
- Joint pain, osteoarthritis or tendonitis
- Fatigue, low energy and trouble sleeping
- ADHDand learning disabilities
- Low immune system function and susceptibility to infections or illnesses
- Those with other circulatory, lymphatic and digestive problems (such as intestinal or kidney problems)
- Older adults who can’t perform intense exercise
Qigong is most popular among middle-aged to older-aged adults. Many practitioners find that it helps them to regain flexible, strong and calm into older age. It might also help increase recovery time from illnesses or traumatic events.
Qigong exercises vs tai chi
How is tai chi different from qigong and what is tai chi?
- Tai chi is considered to be a specific style of qigong, but it’s far from the only style. Tai chi involves a specific series of postures and exercises, while qigong can be practiced in no particular order.
- Among the most popular styles of qigong in the West is tai chi. It is a gentle, slow, flowing style of martial arts. But it is not necessary to perform the qigong this way. For example, qigong can also be static such as the style called Zhan Zhuag, or very rapid and intense such as the style called Dayan.
- Tai chi practices range from anywhere between 10 minutes to 2 hours long. The moves of tai chi have been shown to help promote better circulation, range of motion and a focused mind.
- Most research done in the West involving the health benefits of qigong have studied the effects of tai chi, since it’s now popular in places like the U.S and Europe, customizable for different audiences and well-suited to manage many different health conditions.