Written by Emily Whitton
Emily Whitton
Therapy Directory Content Team

Last updated 13th October 2023 | Next update due 12th October 2026

Qigong is an ancient practice that was designed to improve and maintain health and well-being. Today, many people turn to it for its wellness benefits.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at what Qigong is, including the benefits and types of exercises used, to help you determine if it’s right for you.

What is Qigong? 

Pronounced “chee-gong”, Qigong is a form of gentle movement that incorporates breath control and meditation. It dates back to around 600 AD and is based on the teachings of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). However, Qigong, as we know it today, wasn’t formed until the 1950s.

Qigong can be translated as ‘vital energy’ (qi) ‘cultivated through steady practice’ (gong). It’s a mind-body-spirit practice. This aims to strengthen the connection between the emotional, mental and physical aspects of ourselves. 

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How does it work?

Qigong follows the principles of TCM. This is based on the idea that we feel our best selves when qi flows through our bodies freely. So, Qigong aims to remove any blockages in our energy pathways to promote a healthy flow of qi. It does this through five principles which are:

  • posture
  • movement
  • breathwork
  • focused intent/visualisation
  • mediation/relaxation 

Qigong vs Tai chi 

Qigong and Tai chi are very similar practices. In fact, Tai chi emerged from the teachings of Qigong. Both use gentle movement to unblock the meridians (energy flow). However, Tai chi is considered to be slightly more physically challenging. The main difference is the intention by which they were founded. Qigong was designed as a system to improve and maintain wellness, whereas Tai chi began as a martial art. 

Types of Qigong 

There are two different types of Qigong that are based on the yin and yang elements (an underlying principle of TCM). Yin and yang are two opposing, but interconnected, forces that represent balance and harmony. 

Active Qigong 

Using yang energy, this type of Qigong uses intentional, active movements and breath control. The series of coordinated movements promote blood flow, muscle strength and flexibility. This differs from yoga in that it requires your body to be continually moving, rather than doing static stretches.

If you’re looking to try this form of Qigong, it’s best to start with a beginner's class so you can learn how to carry out the movements correctly.

Passive Qigong 

Passive Qigong uses yin energy or ‘stillness’. This focuses on the active mind, whilst the body remains calm and still. This is the meditative element of Qigong which is split into two parts - mental focusing (ru jing) and visualisation (cun si). 

Mental focusing involves sitting upright, closing your eyes and doing some belly breathing. Make sure to tune into your breath. 

Visualisation is sitting with your eyes closed and imagining the things that bring you joy, happiness or relaxation. This will be completely personal to you but might look like your favourite viewpoint or sitting on a beach listening to the waves. This directs positive energy through your body. You can even visualise this energy travelling to a particular part of your body that is blocked.

Benefits of Qigong 

Qigong was designed as a way to improve and support health and well-being. The benefits are very similar to that of Tai chi.

Increases balance

The slow, controlled movements help you to be more aware of your body and the space that it’s in. This is known as proprioception. This increases balance, flexibility and muscle strength. 

Lowers stress and anxiety

Focusing on breath control, Qigong helps calm the mind and reassure us that we are safe and everything is OK. 

Improved focus and concentration 

Qigong focuses on the breath and uses a meditative practice. This can help refocus the mind and regulate thoughts, helping to improve concentration. 

Lessens chronic fatigue 

A study by the Society of Behavioural Medicine found that Qigong helped those with chronic fatigue syndrome feel less fatigued than those who didn’t practise it. 

Reduces pain 

Qigong may be effective at reducing aches and pains, such as back pain. 

Who can do Qigong? 

Qigong is considered to be very safe as it uses slow, gentle movements. The risk of injury will never be completely eliminated, but injury is less likely when compared to other forms of exercise. For this reason, it’s well suited to most people, regardless of age.

If you have a chronic illness or are pregnant, we suggest speaking to your doctor before introducing yourself to it. 

Getting started with Qigong 

If Qigong sounds like something you’d like to try, here are some tips for getting started:

Consider what you’d like to get out of it

There are three branches of Qigong, each with a different goal. You may also want to try active and passive Qigong to see what style you prefer. 

  • Health Qigong – focused on healing. 
  • Martial Qigong – focused on improving physical fitness and self-defence.
  • Spiritual Qigong – to increase connection with the self and spiritual enlightenment.

Choose how you’d like to learn

We’d recommend working with a professional if you’re a beginner. This will ensure you’re practising the forms correctly. You could choose to do an in-person class, join an online group or try it out for yourself by following videos online. 

Find a professional

Once you’ve determined how you’d like to learn and the outcomes you’d like to achieve, you can find a professional on Therapy Directory. As Qigong isn’t regulated in the UK, anybody can call themselves a practitioner. We have created a proof policy to ensure that our members are appropriately qualified and experienced. We’d recommend contacting the professional directly to answer any questions you may have and help decide if Qigong is right for you. 

Further resources:

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