You know, it’s funny. I’ve been teaching qigong for over ten years, I’ve published over 100 blog posts, I’ve taught over 10,000 amazing people — and yet for some reason I don’t have a post that clearly answers the most common questions about qigong.
Let’s change that right now, shall we?
Here are the 17 questions I most frequently hear from students.
[Edit: This post was originally published with 15 questions, but I later added 2 more for clarity.]
1. What is Qigong?
If I had to describe qigong in 23 words, I would say:
Qigong (pronounced “chee gung”) is an ancient Chinese mind-body practice that restores wellness, builds mental and emotional strength, reduces stress, and increases vitality.
If I had another 40 words, I’d add the following:
Qigong, sometimes called the grandmother of tai chi, is one of the four major branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Because Qigong incorporates a variety of gentle breathing methods, flowing movements, and mindfulness meditation, it can be practiced by absolutely anyone, regardless of their age, health, religion, or fitness level.
For most people, these descriptions are enough. But if you want to know more, read on!
Watch this 97 second video to get a visual explanation:
2. What Does the Word Mean?
Qi means “vital energy”, and gong means “cultivation”. The Chinese characters are as follows:
In essence, it means “vital-energy cultivation”. To make it more poetic, we might translate Qigong to “the art of vital-energy cultivation”.
3. What is Qi?
You’ll find all sorts of definitions out there.
You’ll even find people who are upset that qi has all sorts of definitions.
Me, I like things simple.
Qi is energy.
Whether it is the energy that moves food through your digestive system, or the energy that mobilizes your immune system, or the energy that powers your cells — all of that is qi to me.
4. How Do You Spell It?
The transliteration of the Chinese word 氣功 varies. The main variants that you’ll see are:
- qi gong
- chi gong
- chi gung
- chi kung
Of these variants, the 1st one (qigong) is now considered the official transliteration.
To read more on this subject, check out this article: 9 Reasons You Should Stop Spelling Qigong Incorrectly
5. Why So Many Different Spellings?
Remember that there is no alphabet in Chinese. The Chinese use logograms (or characters).
Also remember that there is a difference between translation and transliteration.
For example, the translation of 氣功 is “life-energy cultivation”.
The transliteration of 氣功 is “qigong”.
When we transliterate a Chinese word into English, we must use our alphabet to approximate their characters and syllables.
So we must choose a way to spell it. Before an official system was adopted, people chose differently.
And some still choose differently.
6. What’s With That Confusing “Q”?
Short answer: The “Q” was chosen to represent an aspirated “ch” sound that doesn’t exist in English.
The modern transliteration system, called Pinyin, aims to be 100% phonetic. And it gets pretty damn close — closer than any previous system.
The problem is that there are several “ch” sounds in Chinese — more than we have in English.
The officials who created the Pinyin system probably chose “Q” because they ran out of ways to spell the various “ch” sounds.
It’s confusing. I know. We see the Q as a “k” sound. That’s why many people pronounce “qigong” as “key gong” instead of “chee gong”.
They’re wrong, but you can hardly blame them.
7. How Does Tai Chi Fit In?
In a nutshell, tai chi is a martial art, and qigong is an umbrella term for any form of qi cultivation.
There’s a lot of overlap though, especially in the 21st century.
For example, tai chi is often practiced in a non-martial way, making it similar to qigong. And qigong is typically incorporated into tai chi.
Qigong is the art of energy cultivation. Since energy is useful for martial arts, many martial arts other than tai chi have adopted qigong.
If you want to learn more about the differences between the two arts, I wrote an entire article on it:
8. Are there different types of Qigong?
There are several hundred different styles of qigong, but there are 5 historical categories of qigong:
- Medical Qigong for healing pain and illness.
- Longevity Qigong for prolonging life.
- Scholarly Qigong for boosting intelligence.
- Martial Qigong for internal power.
- Spiritual Qigong for enlightenment.
Many styles of qigong incorporate more than one category. For example, Flowing Zen Qigong includes all 5 categories (starting with Medical Qigong).
It’s important to clarify what type of qigong you are learning, and to match it with your personal goals.
9. How Old Is Qigong?
Qigong history dates back at least 3000 years.
The early era of qigong history began in roughly 1100 B.C.
Tai chi came much later. There are endless debates about the origins of tai chi, but the 2 main arguments either put the origins in 12th century or the 17th century A.D.
Either way, qigong is older than tai chi by a few thousands years.
10. Is it Like the Force?
Well, sort of.
Actually, George Lucas loosely based his concept of the Force off ancient kung fu legends. So the connection is not coincidental.
Just about every superpower you see in Star Wars can be found in the old kung fu novels.
Whether these powers are real or fantasy is another subject.
The superpowers that I’ve developed — health, vitality, mental clarity, resilience, fortitude, happiness — are enough for me.
11. Is Qigong Religious?
Short answer: no.
In the early days of qigong (1100 B.C. to 206 B.C.), the art had zero religious flavor to it.
Later, some of the techniques were picked up by Buddhist and Taoist schools to be used for spiritual cultivation.
The qigong that I teach is 100% non-religious. The same is true for may of the qigong teachers you’ll find in the West.
I have taught Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, Muslim Imams, Zen and Taoist priests, and Jewish Rabbis.
I doubt these people would have learned from me if I was teaching religion.
Don’t get me wrong. What I teach can absolutely be spiritual. Meditation and mindfulness are spiritual because they allow us to look more deeply at ourselves and the world around us.
Some schools of qigong will have more of a religious tinge to them. If this makes you uncomfortable, then you should clarify this with the teacher before joining.
12. Is Qigong Dangerous?
If you have a good instructor, then practicing qigong is safer than getting in your car.
My personal approach to qigong is extremely safe because a) all students start with Medical Qigong (see answer #8), and b) all students learn a rare technique called Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow.
To learn more about this technique, read: The Secret of Energy Flow
If you are practicing without the guidance of an instructor, or if you are practicing advanced techniques that are unsuitable for your condition, then yes, you can have some adverse side effects.
General speaking, these side effects are minor, like insomnia or headaches. In extremely rare cases, there can be an exacerbation of mental-emotional disturbances.
Amazingly, the side effects can be remedied with proper instruction (and with Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow).
And let’s be clear that most of these side effects, however uncomfortable, are still far safer than many prescription medicines, which carry risks ranging from nausea to organ failure to death.
In the final analysis, I think the real risk is in NOT practicing an art like qigong. The health risks of failing to manage your stress and your qi are too numerous to list!
13. Is Qigong Hard?
No. Anyone can do it.
And that, my friend, is one of the best things about qigong.
I’ve taught all kinds of amazing humans — people in wheelchairs, stroke victims (with limited mobility), people with severe hearing impairments, and people with learning disabilities.
I’ve taught students as old as 91 and as young as 6.
I’ve taught professional athletes and professional couch potatoes.
That’s not to say that ALL qigong exercises are easy. They aren’t.
But with Qigong, you can get amazing results even with the simplest, easiest exercises.
Which is awesome.
14. Does it Work?
I dedicated my life to this art precisely because it has worked for me. In fact, it saved my life.
It has also worked wonders for my students.
Oh, and millions of Chinese also swear by it.
My attitude is that you should give it a try, and see for yourself if it works. It’s safer than getting in your car, and most people find it really enjoyable.
There’s a catch though: you have to practice, or else it definitely doesn’t work.
Remember that there is a ton of overlap between tai chi and qigong. Studies that use the term “tai chi” often incorporate lots of qigong, and vice versa.
In general, the research (so far) suggests that qigong and tai chi can be effective for the following:
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- fall prevention
- improved cognitive performance
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- chronic pain
- improving balance
- building muscle strength
- increasing bone density
- improving overall quality of life
- strengthening the immune system
- reducing inflammation
And that’s just the current research! New studies are being done every year!
We live in an age when ancient wisdom is being validated by modern science! How cool is that!
15. How Much Do You Have to Practice?
This depends on the style of qigong, and the teacher.
Some masters ask you to practice for 2 hours per day.
I ask my students to practice for 10-15 minutes, preferably twice per day.
This sounds easier than it actually is.
Although 15 minutes is definitely doable, it is harder than it sounds. If you struggle to make qigong a daily habit — welcome to the club.
Although I myself have solved this problem over the years, I would estimate that 90% of my students struggle with it sooner or later. So you’re in good company!
16. Where Can I Learn the Traditional Way?
Oh, so you want to learn the traditional way?
Okay. Let me paint a picture for you.
Imagine a stricter version of Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid. Now imagine washing the car and painting the fence every day for 3 months before learning a single qigong technique. Imagine enduring verbal and even physical abuse from Mean Mr. Miyagi.
And then imagine washing Mean Mr. Miyagi’s feet every evening.
That’s the traditional way!
Being a traditional disciple of qigong or tai chi is not a walk in the park.
My own discipleship was not like the picture above — but it was still incredibly difficult. If people knew the sacrifices I had to make during 17 years of discipleship, they wouldn’t be so keen on “the traditional way”.
17. How Do I Find a Teacher?
In the old days, finding a master was difficult. (Apparently, there was no Internet 500 years ago!)
Once you found a master, he or she would continue to make your life difficult (see the previous question).
It’s tempting to think that things have changed in the 21st century. Certainly, there are more qigong teachers than ever before. And there’s more information too, which is a good thing.
But percentage wise, your chances are probably about the same.
In other words, it’s just as hard to find a good qigong teacher today as it was 500 years ago.
I’m doing my best to help change that — with this blog, with my retreats and workshops, with my online teaching, with my teacher certification training — but it’s a big job.
Here’s my best advice on how to learn more:
- Start right now. You can learn a 3-minute qigong routine for free. Right now. Just click here.
- Learn from me. Something brought you to my blog, and something about my methodology resonates with you, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading. Now that I teach online, you can even learn from me without leaving your house.
- Learn from others. Unlike most traditional teachers, I actually encourage students to learn from others. Just watch out for the bad ones. One of my most popular posts is about spotting bad teachers (and thus finding good ones). Read it.
- Search. Qigong is my passion and my profession. It’s my full-time job. There’s already a ton of information on this blog, and I’m constantly adding to it. There’s a search function on this site, and I encourage you to use it!
- Ask Questions. You can ask me questions in our wonderful Facebook group, or you can post them on the bottom of any blog post.
Did I miss anything in my FAQ? Any other questions you think belong on here? Go ahead and post them in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Mindfully yours, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.