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When you take care of your body, you also take care of your mind. And qigong (pronounced chee-gung) is a practice that encourages you to tap into this connection, with simple, repetitive movements that center your energy and help promote a more peaceful and relaxed state of being.

Just like walking meditation and yoga, qigong, also referred to as chi-kung, asks you to coordinate movements with your breath in order to enter into a state of mindful calm. Other elements that may be part of your qigong practice include meditative sounds, mantras, and chants, as well as herbs and massage.

Ultimately, the goal is right there in the name, with qi meaning “life energy” and gong meaning “a skill cultivated through steady practice.” As you deepen your practice, you’ll find a range of mental and physical benefits, and you might even discover a new approach to improving your overall well-being.

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What Is Qigong?

Qigong, or chi-kung, is a Chinese form of energy work that combines gentle movements with breath awareness to help you enter into a meditative mindset.

While its roots go back more than 4,000 years, it wasn’t until the mid-1900s that a concerted effort was made to standardize the practice and explore its scientific benefits. Prior to that, various regions and religions throughout China practiced unique forms of qigong with equally unique purposes. Chinese martial arts practitioners, for example, practiced it as a means of self-defense, while it was used strictly for meditative purposes in Buddhism and Daoism.

There are four distinct parts:

  1. Breath coordinated with movement
  2. Static holds
  3. Meditative sounds
  4. Massage and other forms of bodywork

If you’re new to qigong, or if you’re practicing on your own, it’s okay to just focus on coordinating your breath and movements in the beginning. As you become more adept at your qigong practice, you can start to incorporate additional elements like chants and herbs, or just stick to what’s working for you.  

chinese painting of movement
Movement has always had a strong presence in Chinese philosophies of wellness. (Image shared by Skillshare student Maria Bombassat.)

Qigong for Beginners: Quick Tips

You’re not going to become a master overnight, and that’s perfectly okay. It takes time to establish a steady practice and experience the benefits of this ancient art. As a beginner, your goal should be to learn the dos and don’ts of qigong and getting comfortable with its postures. Equally important is to practice deep rhythmic breathing and how to connect your breath with your movements.

Some tips to keep in mind as you get started:

  • Maintain a consistent practice. You don’t need to do an hour a day to see benefits, but the more you engage in the exercise, the more impactful your practice will become. Try to set aside at least 10 minutes for qigong every day, working in longer sessions when you have the time.  
  • Stay attuned to your body. Qigong is meant to be gentle on your joints. Pay attention to any sensations it causes in your body, and if you’re experiencing pain during your practice, or if you’ve recently recovered from an injury, talk to your physician before continuing.
  • Take a class. The best way to learn is with the help of a trained practitioner. See if there are any qigong classes in your area that you can sign up for or check out virtual classes.  

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Benefits of Qigong

There are many qigong benefits, including benefits to both your physical and mental well-being. Some of the major ones include:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety levels
  • Increased energy
  • Improved sleep
  • Boosted immunity
  • Reduced joint pain

Qigong may also have direct benefits in regards to certain chronic illnesses and is thought to help reduce hypertension and improve the function of your heart and lungs.

Because it’s a gentle form of exercise, it can be particularly beneficial for reintroducing movement after an injury or ailment—though again, speak to your physician before starting any new type of physical activity.

 instructor Francesca La Barco
Skillshare instructor Francesca La Barco illustrates a pose called “separating the mountains.”

Difference Between Qigong and Tai Chi

Qigong is an older practice that is focused on overall body and mind wellness. Tai chi is relatively newer and is more about structural form than fluid movement.

Both of these types of exercise can be helpful for meditating, relaxing, and sparking peace and joy. If you’re interested in more rigid and pre-defined movements, go with tai chi; and opt for qigong if you want to engage in free-form movement with less overall structure.

What Are the Five Elements of Qigong?

There are five elements at the heart of Chinese energy work: fire, wood, earth, water, and metal.

In qigong, each element corresponds to a distinct organ in the body—fire to the heart, wood to the liver, earth to the spleen, water to the kidneys, and metal to the lungs. And by focusing your attention on each organ, you can enjoy a more harmonious practice, achieving not just a full-body exercise but an embrace of these five core elements of energy and healing.

Within qigong, you’ll find specific exercises devoted to each element/organ. Aim for a balanced practice by working them all into your routine, or focus on one element in particular if you are trying to relieve issues in a specific organ.

How to Do Qigong

If you want to know how to practice qigong, it’s recommended that you sign up for a class and train under a professional. However, beyond the specific movements, there are a number of things that you can and should keep in mind in order to get the most out of your movements.

Practice Rhythmic Breathing

Anyone who has engaged in yoga or meditation before should be familiar with rhythmic breathing. This type of breathing is just as important in qigong and is something that you can work on both in and outside of a class in order to deepen your practice.

Focus on controlled inhales and exhales that flow into one another, and observe each breath that you take, paying attention to its length and how it feels as it moves about your body. As you practice, you’ll learn how to connect each inhale and exhale to a specific movement, plus how to use rhythmic breathing to enhance your meditative state.

Meditate

Qigong is a meditative experience on its own, but the more capable of a meditator you are in general, the more you’ll get out of it. Try out some basic, non-movement meditation on your own, including guided meditation if you’re not sure how to begin. You’ll learn a lot about how to settle your mind, and you’ll be able to more efficiently drop into a meditative state when you start your qigong flow.

meditating man
Skillshare instructor Justin Michael Williams practices meditation.

Do Your Research

Qigong is more than just a form of exercise. Familiarize yourself with the Chinese philosophies behind it as a way to pay homage to the practice and understand the meaning and purpose behind all of its elements. As you learn, you’ll also come across insights that can help you advance your own practice, such as guidance on how to optimize your posture, breath, and focus.

Can You Learn Qigong by Yourself?

That depends on what you’re trying to get out of it. If your intention is just to practice qigong as a means of relaxation, then there are certainly things you can learn to do on your own to work your way toward that goal. But if you truly want to master it, you’ll need to work alongside a skilled teacher who can guide your practice and help you progress at a steady pace. 

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