Updated: Mar 29
What is Qigong?
When you live in a country where the language is not your own, you become used to seeing the confusion in the face of others when you talk. It happens to me all the time since I moved to the USA. However, with my lovely French accent, when I talk about what I do and talk about Qigong, then I can see how confused my interlocutors are.
But it is not just my weird accent, even the spelling of the word seems mysterious. When I talk about Qigong, some think of it as a martial art or a strenuous workout, while others think of it as a mystic or even a religious practice. Despite being thousands of years old, there is still a misunderstanding about what is Qigong. In this article, I will try to simplify it and bring more clarity to the concept of Qigong and demystifying its practice.
How do you spell it?
First, let’s have a look at different ways you are going to find Qigong spelled. The most common spellings I encountered are Qigong and Chi Kung. What I found is that Qigong is the transliteration of Mandarin Chinese using the Pinyin system which is the standard system of romanized spelling for transliterating Chinese adopted in 1958. The “Chi Kung” spelling is utilizing the previous Wade-Giles transliterating system. There is not a right system over the other, both are commonly used. I use the Pinyin transliteration: Qigong.
How do you pronounce it?
The pronunciation is much more complicated. The diacritic marks used in the Pinyin system give us indications on how to pronounce correctly this Chinese word. The tonal mark above the vowel i indicates a descending tone and the one above the vowel o indicates a flat tone. In English phonetic spelling, it will look like this:
Qìgōng = chee·guhng
What does it mean?
The Chinese word Qigong is composed of two characters. Individually, the characters are:
The Qi symbol is itself made of two pictographs. The first one (气) means mist or vapor, specifically the “mist that rises from the Earth to form the clouds”. It denotes energy that is rising upward.
The lower character (米) means rice, symbolizing the substantial, food that sustains life.
These two pictographs together form the character for Qi. Therefore, Qi can be understood as life force energy.
The symbol for Gong (功) means “to work with” or “skills”.
Therefore, Qigong is usually translated as cultivating and maintaining vital energy.
But still …
Each day we experience the world around us as visible and tangible matter. However,
the discoveries and theories brought by Quantum physics are totally in contrast to our experience of the world. This particular field of science is the study of matter and energy that describes the behavior of fundamental particles — atoms, electrons, photons and almost everything in the molecular and sub-molecular realm. Through this science, we’ve learned that the basis of all material things is not material. We’ve learned that in contrast to their appearances the particles and molecules aren’t tiny material building blocks like we first thought, but standing waves or forms.
In this view, the conclusion is that there is a whole realm of the universe that we can’t see. We live in a background of nonmaterial forms. The forms are real, even though they are invisible because they have the potential to appear in the material world and act in it. What makes the world visible is determined by the interaction between these waves. For instance, the interactions of atomic wave patterns determine what kind of molecules can form. In addition, the interactions also determine how molecules interact. The molecules in our body, for example, interact in such a way that they keep us alive.
The tension, the force that holds those forms together is Qi. Qi is vibrating in constant energetic motion within all things. It is the catalyst for everything to relate and interrelate within the universe.
This phenomenon is exactly what ancient Chinese had already understood thousands of years ago. They believed that all transformations happened under the influence of Qi; all transformations were caused by and formed out of Qi.
Qi is considered to be the glue between matter and spirit. It is the base material that connects everything. It overlaps the border of the material and the immaterial. Every single thing and non-thing are permeated and governed by Qi. The universe itself is a wide web of Qi. In this view, Qi is a prescientific notion of quantum physics.
So, the vital force that connects and fills all things, the Qi, is inherent in the living human body, and the human body is sustained by Qi.
As energy, the Qi can manifest within the body through different levels of vibration called the three bodies:
Shen – The spiritual body: Energetically manifesting through subtle vibrations
without physical form such as thoughts, consciousness, spirit and mind.
Qi – The energetic body: Acting as a bridge between form and formless.
Energetically manifesting through emotions (energy in motion).
Jing – The physical body: Energetically manifesting as matter through the
body's cells, tissues and substances.
This is the same understanding of the behavior of matter in the natural world explained above. Matter (Jing) progresses to energy (Qi) and energy to spirit (Shen), and vice-versa. Qigong masters usually use the analogy of a cube of ice going from a solid-state to water then to vapor and then back to water and ice. I like to think of snow that melts in Spring and reaches the creek where the water will then evaporates under the hot sun of Summer. Then, the mist of a cloud will pour rain during Fall and, if it is cold enough the rain can even turn into snow.
Qigong as a self-care practice
As mentioned above, the study and practice of Qigong are meant for cultivating and maintaining the vital energy, the Qi within our body. The principles of Qigong are known to be about 5 000 years old. With a long rich history spanning thousands of years, Qigong evolved in many forms. Today, there are three main schools of Qigong: Martial, Medical, and Spiritual. They all developed from the same philosophical system but each school has its specific purpose and desired outcomes. Whereas martial Qigong trains primarily the physical body and focuses on building endurance and power, spiritual Qigong focuses on spiritual transformation and enlightenment while medical Qigong trains healers using specific Qigong methods and procedures. At Mindful Essence, we teach and practice medical Qigong.
Most people recognize Qigong as this strange exercise where movements are done at a very slow pace. But Qigong is more than just a form of exercise for people with reduced abilities.
Qigong is a holistic mind-body practice that improves physical and mental health and enhances life regardless of age, ability, or belief system. It is an easy and accessible self-care practice that integrates movements, breathing techniques, and mindful intention. When practiced consciously and regularly, Qigong helps us to increase our energy level, deal with pain, increase our immune function, and calm our mind. It fosters relaxation, rejuvenation, restoration, stress reduction, emotional health and mental clarity. Ultimately, it helps us to feel better and embody a general sense of well-being. It offers a transformative experience for our body, our mind, and our spirit. There is a saying claiming that “You don’t do Qigong, Qigong does you!”
Qigong as a healing modality
What people know less about Qigong is that this ancestral practice is also a complete holistic medical system. Indeed, Medical Qigong is considered to be one of the four main branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), along with acupuncture, herbal medicine, and massage. Eastern medicine, was developed believing and trusting the human capacity to know what’s wrong in the body and what’s need to be done. Medical Qigong is a non-intrusive, complementary and integrative energy-based approach for health maintenance, longevity, disease prevention and treatment of diseases and disorders. Its application is both preventive and curative and can assist us in our natural ability to heal.
Qi in the body
Whether we practice Qigong by ourselves or receive a session from a Qigong practitioner to correct our energetic imbalances, we experience the sensations of Qi within our body. These sensations will appear and disappear spontaneously. It is a unique and distinct experience for everyone. Therefore, there is no wrong or right way to experience it. Some of us are more sensitive to energy and will recognize the sensations of Qi after their very first session. Others may take longer. I like to say to my students that Qigong is a practice and as a practice, it’s through the repetitive application of the principles of Qigong that we learn and discover the power behind this ancestral tradition.
Here are a few of the typical Qi sensations.
Expansiveness or Contraction
*Feelings of compression or tugging
*Feeling the surface of the body as porous
Heaviness or Lightness
*Feelings of floating or sinking
*Feeling of being fluffy, like clouds moving inside of the body
*Feeling being tipsy on wine
Cold or Hot
*Feeling of warmth or coolness spreading in limbs and torso
*Feeling of heat coming out from the hands
Tingling or Itching
* In the hands, feet or cheeks
Vibrating, Shaking, Rippling, or Moving
*Sense of flowing or circulating
*Moving in the belly
*Sensation of a magnetic field between hands
*Accelerating of heart rate
*Feeling radiant or luminescent
*Feeling of flashing light sensations (electrical sensations) in the limbs and body
*Seeing light patterns in different forms (round, sheet light, or lightning patterns)
*Hearing rustling, rumbling, or high-pitched sound.
*Scent sweet scent of sandalwood or fragrances of various flowers or incenses
*Feeling of releasing the tension in shoulders and neck
*Decreasing of pain
*Feeling the urge to cry or to release tears
*Uncontrolled farting, yawning, burping, sweating
Transcendental or spiritual sensation/experience
*Feeling of reconnecting with a lost part of oneself
*Feeling of coming home
*Feeling of ecstasy or bliss
Promise of Qigong
Qigong practice is simple yet powerful. Its wisdom arises from thousands of years of practice and experimentation with Qi. It offers undeniable physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits. If we practice with sincerity, we can experience profound transformation. Sincerity simply means approaching the practice with an open heart and allowing energetic changes to occur in our body, mind, and spirit and take their natural course. And if we practice with regularity, the new energetic patterns created can take roots and unfold.
With thousands of forms of Qigong practiced worldwide, it is easy to find one that fits our needs and our goals.
And as the Chinese proverb says: “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single