Qigong (‘chee-gung’) is a traditional Chinese health practice that has been used and refined for thousands of years, combining techniques in meditation, breathing exercises and physical movements. For those who have practiced qigong, many report beneficial health improvements, finding relief from problems such as stress, or back pain – which are both common symptoms in today’s modern lifestyle.
Traditional Chinese medicine describes the main force behind the discipline as ‘Qi’ – translated as ‘the life force’, and thought to represent the flow of energy in the body. It is believed that achieving a balance of this energy can promote health resilience in the body and mind, and help alleviate a variety of ailments.
While qigong-based health treatments are growing in the Western world, little has been known on how to scientifically define the workings of the ‘Qi’ behind qigong. However, scientific studies on the health benefits of qigong are increasing in number, having grown in the past 20 years. Although each study encompasses different aspects of qigong, they include common methods in breath regulation, mindfulness and relaxation.
To investigate the effects of these practices, scientists conduct clinical trials, assigning groups of people to different treatments, and reporting on their health results. For studies investigating the effects of qigong, scientists compare the health results of groups assigned to qigong practices, against those who are given an alternative treatment, or none at all.
In 2012, Scientists evaluated the effects of qigong on blood pressure, health status and hormone levels for high blood pressure (hypertension). Forty patients were split into two groups – one undertaking qigong exercise, and the other with no treatment.
In the first group, participants completed qigong exercises 5 times per week, for 8 weeks, while the other group made no changes to their usual lifestyle. As shown in their publication, results showed that the group treated with qigong experienced significant improvements in blood pressure.
Musculoskeletal problems can also benefit from this discipline, especially when combined with other treatments. In a study treating a type of inflammatory disorder of the shoulder (periarthritis), scientists applied a variety of qigong exercises titled ‘Sinew-transforming’ to 30 patients undergoing a form of Chinese massage (named ‘Tuina’). They found that the massage based treatment was more effective when incorporated with qigong.
Large scale analyses
To compare published studies together, scientists conduct systematic reviews and meta-analyses. With these approaches, the results of previous studies are compared in a systematic, non-biased way, to come to conclusive trends.
Researchers carried out a systematic review on the use of qigong as a treatment in cancer care, including eleven randomized clinical trials from around the globe, encompassing 831 study subjects in total. The study showed that qigong had beneficial effects on cancer-related fatigue, immune function, and cortisol levels, as well as quality of life.
The benefits of qigong are also shown to extend to mental health. In various studies, scientists have found that qigong can alleviate anxiety and stress. For example, in a published systematic review and meta-analysis, seven trials were compared, and showed that qigong exercises can reduce stress and anxiety.
This has also been mentioned in articles such as Yin & Dishman (2014), where trials investigating the effects of qigong and tai chi were analyzed, based on 35 studies involving 2765 participants in total. As discussed in this review, and by Vergeer et al (2017) qigong is shown to help improve balance, prevent falls, and decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.
What does this show?
Whether or not the existence of a ‘Qi’ energy can be proven, many studies are continuing to show positive health results in the use of the qigong practice. Though scientists agree that more studies are needed to increase data reliability, numerous studies report on improved overall health, reduced inflammation and stress in particular.
The benefits of qigong are not only reported in scientific studies, but for many who incorporate it into their lives, whether it be in guided classes, or on a Qigong Vacation.
If you want to hear more from Qigong Vacations sign up for our newsletter on the bottom right of this page.
Klein PJ, Schneider R, Rhoads CJ. Qigong in cancer care: a systematic review and construct analysis of effective Qigong therapy. Supportive Care in Cancer. July 2016. Volume 24, Issue 7, pp 3209–3222.
Park J, Hong S, Park T, Liu Y, Kim J, Kim T, Kim A, Jung S, Park H, Choi S. A randomized controlled trial for the use of qigong in the treatment of pre and mild essential hypertension. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. June 2012. 12:P192.
Shen Z-F, Zhu G-F, Shen Q-H, Wu Y-J, Xu J. Effect of Yi Jin Jing (Sinew-transforming Qigong Exercises) plus tuina on scapulohumeral periarthritis. Journal of Acupuncture and Tuina Science. July 2017. Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 285–289.
Vergeer I, Bennie JA, Charity MJ, Harvey JT, Van Uffelen JGZ, Biddle SJH, Eime RM. Participation trends in holistic movement practices: a 10-year comparison of yoga/Pilates and t’ai chi/qigong use among a national sample of 195,926 Australians. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. June 2017. 17:296.
Wang C-W, Chan CHY, Ho RTH, Chan JSM, Ng S-M, Chan CLW. Managing stress and anxiety through qigong exercise in healthy adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. December 2014. 14:8.
Yin J, Dishman RK. The effect of Tai Chi and Qigong practice on depression and anxiety symptoms: A systematic review and meta-regression analysis of randomized controlled trials. Mental Health and Physical Activity. September 2014. Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 135-146.