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Qigong is a system of energy work that focuses on posture or movement, breath, self-massage, and meditation techniques to move and regulate the body’s energy, or Qi (“chi”). The term Qi means energy and the term gong means work – thus Qigong translates as “energy work.”

Qigong Versus Tai Chi

Qigong and Tai Chi are very similar, but there are a few differences.

  1. Qigong goes back in history to a time before the written word, while Tai Chi is a concept that dates back to the development of early martial arts known as tai chi chuan or tai chi quan.
  2. In addition, Tai Chi involves stepping and gestures that are asynchronous, contra-lateral movements that are sequential, changing gesture to gesture, and are mentally demanding, which is excellent for maximizing brain plasticity. On the other hand, Qigong includes movements done while sitting or standing, gestures are repetitive, soothing, and initiate a deep relaxation response (Jenke).
  3. While both practices improve balance and coordination, Qigong excels at reducing stress and initiates an anti-inflammatory response in the body.

Qigong Movements

Qigong masters recognize that there are many different styles and traditions of Qigong. Active qigong (dong gong) is yang (male) and active, with definite movements. Passive qigong (jing gong) is yin (female) and focuses primarily on the meditative aspect of the practice to reach a clear and tranquil mindset.

The purpose of the movements in Qigong is to mix and balance the energy from heaven and earth (yang/yin, shen/jing). The energy from heaven or sky is considered to be active, male, spirit, yang and shen energy, while the energy from the earth is resting, female, body, yin and jing energy. The movements gather and blend these two energies and bring them into the body’s cells and meridian system, healing and energizing the practitioner.

One movement in particular calls for the gathering of energy from earth and sky, then “bathing” the body with the qi, allowing it to absorb into the bone marrow. Another movement calls for deep breathing along with the total contraction of the body, which acts as an excellent lymph pump, moving the lymph throughout the body. Other movements include spontaneous Qigong, which includes freeform movements, twisting, side-bending and a flowing movement that increases deep breathing.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is excellent for reducing stress, oxygenating the body tissues and, when the diagram contracts, circulating the lymph throughout the body. Simply taking long, slow, deep breaths while sitting or standing in the Qigong resting position is an amazing way to benefit from breath exercise. When you are beginning Qigong practice, it is not as important that your breaths match the movements as it is that you focus on slow, deep breaths. As your practice progresses, you will be able to match breathing with movements.

Breathing Exercises

3 Part Breath

  • Take 2 quick breaths, first into the belly, then into the chest
  • Quickly exhale

4 Part Breath

  • Take 2 quick breaths, first into the belly, then into the chest
  • Hold for a beat
  • Quickly exhale

5 Part Breath

  • Take 2 quick breaths, first into the belly, then into the chest
  • Hold for a beat
  • Quickly exhale
  • Hold for a beat before the next inhale

These breath patterns can be repeated for several cycles (three, six or nine times).


Self-massage in Qigong focuses on the ears, hands, and feet, as these areas have reflexes to the entire body and organ system. Massage therapists can teach clients how to perform self-massage on these areas.

  • To work on the ears, use fingers to “pinch” and rub the ear, beginning in the center of the ear and working out. Remind clients they should never push their fingers or anything else into their ear!
  • Hands and feet can be rubbed with fingers and knuckles, and tapotement can be done with loose fists.

Self-massage can be done on the entire body by using circular rubbing, cupped hands “hitting,” or tapotement, along the meridians, working up the front of the body and down the back. “Hitting” the kidney area gently with loose fists is a good way to wake up kidney energy. Also, another Qigong exercise is to gather energy from earth and sky, then feed it into the meridian system guiding it down the back of the body meridians, then up the front of the body meridians.


Finally, mindfulness or meditation is another big part of Qigong practice. Spend a few moments during each practice to quiet and still your mind, to focus on your breathing and the concepts of the energy of the heaven and sky.

Qigong is a wonderful practice because it can be done sitting, and the focus is simply on increasing the movement of qi, or energy. The practitioner can modify the practice in order to stay within their physical limitations, and there are no hard and fast rules about doing the movements, making it a very accessible practice that can produce significant healing in the body.