Common Names

  • Chi Kung
  • Chan Chuang
  • Yì Jīn Jīng
  • Yan Xin
  • Wu Qin Xi

For Patients & Caregivers

What Is It

Qigong combines body movements, muscle relaxation, meditation, and breathing to improve physical, mental, and emotional health. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine principles, disturbed or blocked flow of qi can produce discomfort and illness within an individual. Free flow of qi is associated with better health.

How It Works

Studies show that qigong practice can have many positive effects, particularly among patients with cancer, chronic illnesses, and breathing problems, as well as older adults. Benefits include improved lung function, mood, sleep, and quality of life, as well as reduced stress, pain, anxiety, and fatigue. It is also beneficial for overall health maintenance, particularly in older adults. Some studies have shown the amount of benefit corresponds to amount of practice.

Purported Uses
  • Anxiety
    Clinical studies show that qigong may be helpful for anxiety.
  • Blood pressure reduction
    A few studies show that regular qigong practice can have positive effects on blood pressure levels.
  • Breathing difficulty
    Clinical data show that qigong is effective in improving lung function and breathing efficiency, especially in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Depression
    Current data are inconclusive. More research is needed.
  • Fatigue
    Qigong was found useful for reducing chronic fatigue.
  • Fibromyalgia
    Clinical trials have shown benefits of qigong in patients with fibromyalgia.
  • Health maintenance
    A few studies show that qigong can increase activity tolerance and improve balance, endurance and body composition, particularly in older adults.
  • Inflammation
    A randomized study evaluating qigong in cancer patients found that inflammation was greatly reduced after 10 weeks of practice.
  • Mental functioning
    In small studies, qigong practice resulted in improved cognitive function, although this evidence relies on self-reporting.
  • Mood
    Data suggest that qigong practice may improve mood.
  • Numbness
    A small study showed reduction in numbness in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. This may occur because qigong acts as an upper extremity exercise which is often recommended for post-surgery patients to stimulate circulation.
  • Pain
    A few studies have found qigong to positively affect sense of pain in patients after surgery who are receiving chemotherapy and in those who have fibromyalgia.
  • Sleep disturbance
    Qigong may have positive effects on sleep quality.
  • Stress
    Some studies suggest that qigong can reduce stress in cancer patients and in older adults.
Is It Safe
  • A few cases of qigong-induced mental disorders have been reported in China. These were thought to result from inappropriate training, and practicing extreme forms of meditation.
  • If you are weak, particularly due to chemotherapy, consult your doctor before starting more strenuous forms of qigong practice.
Who Can Provide this Service

Organizations such as the National Qigong Association certify Qigong practitioners. The Medical Tai Chi and Qigong Association (MTQA) is working toward an accreditation standard guideline for instructors and training institutions.




Where Can I Get Treatment

Many hospitals, as well as cancer and community centers offer qigong classes.

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For Healthcare Professionals

Clinical Summary

Developed nearly 5,000 years ago in China, qigong integrates methods of body movement, muscle relaxation, meditation, and respiratory exercise to improve physical, emotional, and psychological health. Traditional Chinese Medicine contends that qigong promotes a balanced flow of qi (chee) within the body. It describes disturbed qi as producing discomfort and illness. Conversely, with free flow of qi, one is believed to be in better health (1) (2). In Asian cultures, qi is a widely accepted concept of vital energy force, although its physical existence has not been demonstrated scientifically.

There are many forms and variations of qigong. In addition, there are some similarities between qigong and tai chi (or taiji), as both are mind–body–spirit integrative exercises (3) and they are often practiced together. Traditionally, qigong is used for therapeutic purposes. In external qigong, a trained master may transmit energy to a recipient with or without touching (5). One might also practice internal qigong by cultivating qi to heal ailments. However, due to lack of scientific evidence and uniform approaches, qigong is rarely used to treat disease in the Western world.

As a form of exercise, qigong can be classified by the level of motion. Static qigong refers to meditation in sitting, standing, and lying-down postures. Dynamic qigong refers to moving meditation, which can also take on many forms (4). Simplified versions, such as the Eight Brocades have been developed so they can be taught to, and practiced, by a large number of people with minimal training. These are also used in clinical studies because they have standardized movements with reproducible effects.

Qi gong, as well as yoga and tai chi, are recommended by an international expert panel for management of knee osteoarthritis (36). In several small studies, regular qigong practice has been shown to benefit patients with hypertension (6), fibromyalgia (7) (41), chronic fatigue (8), tinnitus (9), and other chronic conditions (10). In addition, it may have positive effects on sleep quality and climacteric symptoms in perimenopausal women (11); along with improving muscle endurance, waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), and body mass index (BMI) in middle-aged women (12). Qigong also improved respiratory function and activity tolerance in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (13), cardiorespiratory function and expiratory capacity in patients with hypertension (14), and reduced stress levels along with improving sleep quality, activity levels, immune response, balance and pain in older adults (15) (16) (17) (42). It is considered a low-intensity exercise and may be beneficial for cardiopulmonary rehabilitation (18) (19). But data of qigong’s effectiveness against depression are inconclusive (33) (43).

According to a systematic review, qigong may benefit children with autism spectrum disorder, but larger studies are needed (44).

In oncology settings, qigong may serve as a useful complementary therapy. Clinical studies indicate positive effects on anxiety, mood, depression, quality of life (1) (20) (34); and on physical symptoms such as pain, numbness, dizziness, fatigue, inflammation, and cognitive function (1) (21) (22) (45). Improvements in physical activity patterns and reductions in BMI have also been reported (37). Furthermore, preliminary findings suggest that qigong may help reduce upper limb lymphedema in breast cancer survivors (35), along with conferring psychosocial and physical benefits (46), alleviating persistent post-surgical pain (47) as well as improving cognitive function (48). In patients with advanced NSCLC and GI cancers, compared with strength training, medical qigong had similar effects on psychological function, but not exercise capacity (38). More research is needed to not only confirm these findings, but to fully elucidate the mechanisms by which qigong exerts its positive effects.

Patients should be aware that qigong is not a cancer treatment per se, but can be practiced to help alleviate symptoms associated with cancer and its treatments. Those who are weak, particularly due to chemotherapy, should consult a physician before taking on more strenuous forms of qigong (27).

Mechanism of Action

Qigong incorporates muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, meditation, and body movements to foster a free, stabilized, and unobstructed internal flow of qi (2). Through this mind-body dynamic, qigong can play an integral role in hypothalamic activity, easing both parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems (PNS, SNS) towards a state of homeostasis (1) (27). Since blood pressure (BP) level is directly linked to the SNS, the lower BP levels exhibited following qigong exercise are compatible with the stabilization of SNS activity (6) (14). Practice of qigong also modulates urinary catecholamine levels suggesting a positive effect on BP (14). Pulmonary benefits observed are likely due to the focused, deep breathing powered by lower abdominal muscles in an area known as tantien (pronounced dawn-dee-in), which is considered the body’s main energy center. This places less pressure on the lungs, increases lung capacity (13), and improves ventilatory function (14) and breathing efficiency (19). The potential to reduce BMI may also be related to tantien contractions, which strengthens the waist and increases calorific consumption  (12). Antidepressive effects have been attributed to increased adiponectin levels (39) and downregulation of hyperactivity in the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (10). Qigong may modify inflammation by affecting immune responsiveness through neuroendocrine factors (1) (28). Its positive effect on balance is attributed to the improved use of vestibular input and wider stances (16).

The effect of qigong on numbness in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy may be due to its stimulatory action as an upper extremity exercise, which is often recommended for post-surgery patients (21).

Adverse Reactions

A few cases of qigong-induced mental disorders have been reported in China. But these were thought to result from inappropriate training, and practicing extreme forms of meditation (29) (30) (31).

Practitioners and Treatments

Organizations such as the National Qigong Association certify Qigong practitioners. The Medical Tai Chi and Qigong Association (MTQA) is working toward an accreditation standard guideline for instructors and training institutions (40).

Qigong classes are offered at hospitals as well as cancer and community centers.

Dosage (OneMSK Only)
  1. Oh B, Butow P, Mullan B, et al. Impact of medical Qigong on quality of life, fatigue, mood and inflammation in cancer patients: a randomized controlled trial. Ann Oncol. Mar 2010;21(3):608-614.
  2. Oh B, Butow P, Mullan B, et al. Medical Qigong for cancer patients: pilot study of impact on quality of life, side effects of treatment and inflammation. Am J Chin Med. 2008;36(3):459-472.
  3. Yang Y. The relation between wuji, taiji, and qigong. Available at: http://www.centerfortaiji.com. Accessed June 26, 2020.
  4. Loh SH. Qigong therapy in the treatment of metastatic colon cancer. Altern Ther Health Med. Jul 1999;5(4):112, 111.
  5. Lee MS, Chen KW, Sancier KM, et al. Qigong for cancer treatment: a systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Acta Oncol. 2007;46(6):717-722.
  6. Lee MS, Lim HJ, Lee MS. Impact of qigong exercise on self-efficacy and other cognitive perceptual variables in patients with essential hypertension. J Altern Complement Med. Aug 2004;10(4):675-680.
  7. Lynch M, Sawynok J, Hiew C, et al. A randomized controlled trial of qigong for fibromyalgia. Arthritis Res Ther. Aug 3 2012;14(4):R178.
  8. Ho RT, Chan JS, Wang CW, et al. A randomized controlled trial of qigong exercise on fatigue symptoms, functioning, and telomerase activity in persons with chronic fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome. Ann Behav Med. Oct 2012;44(2):160-170.
  9. Biesinger E, Kipman U, Schatz S, et al. Qigong for the treatment of tinnitus: a prospective randomized controlled study. J Psychosom Res. Sep 2010;69(3):299-304.
  10. Tsang HW, Tsang WW, Jones AY, et al. Psycho-physical and neurophysiological effects of qigong on depressed elders with chronic illness. Aging Ment Health. 2013;17(3):336-48.
  11. Yeh SC, Chang MY. The effect of Qigong on menopausal symptoms and quality of sleep for perimenopausal women: a preliminary observational study. J Altern Complement Med. Jun 2012;18(6):567-575.
  12. Tsai YK, Chen HH, Lin IH, et al. Qigong improving physical status in middle-aged women. West J Nurs Res. Dec 2008;30(8):915-927.
  13. Chan AW, Lee A, Suen LK, et al. Tai chi Qigong improves lung functions and activity tolerance in COPD clients: a single blind, randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. Feb 2011;19(1):3-11.
  14. Lee MS, Lee MS, Choi ES, et al. Effects of Qigong on blood pressure, blood pressure determinants and ventilatory function in middle-aged patients with essential hypertension. Am J Chin Med. 2003;31(3):489-497.
  15. Yang Y, Verkuilen J, Rosengren KS, et al. Effects of a Taiji and Qigong intervention on the antibody response to influenza vaccine in older adults. Am J Chin Med. 2007;35(4):597-607.
  16. Yang Y, Verkuilen JV, Rosengren KS, et al. Effect of combined Taiji and Qigong training on balance mechanisms: a randomized controlled trial of older adults. Med Sci Monit. Aug 2007;13(8):CR339-348.
  17. Jahnke RA, Larkey LK, Rogers C. Dissemination and benefits of a replicable Tai Chi and Qigong program for older adults. Geriatr Nurs. Jul-Aug 2010;31(4):272-280.
  18. Chao YF, Chen SY, Lan C, et al. The cardiorespiratory response and energy expenditure of Tai-Chi-Qui-Gong. Am J Chin Med. 2002;30(4):451-461.
  19. Lan C, Chou SW, Chen SY, et al. The aerobic capacity and ventilatory efficiency during exercise in Qigong and Tai Chi Chuan practitioners. Am J Chin Med. 2004;32(1):141-150.
  20. Navarro M. Qigong Improves Quality of Life in Cancer Patients. 9th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO). Presented October 8, 2012.2012.
  21. Lee TI, Chen HH, Yeh ML. Effects of chan-chuang qigong on improving symptom and psychological distress in chemotherapy patients. Am J Chin Med. 2006;34(1):37-46.
  22. Oh B, Butow PN, Mullan BA, et al. Effect of medical Qigong on cognitive function, quality of life, and a biomarker of inflammation in cancer patients: a randomized controlled trial. Support Care Cancer. Jun 2012;20(6):1235-1242.
  23. Chen K, Yeung R. Exploratory studies of Qigong therapy for cancer in China. Integr Cancer Ther. Dec 2002;1(4):345-370.
  24. Chen KW, Shiflett SC, Ponzio NM, et al. A preliminary study of the effect of external qigong on lymphoma growth in mice. J Altern Complement Med. Oct 2002;8(5):615-621.
  25. Yan X, Li F, Dozmorov I, et al. External Qi of Yan Xin Qigong induces cell death and gene expression alterations promoting apoptosis and inhibiting proliferation, migration and glucose metabolism in small-cell lung cancer cells. Mol Cell Biochem. Apr 2012;363(1-2):245-255.
  26. Yan X, Shen H, Jiang H, et al. External Qi of Yan Xin Qigong Induces apoptosis and inhibits migration and invasion of estrogen-independent breast cancer cells through suppression of Akt/NF-kB signaling. Cell Physiol Biochem. 2010;25(2-3):263-270.
  27. Yeh ML, Lee TI, Chen HH, et al. The influences of Chan-Chuang qi-gong therapy on complete blood cell counts in breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy. Cancer Nurs. Mar-Apr 2006;29(2):149-155.
  28. Yang Y, Verkuilen J, Rosengren KS, et al. Effects of a traditional Taiji/Qigong curriculum on older adults’ immune response to influenza vaccine. Med Sport Sci. 2008;52:64-76.
  29. Lee S. Chinese hypnosis can cause qigong induced mental disorders. BMJ. Mar 18 2000;320(7237):803.
  30. Ng BY. Qigong-induced mental disorders: a review. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. Apr 1999;33(2):197-206.
  31. Xu SH. Psychophysiological reactions associated with qigong therapy. Chin Med J (Engl). Mar 1994;107(3):230-233.
  32. Oh B, Butow P, Mullan B, et al. A critical review of the effects of medical Qigong on quality of life, immune function, and survival in cancer patients. Integr Cancer Ther. Jun 2012;11(2):101-110.
  33. Oh B, Choi SM, Inamori A, Rosenthal D, Yeung A. Effects of qigong on depression: a systemic review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:134737.
  34. Chen Z, Meng Z, Milbury K, et al. Qigong improves quality of life in women undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer: results of a randomized controlled trial. Cancer. 2013 May 1;119(9):1690-8.
  35. Fong SS, Ng SS, Luk WS, et al. Effects of Qigong Exercise on Upper Limb Lymphedema and Blood Flow in Survivors of Breast Cancer: A Pilot Study. Integr Cancer Ther. 2014 Jan;13(1):54-61.
  36. Brosseau L, Taki J, Desjardins B, et al. The Ottawa panel clinical practice guidelines for the management of knee osteoarthritis. Part one: introduction, and mind-body exercise programs. Clin Rehabil. May 2017;31(5):582-595.
  37. Larkey LK, Roe DJ, Smith L, et al. Exploratory outcome assessment of Qigong/Tai Chi Easy on breast cancer survivors. Complement Ther Med. Dec 2016;29:196-203.
  38. Vanderbyl BL, Mayer MJ, Nash C, et al. A comparison of the effects of medical Qigong and standard exercise therapy on symptoms and quality of life in patients with advanced cancer. Support Care Cancer. Jun 2017;25(6):1749-1758.
  39. Chan JS, Li A, Ng SM, et al. Adiponectin Potentially Contributes to the Antidepressive Effects of Baduanjin Qigong Exercise in Women With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome-Like Illness. Cell Transplant. Mar 13 2017;26(3):493-501.
  40. Oh B, Yeung A, Klein P, et al. Accreditation Standard Guideline Initiative for Tai Chi and Qigong Instructors and Training Institutions. Medicines (Basel). Jun 8 2018;5(2).
  41. Jiao J, Russell IJ, Wang W, Wang J, Zhao YY, Jiang Q. Ba-Duan-Jin alleviates pain and fibromyalgia-related symptoms in patients with fibromyalgia: results of a randomised controlled trial. Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2019 Nov-Dec;37(6):953-962.
  42. Tang SK, Tse MMY, Leung SF, Fotis T. The effectiveness, suitability, and sustainability of non-pharmacological methods of managing pain in community-dwelling older adults: a systematic review. BMC Public Health. 2019 Nov 8;19(1):1488.
  43. Guo L, Kong Z, Zhang Y. Qigong-Based Therapy for Treating Adults with Major Depressive Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Mar 7;16(5):826.
  44. Rodrigues JM, Mestre M, Fredes LI. Qigong in the treatment of children with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review. J Integr Med. 2019 Jul;17(4):250-260.
  45. Lu Y, Qu HQ, Chen FY, et al. Effect of Baduanjin Qigong Exercise on Cancer-Related Fatigue in Patients with Colorectal Cancer Undergoing Chemotherapy: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Oncol Res Treat. 2019;42(9):431-439.
  46. Ying W, Min QW, Lei T, Na ZX, Li L, Jing L. The health effects of Baduanjin exercise (a type of Qigong exercise) in breast cancer survivors: A randomized, controlled, single-blinded trial. Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2019 Apr;39:90-97.
  47. Osypiuk K, Ligibel J, Giobbie-Hurder A, et al. Qigong Mind-Body Exercise as a Biopsychosocial Therapy for Persistent Post-Surgical Pain in Breast Cancer: A Pilot Study. Integr Cancer Ther. 2020 Jan-Dec;19:1534735419893766.
  48. Myers JS, Mitchell M, Krigel S, et al. Qigong intervention for breast cancer survivors with complaints of decreased cognitive function. Support Care Cancer. 2019 Apr;27(4):1395-1403.
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