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Qigong

Qigong

Common Names

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

For Patients & Caregivers

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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.

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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.

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  • Anxiety
    Several studies show that qigong may be helpful for anxiety.
  • Blood pressure reduction
    Some studies show that regular qigong practice can positively affect blood pressure levels.
  • Breathing difficulty
    Several studies show that qigong is effective for improving lung function and breathing efficiency, especially in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Depression
    Several studies show that qigong has an antidepressive effect.
  • Fatigue
    Several studies show that qigong is effective in reducing chronic fatigue.
  • Fibromyalgia
    A randomized controlled trial of a standardized, 8-week qigong practice was shown to improve symptoms of 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. This was measured using a specific laboratory test.
  • Mental functioning
    In small randomized studies, qigong practice resulted in improved cognitive function, although this evidence relies on self-reporting.
  • Mood
    Several studies suggest qigong practice may improve mood.
  • Numbness
    A small study showed a significant reduction in numbness for 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
    A preliminary study suggests qigong may have positive effects on sleep quality and perimenopausal symptoms. It also appears that the amount of benefit increases with more practice. In addition, qigong can improve sleep in older adults and patients with fibromyalgia.
  • Stress
    Some studies suggest that qigong can reduce stress in patients with cancer and in older adults.
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  • Cases of qigong-induced mental disorders have been reported in China. These were thought to be caused by inappropriate training and practice of extreme forms of meditation. Such reports are rare in the Western world.
  • If you are weak, particularly due to chemotherapy, consult your doctor before starting more strenuous forms of qigong practice.
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Certified instructors should come from reliable organizations, such as the National Qigong Association. The Medical Tai Chi and Qigong Association (MTQA) is working toward a creation of standard guidelines.

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Many hospitals, cancer and community centers offer qigong classes.

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For Healthcare Professionals

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Developed nearly 5000 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 disturbance of qi as producing discomfort and illness. Conversely, with a free flow of qi, one is believed to be in better health (1) (2). In Asian culture, 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 as a direct treatment of diseases 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 are 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 provide long-term benefits for patients with hypertension (6), fibromyalgia (7), chronic fatigue (8), tinnitus (9), and other chronic medical illnesses (10). It appears to have “dose-dependent” positive effects on sleep quality and climacteric symptoms in perimenopausal women (11). It may also have specific health-preserving effects, as it improved muscle endurance, waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), and body mass index (BMI) in middle-aged women (12).

Qigong improves 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 with improved sleep quality, activity levels, immune response, and balance in older adults (15) (16) (17). It is considered a low-intensity exercise, and may be beneficial in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation (18) (19). Data on qigong’s effects on depression are inconclusive (33).

Earlier in vitro and animal studies in China using a form of external qigong suggest it can inhibit cancer cell growth. However, these studies are not reproducible due to variety of methods and practitioners (23). One study even found qigong to be effective in attenuating lymphoma growth in mice (24). More recent studies also indicate these effects in various cell lines, but the inability to specifically qualify and quantify the delivery of qi in these studies poses some basic challenges when evaluating qigong in this way. (25) (26).

Recently, qigong has been found to be an effective complementary therapy for cancer patients. Clinical studies indicate positive effects on anxiety, mood, depression, and quality of life (1) (20) (34). Qigong has also demonstrated effectiveness in ameliorating physical symptoms experienced by cancer patients such as pain, numbness, dizziness, fatigue, inflammation, and cognitive function (1) (21) (22). Another study also reported improvements in physical activity patterns and reductions in BMI (37). Preliminary findings suggest that it may help reduce upper limb lymhedema in breast cancer survivors (35). 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).

Further research is needed to not only confirm these findings, but to more 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.

Patients who are especially weak, particularly due to chemotherapy, should consult a physician before taking on more strenuous forms of qigong (27).

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Qigong incorporates methods of 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).

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Cases of qigong-induced mental disorders have been reported in China. These were thought to be caused by inappropriate training and practice of extreme forms of meditation. Such reports are rare in the Western world (29) (30) (31).

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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 and cancer and community centers.

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  1. Yang Y. The relation between wuji, taiji, and qigong. Available at: http://www.centerfortaiji.com. Accessed July 15, 2016.

  2. Loh SH. Qigong therapy in the treatment of metastatic colon cancer. Altern Ther Health Med. Jul 1999;5(4):112, 111.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Chen K, Yeung R. Exploratory studies of Qigong therapy for cancer in China. Integr Cancer Ther. Dec 2002;1(4):345-370.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. Lee S. Chinese hypnosis can cause qigong induced mental disorders. BMJ. Mar 18 2000;320(7237):803.

  17. Ng BY. Qigong-induced mental disorders: a review. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. Apr 1999;33(2):197-206.

  18. Xu SH. Psychophysiological reactions associated with qigong therapy. Chin Med J (Engl). Mar 1994;107(3):230-233.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

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