Etymologically, Qigong (chi kung or chi gung) is a Romanized word for two Chinese characters: qì and gōng. Qi (氣) means energy and Gong (功) means work or skill – so Qigong (氣功) means to work with and develop skill with energy (3).


What is the meaning of

Qi (or chi) primarily means air, gas or breath but is often translated as a metaphysical concept of “subtle breath” or “vital energy” (1) or the relationship between matter, energy, and spirit. (2) Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts. Gong (or kung) is often translated as cultivation or work, but also as skill, mastery or accomplishment. In other words, “skill cultivated through steady practice”. The two words are combined to describe systems to cultivate and balance life energy, especially for health and wellbeing. (1)

What is

Qigong originated over 5,000 years ago and is an ancient art whose principles are also used in acupuncture and traditional Chinese Taoist medicine. The basic principles of Qigong are Breath, Posture, Movement, Relaxation and Concentration and the steady practice of those principles seeks to adjust the body, breath, and mind into balance (4,5).

Qigong can also be described as a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture and repeated movements, breathing techniques, stretching, and increasing fluid movement within the body, but also the use of self-massage, sound, and focused intent (4,6).

How are these practical elements integrated?

The body is regulated through posture.

The mind is regulated through focused concentration of mental activity (meditation), quiet and relaxation.

Breath is regulated by the movement of the limbs and self-massage (6).

With these practical elements, Qigong helps release blockages of energy flow within the body and bring it back to neutral. Regular practice restores the flow of energy in body, helping the practitioner become aware of the flow of their own life force energy, or chi. This is the reason Qigong is also described as a ‘life force practice’ (4,6).

Qigong is considered a very profound technique, with the power to positively transform both the physical and mental health of the practitioner. Practiced regularly it will train the body and mind to truly relax. In this state of calm, deep healing can happen. Research studies conducted mainly in the West have shown that this ancient practice offers many benefits (4, 6, 7, 8):

  • Better immune function
  • Helps the digestive system
  • Improves cardiopulmonary fitness and other related biomarkers
  • Increased strength, stamina, range of motion, and flexibility
  • Better physical functioning
  • Positive effect on bone health
  • Reduced falls and related risk factors and better balance
  • Gentle and slow movements make tendons, ligaments and muscles supple
  • Postures tonify vital organs and connective tissue
  • Reduce systemic inflammation
  • Promote circulation of body fluids (blood, synovial, lymph)
  • Reduces cortisol and stress hormones
  • Enhances healthy sleeping patterns
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Improves concentration and mood
  • Improved quality of life
  • Improve psychological factors such as anxiety, depression and self-efficacy
  • Helps managing stress, anger, emotional frustration and negative thoughts
  • Brings relief or prevention for various health issues and concerns like diabetes, chronic pain, and even cancer

Qigong in Cancer Care

A 2014 study conducted at the Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University in China, reported that qigong/tai chi emerged as one of the most effective mind-body interventions to reduce cancer symptoms and better cope with disease. The results showed that qigong had positive effects on the cancer-specific quality of life, fatigue, immune function, and cortisol level of cancer patients (9). An updated review by some of the authors, published in 2019, concluded that “there were statistically significant and clinically meaningful effects in favor of Qigong/Tai Chi interventions for symptoms of fatigue and sleep quality” and “positive trends, but not statistically significant effects, observed for anxiety, stress, depressive symptoms, and overall quality of life”. According to this study, Qigong in cancer care shows great promise with short-term effects in treating many cancer-related symptoms (10).

Another study considered that Qigong, by integrating musculoskeletal conditioning along with training in multiple cognitive skills and breath regulation, typically practiced in groups that provide psychosocial support shows great promise in addressing cancer-related symptoms and quality of life of cancer survivors (11). Similarly, promising results were derived from a 2016 Meta-Analysis, reporting that Qigong, and other holistic practices, such as Tai Chi and acupuncture, represent beneficial adjunctive therapies to cancer patients, who suffer from both the cancer itself and symptoms induced by conventional treatment (12).