EtymologyQigong (Pinyin), ch'i kung (Wade-Giles), and chi gung (Yale Romanization|Yale) are English words for two Chinese characters: q́ (wiktionary: ?|?) and gong (wiktionary: ?|?).
Qi (or chi) is usually translated as life energy, lifeforce, or energy flow, and definitions often involve breath, air, gas, or relationship between matter, energy, and spirit.* Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese Traditional Chinese medicine|medicine and Chinese martial arts|martial arts. 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 Kung fu (term)|gongfu (kung fu) in the traditional sense of achievement through great effort. (see *MDBG dictionary entry*) The two words are combined to describe systems to cultivate and balance life energy, especially for health.*
Although the term qigong (?) has been traced back to Taoism|Taoist 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 Traditional Chinese medicine|health and History of science and technology in China|scientific approaches, while de-emphasizing Chinese alchemy|spiritual practices, mysticism, and elite lineages.*
HistoryWith roots in ancient Chinese culture dating back more than 4,000 years, a wide variety of qigong forms have developed within different segments of Chinese society:* in traditional Chinese medicine for preventive and curative functions,* in Confucianism to promote longevity and improve moral character,* in Taoism and Buddhism as part of meditative practice,* and in Chinese martial arts to enhance fighting abilities.* Contemporary qigong blends diverse and sometimes disparate traditions, in particular the Taoist meditative practice of "internal alchemy" (Neidan ?), the ancient meditative practices of "circulating qi" (Xing qi ?) and "standing meditation" (Zhan zhuang ?), and the slow gymnastic breathing exercise of "guiding and pulling" (Tao yin ?). 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-mind transmission.*
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. This attempt is considered by some Sinology|sinologists as the start of the modern or scientific interpretation of qigong.* During the Great Leap Forward (1958–1963) and the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), qigong, along with other traditional Chinese medicine, was encouraged in state-run rehabilitation centers and spread to universities and hospitals, but was under tight control with limited access among the general public. After the Cultural Revolution, qigong, along with T'ai chi ch'uan|t'ai chi, was popularized as daily morning exercise practiced en masse throughout China.
Popularity of qigong grew rapidly during the Deng Xiaoping|Deng and Jiang Zemin|Jiang eras of the 1970s through 1990s, with estimates of between 60 and 200 million practitioners throughout China. In 1985, the state-run "National Qigong Science and Research Organization" was established to regulate all of the nation's qigong denominations.* In 1999, in response to widespread revival of old traditions of spirituality, morality, and mysticism, the Chinese government took measures to enforce control of public qigong practice, including banning groups such as Zhong Gong and Falun Gong.*Through the forces of migration of the Chinese diaspora, tourism in China, and globalization, the practice of qigong spread from the Chinese community to the world. 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 exercise, recreation, preventive medicine, self-healing, self-cultivation, meditation, and martial arts training.
Training methodsQigong comprises breathing, physical, and mental training methods based on Chinese philosophy.* While implementation details vary, all qigong forms can be characterized as a mix of four types of training: dynamic, static, meditative, and activities requiring external aids.
ApplicationPeople practice qigong for many different reasons, including for exercise and recreation, prevention and self-healing, meditation and self-cultivation, and training for martial arts.
HealthAs 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 building awareness of how the body moves through space.* In recent years a large number of books and videos have been published that focus primarily on qigong as exercise and associated health benefits. Practitioners range from athletes to the physically challenged. Because it is low impact and can be done lying, sitting, or standing, qigong is accessible for disabled persons, seniors, and people recovering from injuries.
As a healing art, qigong practitioners focus on prevention and self-healing, traditionally viewed as balancing the body's energy meridians and enhancing the intrinsic capacity of the body to heal.* Qigong has been used extensively in China as part of traditional Chinese medicine, and is included in the curriculum of Chinese Universities.* Qigong is now recognized as a form of complementary and alternative medicine.*There are three main forms of qigong used to complement medical treatment: 1) Qigong exercises (also called "internal Qigong") performed by individuals for general health or treatment of disease, 2) Qigong massage by a trained Qigong practitioner to treat specific injuries and illnesses (e.g. autism);* and 3) External qigong in which a trained practitioner focuses healing energy on patients without touching them.*
Meditation and self-cultivationQigong is practiced for meditation and self-cultivation as part of various philosophical and spiritual traditions. As meditation, qigong is a means to still the mind and enter a state of consciousness that brings serenity, clarity, and bliss.* Many practitioners find qigong, with its gentle focused movement, to be more accessible than seated meditation.*
Qigong for self-cultivation can be classified in terms of traditional Chinese philosophy:
Martial arts trainingThe practice of qigong is an important component in both Neijia|internal and external style Chinese Chinese martial arts|martial arts.* Focus on qi is considered to be a source of power as well as the foundation of the Neijia|internal style of martial arts (Neijia). T'ai chi ch'uan, Xing Yi|Xing yi, and Baguazhang are representative of the types of Chinese martial arts that rely on the concept of qi as the foundation.* Extraordinary feats of martial arts prowess, such as the ability to withstand heavy strikes (Iron Shirt, ?)* and the ability to break hard objects (Iron Palm, ?)* are abilities attributed to qigong training.
FormsIn 2003, the Chinese Health Qigong Association officially recognized four health qigong forms:*
Other commonly practiced qigong styles and forms include the following:
Traditional viewTraditionally, the central focus of qigong practice is to cultivate and balance qi as it affects mind (?), body (?), and spirit (?).* In Chinese philosophy, the concept of qi as a form of pervasive life energy includes original qi that a person has at birth, and qi a person acquires from air, water, food, sunlight, and interaction with the environment.* A person is believed to become ill or die when qi becomes diminished or unbalanced. Health is believed to be returned by rebuilding qi, eliminating qi blockages, and correcting qi imbalances.
Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on tracing and correcting underlying disharmony, in terms of deficiency and excess, using the complementary and opposing forces of yin and yang, to create a balanced flow of qi. Qi is believed to be cultivated and stored in three main dantian energy centers and to travel through the body along twelve main Meridian (Chinese medicine)|meridians, with numerous smaller branches and tributaries. The main meridians correspond to ZangFu|twelve main organs (Zàng fu). Qi is balanced in terms of yin and yang in the context of the traditional system of Wu Xing|Five Phases (Wu xing ?).* These traditional concepts do not translate readily to modern science and medicine.
PrinciplesWhether viewed from the perspective of exercise, health, philosophy, or martial arts training, several main principles emerge concerning the practice of qigong:*
The most advanced practice is generally considered to be with little or no motion.
Contemporary viewSimilar to the subject of efficacy of Traditional Chinese medicine, the chasm between the Eastern tradition of qi and the Western scientific viewpoints is not insurmountable if the analysis is limited to the effect of qigong practice on biological processes without demanding a material interpretation of qi. Some have argued for an interpretation of qi as a metaphor for biological processes * or as part of the field of energy medicine.*
Claims and medical researchQigong has been purported to enhance health and well-being with many benefits, including improving cardiovascular function, healing specific acute diseases, and increasing longevity.* Many of these claims are supported only by anecdotal evidence, Qigong history|traditional lore, and teachings in master/student lineages.* Research examining health benefits of qigong is increasing, but there is little financial incentive to support research and still only a limited number of studies meet accepted medical and scientific standards of randomized controlled trials (RCT).* Overall, the evidence for the health effects for qigong has been largely inconclusive or contradictory, with almost all evidence based on poor quality data, making any firm conclusions impossible to reach.*
Individual reviewsA systematic review of the effect of qigong exercises on hypertension found that the available studies were encouraging for the exercises to lower systolic blood pressure. However, an analysis of the studies that found these results showed that they were of relatively poor quality, with the lack of Blind experiment|blinding raising the possibility of bias in the results, so no definitive conclusions could be reached.*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." * Another systematic review which focused on external qigong and its effect on pain, 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 systematic review of the effect of qigong exercises on cancer treatment concluded "the effectiveness of qigong in cancer care is not yet supported by the evidence from rigorous clinical trials."* 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 form of health practice adopted by the cancer patients during their curative, palliative, and rehabilitative phases of the cancer journey."*A 2010 literature review of qigong and tai chi exercises found positive results for qigong and tai chi in nine categories, including bone density, Cardiopulmonary|cardiopulmonary effects, Physical medicine and rehabilitation|physical function, Balance (ability)|falls and related risk factors, Quality of life (healthcare)|quality of life, Self-efficacy|self efficacy, Patient-reported outcome|patient reported outcomes, Psychology|psychological symptoms, and Immune system|immune function and inflammation. Studies that compared qigong and tai chi with other physical exercises found similar effects, and greatest effects were found in studies that compared qigong and tai chi to effects in low activity or inactive participants. Unlike the above systematic reviews, this study did not assess for the quality of the underlying trials.*
Mental healthMany claims have been made that qigong can benefit or ameliorate mental health conditions,* including improved mood, decreased stress reaction, and decreased anxiety and depression. 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 to manage stress.*
There are also claims that in some cases, in particular with improper teaching or improper technique, the practice of qigong can result in a mental condition known as Zou huo ru mo (medicine)|Zou huo ru mo () or "qigong deviation" (), which, among other symptoms, can lead to a perception of an uncontrolled flow of qi in the body during or after practice.*
ControversyThere is little controversy concerning the benefit of qigong when the definition of qigong is limited to a series of physical movements and a set of relaxation exercises. Conflict has arisen when the claims made by proponents of qigong border on the supernatural.*Some researchers have labeled the subject matter of qigong as a pseudoscience.* In addition, some claim that the origin and nature of qigong practice has led to misconceptions and misuses,* including psychiatric problems* and the formation of cults*
Skepticism towards qigong is also applied to the field of Traditional Chinese medicine, and extends to the broader subject of alternative medicine. The basic problem is that the information available from these fields often does not fit scientific acceptability or medical interpretation, and is difficult to replicate using double-blind control studies.* Skeptics contend that most of the benefits derived from Alternative medicine are, at best, derived from a placebo effect.*The main arguments from the view of skeptics against the correlation between qigong practices and health-related results are:
Shifting viewsTraditionally, qigong training has been esoteric and secretive, with knowledge passed from adept master to student in lineages that maintain their own unique detailed interpretations and methods.* Over the centuries, a diverse spectrum of qigong forms developed in different segments of Chinese society,* with emphasis on meditative practice by scholars, and gymnastic or dynamic practice by the working masses.* Disparate approaches to qigong were merged as part of the cultural change that occurred as China modernized.* 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 Chinese philosophy|philosophical, Traditional Chinese medicine|medical, or Chinese martial arts|martial arts perspectives, and even use the long Qigong history|history of qigong as evidence of its effectiveness.*