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Qigong 101: A Beginner’s Guide to the Art of Cultivating Vital Energy
author:Sanjana Gupta source:Verywell Mind 2024-03-13 [Health]
This ancient Chinese practice promotes harmony of body, mind, and spirit

Qigong, pronounced “chee-gong,” is an ancient Chinese practice that consists of mindful, meditative movements.1

Developed thousands of years ago as part of traditional Chinese medicine, qigong uses exercises to improve the flow of energy within the body, mind, and spirit, says Michelle Loy, MD, an integrative health practitioner at New York-Presbyterian.

It essentially consists of slow movements, postures, and stretches that coordinate the breath, mind, and body, says Gary Soffer, MD, director of the integrative medicine program at Smilow Cancer Hospital.


"The words “qi” and “gong” translate into “life force” and “cultivation” respectively, and the practice is intended to improve health and well-being by way of cultivating one's life force or energy."



If you’re interested in learning more about qigong, we’ve got you. In this article, we'll explore what qigong is, the benefits it offers, and how to get started with it.



At a Glance

Qigong is an ancient Chinese practice that takes a holistic approach to healing. It uses a combination of gentle movements and controlled breathing to help us improve the flow of energy within our bodies.

Qigong offers a number of mental, physical, and emotional benefits. The best part is that the simplicity, variety, and adaptability of the practice make it accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels.

woman relaxing and breathing in fresh air in a bamboo forest

Kilito Chan / Moment / Getty Images


Origins of Qigong

Rooted in ancient Chinese Taoist philosophy, qigong is an art that has been passed down through hundreds of generations.2

In fact, it was originally developed as a healing method within the greater practice of traditional Chinese medicine, says Dr. Soffer.

Qigong is one of the four branches of traditional Chinese medicine, with the other three being acupuncture, Chinese massage, and Chinese herbology, says Christopher Apodaca, MSN, RN, a certified medical qigong practitioner.


Key Elements of Qigong

These are some of the elements that are central to qigong:

  • .Qi: Qi, also known as the breath or life force, is the energy that flows through our bodies. “Where there is pain, qi doesn’t flow. Qigong is the skill of cultivating and maintaining the free flow of qi in the body,” says Apodaca.
  • .Mindful movement: The practice of qigong involves slow, deliberate movements that are coordinated with deep breaths and focused attention. This coordination helps sync the mind, breath, and body.
  • .Breath control: Qigong teaches us to consciously control and regulate our breathing, for greater energy and vitality.
  • .Alignment: Qigong incorporates specific postures and movements that are designed to improve our alignment and open our energy pathways, for better flow of qi.
  • .Intention and visualization: Qigong uses focused intention and visualization to direct the flow of qi to specific areas of the body, allowing us to address any physical, mental, or emotional concerns we have.
  • .Relaxation: Relaxation is highly valued in qigong, because our qi flows better when we’re calm, peaceful, and relaxed.
  • .Yin yang: Qigong emphasizes the balance of yin and yang, the opposing yet complementary forces in Chinese philosophy. You may have seen them represented by a circular symbol with two contrasting light and dark halves.

"Where there is pain, qi doesn’t flow. Qigong is the skill of cultivating and maintaining the free flow of qi in the body."



Different Styles and Forms of Qigong

There are hundreds of schools, styles, traditions, forms, and lineages of qigong.3

For example, Shaolin qigong originated in the Shaolin temple. The Zen, Daoist, Confucian, and Buddhist forms of qigong are each infused with the principles of their respective philosophies. 

Wild goose qigong, or Dayan qigong, is inspired by the graceful movements of a wild goose. Five animal frolics qigong, or Wu Qin Xi, teaches us strength and agility by imitating the movements of the tiger, deer, bear, monkey, and bird. 

Eight brocades qigong, also known as Ba Duan Jin, is a popular form of qigong that involves eight exercises focusing on different areas of the body, promoting overall health and flexibility.

Broadly speaking, the different forms of qigong are classified into three different schools, says Apodaca:

  • .Martial qigong, which focuses on endurance, agility, and physical prowess. 
  • .Spiritual qigong, which is for spiritual development and transformation.
  • .Medical qigong, which is categorized into qigong for personal healing and medical qigong, which is focused on serving others and treating clients in a clinical setting. 

What’s great about the different styles of qigong is that we can try different types and choose which one aligns best with our preferences and health goals.


Benefits of Practicing Qigong

Physically speaking, qigong can help improve circulation, balance, flexibility, and muscle strength.4

However, a major benefit of qigong is that it calms the central nervous system, says Apodaca. He explains that stress triggers the ‘fight-or-flight’ response of the central nervous system, which helps us survive the stressful event. However, due to the chaotic nature of our lives, many of us stay in this mode, which wears on our physical and mental health.5

Qigong helps us get out of the ‘fight-or-flight’ mode (sympathetic nervous system) and shifts us into the ‘rest-and-digest system’ (parasympathetic nervous system), Apodaca explains.

Preliminary research on qigong shows that it may help improve:1

  • .Mood
    .Cognitive functioning
    .Lung function7
    .Bone density
    .Blood pressure8
    .Heart health
    .Substance use7
    .Quality of life

More comprehensive research is required to firmly establish the benefits of qigong; however, the results so far are promising.9

The benefits of qigong are vast and compared to many other health interventions the risk is minimal, says Dr. Soffer. “While more research is needed there is a growing body of evidence that supports its benefit for both, those trying to prevent disease and those already diagnosed with an illness.


"Qigong gives us the opportunity to find inner peace through the breath, movement, and focused intention. It is healing on physical, emotional, and mental levels, as it is holistic in its philosophies and teachings."



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Getting Started With Qigong

These are some steps that can help you get started with qigong:

  • .Educate yourself: It can be helpful to read up on qigong or watch videos about it, to get a better understanding of what it involves and what you can expect.
  • .Find a qualified instructor: The experts unanimously recommend learning qigong from a qualified instructor, rather than trying to do it yourself. Learning qigong from a video or book does not ensure that you’re doing the movements correctly or safely, says Dr. Loy. “Furthermore, many of the postures can feel unfamiliar, and even awkward at first. Having the proper guide is important in overcoming those challenges,” Dr. Soffer adds.
  • .Wear something comfortable: Wear loose, comfortable clothes that allow you to move freely.
  • .Warm up: Warming up a little bit before you start your session can help loosen your muscles and improve your circulation. Try to do a few stretches or joint rotations before you get started.
  • .Start simple: Begin with basic qigong movements that are easy to follow. You can start with shorter sessions and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the practice, says Apodaca. A beginner session can be as short as 15 to 30 minutes, says Dr. Soffer.
  • .Explore different styles: Experiment with different styles of qigong to find what works best for you.



Incorporating Qigong into Daily Life

These are some strategies that can help you incorporate your qigong practice into your daily routine:

  • Keep practicing: Continually practicing qigong is the only way you will make this new habit become permanent, says Apodaca.
  • Designate a fixed time for it: Depending on your schedule, you can choose to do qigong in the morning, during your breaks at work, or at night before bed. Try to do it at the same time every day, so it becomes a part of your daily routine.
  • Try micro-sessions: If you don’t have a large chunk of time, you can do micro-sessions of qigong. Even 10 to 20 minutes of qigong several times a week can be very effective for preventing disease and improving health, Dr. Loy says. A 10-minute session of rich, vital, and focused qigong is more beneficial than an hour of distracted, crappy Qigong, says Apodaca.
  • Take it outside: Outdoor sessions enhance the overall experience of qigong, making you feel more connected to nature and more at peace with yourself.
  • Find a community: Connect with other qigong practitioners and enthusiasts, either locally or virtually. Being part of a community provides support, encouragement, and shared insights, making it feel more like a lifestyle.
  • Involve friends and family: If you like, you can involve your friends or family members in your qigong practice. Group sessions can be a great bonding activity.

"Qigong is not a quick fix or a magic pill—it takes determination and time. But when you take the time to invest in yourself, the benefits are remarkable."



Safety Considerations and Precautions

Qigong is generally considered safe for all populations and age groups, as it doesn’t have any significant side effects.7

However, if you live with any health conditions, the experts recommend taking the following precautions:

  • Inform your instructor: Inform your qigong instructor of any mental or physical health conditions you’re living with. Your instructor can modify the practice to meet your needs and abilities, says Apodaca. “Qigong can be accomplished sitting, laying down, or standing so it meets each person where they need to be met.”
  • Consult your healthcare provider: If you have a health condition, Dr. Loy recommends consulting your healthcare providers before starting qigong. If you have multiple healthcare providers, she says it’s important to inform all of them, to ensure coordinated and safe care.
  • Listen to your body: Qigong is generally a very safe practice due to its slow movements, but you should always listen to your body and pay attention to how it responds to the practice, says Dr. Soffer. “If you feel any discomfort or pain, modify the movements accordingly and don’t force anything.” Pain is your body’s way of signaling that something is wrong; ignoring it and pushing through it can lead to injury and hinder any progress, Apodaca adds. 
  • Allow for rest and recovery: Find time to rest and recover from qigong, especially if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort, says Apodaca. “Rest is a very important part of healing and decreases the likelihood of causing injury due to overuse.”




  1. 1.Abbott R, Lavretsky H. Tai chi and qigong for the treatment and prevention of mental disordersPsychiatr Clin North Am. 2013 Mar;36(1):109-19. doi: 10.1016/j.psc.2013.01.011

  2. 2.Boaventura P, Jaconiano S, Ribeiro F. Yoga and qigong for health: Two sides of the same coin? Behav Sci (Basel). 2022 Jul 3;12(7):222. doi: 10.3390/bs12070222

  3. 3.Maryland University of Integrative Health. What is qigong and what can it do for me?

  4. 4.National Institutes of Health. Qigong.

  5. 8.National Library of Medicine. Stress and your health.

  6. 6.Lin J, Gao YF, Guo Y, Li M, Zhu Y, You R, Chen S, Wang S. Effects of qigong exercise on the physical and mental health of college students: a systematic review and meta-analysisBMC Complement Med Ther. 2022 Nov 8;22(1):287. doi: 10.1186/s12906-022-03760-5

  7. 7.National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Qigong: What you need to know.

  8. 8.Dong X, Shi Z, Ding M, Yi X. The effects of qigong for hypertension: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trialsEvid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2021 Oct 8;2021:5622631. doi: 10.1155/2021/5622631

  9. 9.Klein P, Picard G, Baumgarden J, Schneider R. Meditative movement, energetic, and physical analyses of three qigong exercises: Unification of Eastern and Western mechanistic exercise theoryMedicines (Basel). 2017 Sep 23;4(4):69. doi: 10.3390/medicines4040069