What is QiGong?
If you’re a young adult living in the West, you know that our culture glorifies two things: an athletic body, and a high-impact fitness culture that claims to help a person achieve said body (think of the CrossFit regimen, running marathons, plyometrics, or burpees). High-impact exercises fit with some people’s lifestyles, but they can also strain the joints and they aren’t for everyone. What’s a person to do when she sits at a desk all day and wants to be more physically active, but she also wants to do it gently?
Qigong, which has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine, is a practice of body movements and breathing. (Tai chi, for example, is a form of qigong.) (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2022) My therapist suggested I try qigong, advising that it isn’t just for the elderly.
How Does QiGong Work?
Although you burn calories when doing qigong, it’s more of a moving meditation instead of a cardio workout (Jodi Helmer, 2021). Continually doing qigong won’t, for example, help you get shredded abs (though that isn’t the point!) You can think of qigong as a bunch of long-term benefits rolled into one activity, provided that it’s done consistently. These benefits include:
- Simultaneous utilization the legs, arms, core, and back;
- Continuous flow of movement without pause;
- Improved balance and flexibility;
- Improved posture;
- Building strength using only the body weight;
- Mental focus, including paying attention to breathing.
And the best part? You don’t need any equipment, running shoes, or even a class (although classes are available – for example, some YMCAs offer qigong). Personally, I follow the YouTube videos of Mimi Kuo-Deemer, a UK-based teacher of qigong and mindfulness.
This is not to discredit traditional gym workout routines like running, lifting weights, or climbing on the StairMaster. But qigong involves a variety of full-body fluid movements instead of repetitive impact. Unlike at the gym, you can’t put in your AirPods and tune out during a qigong session. When following Ms. Kuo-Deemer’s exercises, I find myself momentarily forgetting about my daily worries, because I have to focus on balance, posture, and breathing.
Other Benefits of Practicing QiGong
More research is needed to confirm qigong’s impacts on physical and psychological wellbeing. A study from the Hospital Authority of Hong Kong found that qigong may help reduce stress and anxiety in healthy adults, possibly due to mechanisms like deep diaphragmatic breathing (Chong-Wen Wang et. al., 2014). Another study (Roger Jahnke, 2010) identified nine possible categories where qigong and tai chi may provide favorable outcomes:
- Slowing down bone mineral loss;
- Cardiopulmonary benefits (though not necessarily weight loss);
- Improved physical function in older adults;
- Reduced risk of falls;
- Improved Quality of Life (QOL) outcomes;
- Enhanced self-efficacy;
- Improvements in self-reported pain (like neck pain);
- Decreased anxiety;
- Improved immune function.
The evidence is suggestive, not conclusive. Still, whether as part of a regular workout routine or a supplement to other exercises, qigong can be a rewarding low-impact activity, calming busy minds and strengthening bodies of all ages.
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-Written by Laura Miller