- 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.
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.
Several studies show that qigong has an antidepressive effect.
Several studies show that qigong is effective in reducing chronic fatigue.
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.
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.
Several studies suggest qigong practice may improve mood.
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.
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.
Some studies suggest that qigong can reduce stress in patients with cancer and in older adults.
Is It Safe
- 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.
Who Can Provide this Service
For Healthcare Professionals
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 contend that qigong promotes a balanced flow of “qi” within the body. When disturbed, qi can produces discomfort and illness; conversely, with a free flow of qi, one is believed to be in better health (1) (2). Qi is wildly accepted concept of vital energy force in Asian culture, although its physical existence has not been demonstrated scientifically.
There are many forms and variations of qigong. There are some similarity 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 the 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 large number of people with minimal trainings. These are also used in clinical studies because they have standardized movements with reproducible effects.
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 also 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). As a physical activity, qigong along with tai chi can be considered a low-intensity exercise, and as such 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 have found that it positively affects psychological and emotional symptoms including 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). Preliminary findings suggest that it may help reduce upper limb lymhedema in breast cancer survivors (35).
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.
More importantly, patients who are especially weak, particularly due to chemotherapy, should consult a physician before taking on more strenuous forms of qigong (27).
Mechanism of Action
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). The pulmonary benefits observed are likely due to the focus of deep breathing exchange that is powered by the muscles in ; the lower abdomen, in an area called tantien (pronounced dawn-dee-in) considered the body’s main energy center). This places less pressure on lungs and increases lung capacity (13), as well as the overall improvement seen in ventilatory function (14) and breathing efficiency (19). The potential to reduce BMI and WHR may also be related to tantien contractions, which strengthens the waist and increases calorific consumption (12). The downregulation of hyperactivity in the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis is a proposed mechanism for qigong’s antidepressive effect (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).