Qigong is an ancient practice that uses movement, breath and mindfulness to promote self-healing as well as to strengthen and balance the mind and body. It has been practised for thousands of years, and its health benefits are widely recognised.
Qigong – which is pronounced chee-gung – differs from other forms of exercise because it focuses on health, martial arts/peak performance and spirituality rather than fitness. It combines the movement of one’s body with the intention that’s behind each movement and the breath. Qi means energy in Chinese; however, there isn’t one single translation for it in English. Qi is used to refer to “vitality” or “life force” or “life energy”. It’s an important part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Gōng (Chinese) means cultivating or mastering something and refers to the commitment to practise something repeatedly until your skill level improves. Therefore, Qigong is the mastery of life energy and how to move it around the body to create a balanced, continuous flow. The practices mostly consist of slow, considered movements and meditation.
In this blog post, we take a closer look at the many health benefits as well as some basic Qigong exercises and tips on how to get started.
Qigong’s health benefits
The roots of Qigong can be traced back as far as 10,000 years. The exercises have been refined for at least 5000 years. Originally, it stems from dances that field workers would perform at the end of a hard working day when they were cold and exhausted to warm up and prevent ailments. They found that copying movements they’d observed in nature were more beneficial than resting even though their bodies were tired. Qigong is also older than Tai Chi and is the basis for contemporary Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Most martial art practices can be traced back to it as well. Qigong is a powerful tool for stress management and enhances overall well-being in a myriad of ways. A review of 77 scientific articles identified 163 different health benefits in nine different categories. In the following paragraphs, we focus on those that Qigong is mostly known and even prescribed for by some doctors.
Before we dive into this, though, it is important to understand Qi on a deeper level. The Chinese believe that the life force energy pervades and penetrates every atom of all that exists in this universe. Over a lifetime the energy that flows through our body might become blocked or imbalanced due to injury, trauma, grief, stress, anxiety, lack of exercise or bad diet among other things. If that happens, certain parts of our body don’t get nourished by Qi anymore or Qi flows too rapidly through them. Practising Qigong re-balances the energy flow and by doing so activates the body’s healing processes.
Qigong boosts the immune response
Various studies have shown that Qigong has a positive impact on the body’s immune system by increasing the level of immune cells.
Qigong may lower the risk of chronic disease
Qigong improves the blood flow, lowers the heart rate and detoxifies the body. It also increases overall fitness. These benefits combined have the potential to lower the risk of chronic diseases of the heart, type 2 diabetes or even cancer.
Qigong improves digestion
Qigong improves digestion – through the breath and specific exercises that activate the meridians that run through the stomach as well as the large and small intestines.
Let’s take a closer look at both: Qigong includes an extended diaphragmatic breathing technique. This means that the practitioner pushes their abdomen out on the in-breath and sucks it back in on the out-breath. In doing so, the diaphragm muscle pushes the organs down and in doing so, mechanically stimulates movement in our guts. This leads to more efficient digestion and better absorption of nutrients.
Everything is connected in our bodies. As most of us tend to sit for way too every single day, many people end up with lower back pain. The nerves there are connected to the large intestine and can cause various digestive problems. Qigong offers specific exercises that help to normalise the posture of the lower back and through that positively stimulate the digestive system.
Qigong reduces depression and relieves stress
Various studies have shown that regularly practising Qigong can lessen the symptoms of depression and reduce anxiety and stress.
Qigong reduces pain
As Qigong stimulates energy and improves the blood flow alongside increasing the body’s flexibility and relaxing the nervous system, practitioners report being in less physical pain when doing the exercises regularly.
Qigong enhances focus
Qigong can help to improve your ability to concentrate as practising it requires you to focus on your intention, the movements and your breath for prolonged periods of time.
Qigong improves sleep and can help with headaches
Qigong relaxes the nervous system and improves mental clarity. It also enhances the blood flow to the brain which may help with headaches. Studies have shown that it improves the length as well as the quality of sleep in people who suffer from insomnia and mild to moderate depression.
Improves physical as well as emotional and mental balance
Qigong is a holistic practice that will improve your physical as well as emotional and mental balance. It helps to improve awareness of your body in space. Practising the exercises regularly will lead to better balance, more flexibility and increase muscular strength. In elder people, it lowers the risk of falls. It also increases your ability to regulate your thoughts and emotions through your breath and getting into your body rather than being stuck in your mind.
Qigong improves overall wellbeing
Regularly practising Qigong will help you gain a better understanding of your body and mind and how they work together. This, in combination with all the other, above-mentioned benefits, will improve your overall well-being long-term.
Qigong Exercises and how to get started
The ancient Qigong poses and breathing patterns are intended to activate the body’s self-healing powers. It has four primary characteristics: Conscious breaths; gentle, slow, flowing movements; mental concentration and meditation. Balance and awareness of the centre of your own body are two key factors when practising Qigong.
There are many different styles of Qigong but essentially two ways of practising it:
- “Wai Dan” – External Elixir
- “Nei Dan” – Internal Elixir
The latter is focused on visualization and meditation, whereas the former focuses primarily on movements in coordination with breathing techniques – even though they can include visualizations as well. As a beginner, you’ll start with the physical movements and practice in sets of three, six or nine repetitions until you’ve perfected them.
Qigong is suitable for all age groups and fitness levels. However, it is strongly recommended to find an in-person course you can join or to sign-up for an online class when you are just starting out. A group setting with a teacher will not only support you in getting the movements and poses right and advance your skills quicker, but it will also promote feeling socially connected. Traditional Chinese Medicine strongly believes in the importance and healing power of being part of a community.
If neither an in-person nor an online course are an option for you, there are free resources that will help you get started with Qigong exercises:
Introduction to Qigong Theory and Practice and The Complete Natural Breath are two free online courses by John Munro. He founded Long White Cloud Qigong, an international network of over 150 instructors, in 2011 after studying Qigong for eleven years. He holds diplomas in both, Qigong and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Qigong Exercises is a YouTube channel for beginners and advanced practitioners with many instructional videos.
Tse Qigong Centre provides videos of Master Michael Tse practising the authentic Chinese skills of Wild Goose (Dayan) Qigong.
The YouTube channel of Qigong Awareness LLC, a Medical Qigong School in the US, produces videos that focus on providing Qigong exercises to help with particular problems like insomnia, stress, high blood pressure, pain, etc.
Lee Holden’s video with the title “3 Best Qi Gong Exercises for Beginners” might be a great starting point as well. Holden has been practising Qigong for almost three decades and has a successful YouTube channel with over 121,000 subscribers where he regularly showcases exercise routines.
Qigong at New Life Portugal
As briefly mentioned in the previous section: Becoming part of and practising with a community can boost the positive effects of Qigong. At New Life Portugal we offer exactly that and more. We are a unique combination of wellness retreat and recovery centre, nestled into the magnificent mountains of the Serra Da Estrela. New Life’s mission is to provide the right environment and support on a holistic level by a highly skilled and professional team of experts for anyone who wishes to cultivate sustainable wellbeing. Our approach to wellbeing encompasses engaged community living, mindfulness, physical self-care, counselling, life coaching, and nature.
New Life Portugal’s program offers four different paths:
All of these include yoga, Qigong and meditation classes and can be tailored to suit your individual needs and goals. We offer Qigong immersion workshops as well as weekly Qigong group or one-on-one sessions. Depending on where you are at and what you’d like to focus on, we can help you to create healthy breathing patterns, deepen your movement practice or take your energy work to the next level. Qigong inspired journaling can further your body-mind-spirit connection.
If you require more information or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.