How can Qigong nourish your soul?
A key component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Qigong is a system of health practices intended to prevent disease as well as restore wellness in those who are ill. Qigong is characterised by gentle, flowing physical movements, breathing exercises, and techniques for developing discipline within the mind.
The word ‘Qi’ denotes ‘vital energy’, while ‘gong’ is usually translated as ‘skill attained through effort’. As with other modalities related to TCM, the aim of Qigong is to promote a healthy and unimpeded flow of Qi through the body. It is also intended to ensure a dynamic equilibrium of yin and yang, believed to be elemental forces symbolising feminine and masculine energy, or light and dark.
Many people wonder, what is Qigong as distinct from tai chi? In the simplest terms, tai chi is technically a subcategory of Qigong, and although both are commonly practised as paths to support wellness, tai chi is also a martial art which encompasses defensive and combative techniques.
The many styles and practices associated with Qigong can be broadly grouped into three categories: martial or athletic Qigong, which is intended to support physical fitness and conditioning; medical or clinical Qigong, focusing specifically on healing and health; and meditative or spiritual Qigong, which is often practised in stationary postures and is concerned with mastering one’s thoughts and using the power of intention to cultivate Qi.
Medical Qigong for health can be further subdivided into ‘internal Qigong’, or self-healing, and ‘external Qigong’, sometimes described as ‘Qi emission’. When practising internal Qigong, a person nurtures their own health through routines of motion, breathing and meditation. External Qigong involves a master practitioner manipulating or affecting the Qi of a patient, typically by transferring healing Qi from themselves to the person they are treating.
Benefits of Qigong
The results of one meta-analysis suggest Qigong and tai chi may improve immune function and quality of life, while reducing levels of stress hormone, in people suffering from cancer, but more rigorous trials are recommended. There is evidence to suggest Qigong may offer benefits for quality of life in breast-cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, especially those suffering from depression. It has also been reported that Qigong may improve cognitive function and reduce inflammation in cancer patients.
The results of a randomised controlled study indicate one particular style of Qigong may offer “significant improvements” in pain levels, physical and mental functioning, as well as sleep quality of people suffering from fibromyalgia. One review indicated that external Qigong (the ‘energy healing’ version) may have beneficial effects on chronic pain conditions, but further research is recommended.
There is evidence to suggest a single session of Qigong may reduce anxiety and have a balancing effect on the autonomic nervous system of elderly people. It is reported that one style of Qigong may reduce deterioration of bone density in middle-aged women. The results of a meta-analysis suggest Qigong may be an effective treatment for high blood pressure, but more robustly designed studies are recommended for verification.
There are also published case studies of individuals who have experienced a significant reduction in cancer symptoms after external Qigong, and overcome multiple health problems after intensive Qigong programs.
Qigong can assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Anxiety and stress
- Heart conditions
- Hypertension and stroke
- Kidney and urinary tract
- Pain relief
- Respiratory conditions
- Stress management
What to expect from a Qigong session
Since there are many different styles of Qigong, and it is practised for a range of reasons, the details of what to expect may vary.
If you are participating in a guided Qigong session to promote self-healing, it is recommended that you wear loose, comfortable clothing. The session will usually start with gentle warm-up stretches, then your instructor will lead you through specific routines of flowing motions. Your instructor will also guide you to focus on your breathing, calm your mind and become more aware of your internal energy.
Medical Qigong may often be prescribed as part of a holistic TCM treatment program. Your practitioner will begin by asking you about your general health, as well as any particular physical or emotional symptoms you might be experiencing. You will be invited to lie down on a padded massage table, and you will not need to remove any clothes.
Your Qigong practitioner will move their hands near your body to direct, balance and regulate your internal flow of Qi. Many people describe this as a very relaxing and soothing process, and some feel sensations of warmth or coolness while the practitioner is working. Some patients experience muscle twitches or feel deeply emotional; such responses are believed to indicate stagnant Qi being released. Once the session has concluded, your practitioner will usually prescribe meditation and mild Qigong exercises to support continued healing.
As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before commencing Qigong. Although some people turn to Qigong as a path towards restoring health when Western approaches have failed to provide relief, it should never be used as a replacement for conventional medicine. If you have an injury or other health issue, or any concerns at all, also speak to your Qigong practitioner, who will be happy to address these and personalise the session to your individual requirements.