What is Qigong?

Qigong is a Chinese body & mind exercise with more than five thousand years of history. Qigong consists of two words—Qi and gong. In Chinese cultural perspective, all things in the universe, visible and invisible, are the manifestation of Qi. In other words, Qi is the source or the matter that make up the universe. Qi is formless and invisible. The appearance or disappearance of matter is caused by the transmutation (concentration or dispersal) of Qi. Qi exists in and permeates everything. In the word “Qigong”, Qi means life energy—an invisible and formless substance that powers the functions of human life. Gong means practice. The 2 words together mean, “practicing Qi”.


Depending on the purpose of the practice, Qigong can be cataloged into five schools – Taoist Qigong, Buddhist Qigong, Confucius qigong, Martial Art Qigong and Medical Qigong. Although there is some overlap, each school has its own unique characteristics and techniques. Generally speaking, the purpose for Taoist Qigong is attaining immortality, Buddhist Qigong is enlightenment, Confucius Qigong is cultivating virtue, Martial Arts Qigong is self-defense, and Medical Qigong is maintaining health.

The basic Qigong practice follows a fixed rhythmic routine. Depending on whether the routine is physical or mental, the body posture can be moving or stationary. Although the majority of Qigong methods regulate breathing, Qigong is not a breathing exercise as some people describe it. Most of the time, practitioners use breathing as a technique to help them to concentrate. The newer generation Medical Qigong techniques use natural breathing. All schools of Qigong have two things in common: relaxation (both physical and mental) and concentration.

The Definition of Qigong

Grandmaster Pang Ming gives the following definition of Qigong:

Qigong is a training that requires the participant to consciously use the mind intent to focus inward to transform, to improve, and to enhance life functions. Mental, posture, and breathing adjustments are the extensions of the inward training. It is a training which enables the participants to transform natural instinctive activities into conscious activities.

It points out Qigong’s unique training method—Mind Inward Focusing Training. This specific training has two implications.     

  1. Normally, one’s mind is only conscious about the things outside of one’s own internal functions. It is outward focusing. In Qigong practice, one’s consciousness is focused inward and is united with life functions.
  2. Normal mind activities are expanding outward, from one point to another, and from one to many. In Qigong practice, the mind activities are inward and “condensed” to a single point, from many to one and focus on one point only.

This is the soul of Qigong’s definition. It is the standard which differentiates physical exercises from Qigong. For example, wellness programs such as medicine, physical therapy, and sports are not Qigong because they do not obtain their results from inward thinking.

The Difference Between Qigong and Physical Exercise

The difference between Qigong and physical exercise is based on whether the mind is inward focusing or not.  With the exception of body/muscle building, the participant’s mind intent in all physical exercise is always outward focusing.  Instead of focusing on one’s own physical body, in physical exercise the mind is always focused on the external object.  


Any movement can be either Qigong or physical exercise. For example, in dance, when one learns and practices a new routine or a particular movement, one focuses on the body mechanics—how the hands, feet, and the body move in a certain way, etc. This is called Qigong. On the other hand, when one dances the same routine at a party, instead of focusing on how the body moves, one just follows the music and enjoys the dance. This is called physical exercise. In a broader sense, any movement, as long as one is focused on the body mechanics, is Qigong. If the mind wonders away and the body moves mechanically, it becomes exercise. The more advanced/better one becomes, the more details one will be aware of. In Qigong, it is call “internal picture;” in basketball, it is called “court sense.” All cultures have different names to distinguish between the two. In most cultures, they call one “practice” and the other “physical exercise.”

How does Qigong work?

Guo Lin Qigong

Medical Qigong, for instance, involves the concepts of concentration and dispersion of Qi. Practicing Medical Qigong strengthens this natural process. If this process functions normally, then the human body is operating at its optimum potential. The reason we have illness is that this process has been disrupted. For example, when qi is concentrated too much and is not being dispersed in a normal way, too much qi accumulates in an area, creating a tumor. If we can disperse the qi, then the tumor will disappear.


Practicing qigong is the process of training the body to open to the universe to disperse abnormal qi, followed by relaxing and allowing body functions to return to normal. Imagine if someone yells fire in a crowded theater, and everyone rushes around in a panic, trampling each other in their effort to get out. Disaster ensues. However, if a few people get up and get fire extinguishers, while the rest line up to evacuate the building in an orderly fashion, then the process becomes efficient, with no disaster. Relaxing the body allows physiological and biochemical functions to regain their healthy balance. This is the goal of qigong practice.

Once we train the body to relax, the body can maintain health
even in the stress of daily life.


As Qigong becomes popular, misconceptions are abundant. The 2 most common misconceptions are: Qigong takes years to learn and Qigong is superstition. In the last few years, many “masters” claim to have obtain true transmission from a divine source and are here to save the world. Many of them eventually fade away. In order to demonstrate that it neither required years to learn nor is superstition, some Qigong Masters established training and recovery centers.


In early 1950s, Liu Gui Zhen, founder of Nei Yang Gong, established the first Qigong center in Beidaihe, China. He used his medical Qigong techniques to treat and prevent heart disease mostly for retired government officials. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Guo Lin expanded the Qigong healing into treatment of cancers. She combined special breathing techniques with natural and Taiji walking and achieved amazing results. It was the first “People Qigong” taught to the general public. In early 1980s, Pang Ming, a Qigong grandmaster and physician trained in both Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine, founded Huaxia Zhineng Qigong Clinic & Training Center in Qinghuangdao, China. Before it was closed due to political reasons, the Center treated patients with more than 180 diseases with an overall effective rate of more than 95%. It was one of the world’s most successful and largest alternative “medicineless” hospitals. The Medical Qigong method used at the Center is now taught in the U.S. as Chilel Qigong.

Like any kind of healthcare modality, it is not a panacea. It requires effort and persistence. But it is a very useful tool for anyone who is interested in maintaining good health.

What is Qigong?

Chilel Qigong

Taiji Neigong

Nei Yang Gong

His Holiness Dalai Lama teaches Breathing Qigong