The 5 Categories of Qigong

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qigong-five-categories-shapeWe all know that Qigong is great for healing.   But is there anything else it can do?  Like maybe clean the garage?  Because that would be outstanding.

Unfortunately, Qigong can’t clean the garage (although it may give you the energy to do so).  But it can certainly do more than just heal.  Much more. 

What if I said that Qigong is terrific for building strength, and that it can be used to increase intelligence, boost memory, and help with creative thinking?  What if I also told you that Qigong can be used to improve your cash flow, or that it is also great for building stamina, speed, and internal power?  And what if, in addition to all of this, I said that Qigong is excellent for cultivating the spirit?

“Sifu Anthony,” you’d probably say,  “How can one art possibly do so many different things?” 

And my answer would be simple: It can’t! Don’t be ridiculous!

The Qigong Umbrella

It’s true that one art can’t do all those things.  But Qigong isn’t really one art.  It’s actually a combination of dozens of arts!

Actually, the word Qigong is a modern, umbrella term for a slew of ancient Chinese energy arts.  If we went back in time and spoke with past masters, they might not even recognize the term Qigong.  Some masters might have called their art Neigong, which means “The Art of Internal Cultivation”.  Others might have called it by the name of the technique itself, like One Finger Shooting Zen.  But for convenience, we use the term Qigong for all of these arts because they all involve the  cultivation (gong) of our internal energy (qi).  And we all love convenience, don’t we?

Historically, all of these arts would still fit into five different categories:

The 5 Categories:

  1. Medical Qigong
  2. Vitality Qigong
  3. Intellectual Qigong
  4. Warrior Qigong
  5. Spiritual Qigong

As I said, the common theme in all of these arts is that they all involve the cultivation of internal energy (or qi).  But the question is — how do these arts cultivate the energy?   And I’m not just talking about the techniques, but also the specific results you might get from practicing them.

A rough analogy would be Western fitness training.  There are countless different techniques — like heavy lifting, sprinting, isometric stretching, situps, etc.  Different athletes cultivate their fitness in different directions according to what they need. 

Just like you can cultivate the human muscular and cardiovascular systems in different directions for different needs, you can also cultivate the human energy system in different directions for different needs.  If you are lucky enough to know all five categories of Qigong (or lucky enough to know someone who can teach them to you, *wink wink*) then there’s a huge spectrum of possible benefits.  It all depends on what direction you want to go with your energy.  But the sky is the limit.  (Actually, the sky is not the limit; your mind is the limit.  But that’s a subject for another blog post.)

Okay, let’s define each of the 5 categories so that you’ve got a better idea what we’re talking about.

Medical Qigong


Lifting the Sky

These techniques are specifically designed to heal all kinds of pain and illness. If you have, for example, low-back pain, depression, or a digestive problem,  then Medical Qigong is for you. Lifting The Sky and Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow are two examples of Medical Qigong. 

Vitality Qigong


Three Levels to Earth

This category focuses on strength, flexibility, fitness, longevity, and (surprise!) overall vitality.  If you want to be able to touch your toes, or you want to build strength, or you just want to live longer (and better), then Vitality Qigong is a good choice. Techniques like Three Levels to Earth, Old Monk Takes Off Shoe, and Dancing Fairies are good examples. 

Intellectual Qigong


Nourishing Kidneys

This category covers a lot of ground — from boosting intelligence and memory, to helping with  decision-making, to improving your luck (yes, you read that right).  The word “intellectual” isn’t quite right, but it’s the best translation I’ve got.  Sometimes, it’s called Confucian Qigong because it was treasured by the Confucian scholars.  This category incorporates a lot of subtle techniques, like Focusing on One, or Positive Visualization.  But it also includes dynamic techniques like Nourishing Kidneys and Separating Water.

Warrior Qigong

The Horse Stance

The Horse Stance

Warriors and martial artists need speed, agility, stamina, and internal power.  This was especially true in the old days of life-or-death combat.  Courage, mental clarity, and grace under pressure were also of prime importance.  Today, Warrior Qigong is beneficial not just for martial artists and soldiers, but also for competitive athletes. Examples of Warrior Qigong are The Three Circle Stance, One Finger Shooting ZenThe Horse Stance, and Lifting Water.  (Many teachers call this category Martial Qigong.  That’s a fair translation, but I like my translation better.)  

Spiritual Qigong

Golden Dragon Taps on Earth

Sinew Metamorphosis

These techniques are great for — wait for it — spiritual cultivation!  In order to cultivate the spirit, you need a clear mind, and your energy flow must be relatively smooth.  It’s important to understand that “spiritual” does not mean “religious”.  So these techniques can be used by anyone, regardless of their religious or cultural background.  Examples of Spiritual Qigong are Flowing Stillness, Sinew Metamorphosis, and of course Sitting Meditation


In the past, most masters were lucky to learn just 1 of the categories.  To learn 2-3 categories would be like winning lotto.  To learn all five would be like winning lotto, then taking the winnings, going to Vegas, betting the entire sum on one spin of the roulette wheel, and winning (while sipping free cocktails, of course).

I’m extremely lucky to have not only learned, but practiced all 5 Categories of Qigong for years.  Historically speaking, this is a rare thing. (I’m referring to the rare situation of a master learning all 5 categories, not that it was rare for masters to practice.  Duh.)

Many masters only learned 2 levels.  We still see that in the modern era.  For example, lots of Tai Chi masters mainly know Warrior Qigong, plus a few Vitality Qigong exercises for flexibility.  This is ironic because, typically, they’re teaching Tai Chi for health.  

Obviously, it works better than nothing.  People get decent health benefits from practicing Tai Chi this way. But their results would be much, much better if they practiced Medical Qigong instead. 

Master Pranksters

old-luohan-classic-textIt’s good to remember just how secretive these arts were throughout most of history.  Not only was there no Internet back then (gasp!), but books on the subject were impossible to find.  And if you did manage to find one (for which you likely paid a small fortune, like the price of eating dinner at Disney World), you might not be able to decipher it.  That’s because these books was intentionally cryptic.

For example, a classical text on the Small Universe might tell you to send the energy from Dantian, to Huiyin, to Lingtai, to Baihui, and then down to Tan Zhong.  But even if knew where those energy points were (remember, no Google!), and even if you already knew HOW to move qi in your body (remember, no YouTube!), you probably wouldn’t have done enough preliminary Qigong to have ENOUGH  qi to successfully do the technique.  That’s because the ancient texts were not meant to be teaching manuals.

Now that I think about it, I’m not sure who those texts were for.  Basically, unless you already had the skill being described, the texts were relatively useless.  So who were they for?  Were the past masters just pranksters, recording techniques for posterity, but doing it in a way that posterity couldn’t understand unless they already knew the techniques?   I mean, it’s ironic that those who could actually decipher the techniques were the ones who didn’t need to!

Anyway, my point is that you couldn’t just do some Googling or YouTubing, buy a few books, or sign up for an online course in order to learn all 5 categories.  The information just wasn’t available.  Today, it would be like trying to find information on the AT&T website about how to contact an actual human being for customer service.  Impossible!

Qigong Cross-Training

In a future article, I’ll talk why it’s so helpful for us to practice more than one category of Qigong at a time (and not necessarily in order).  I call this Qigong Cross-Training.  In the meantime, post your comments and questions below.  And if you haven’t already gotten your free downloads, then go ahead and grab them here.  That will put you on my email list, which will also keep you updated about my upcoming book.  Don’t worry — my book will NOT be cryptic like the ancient texts.  It will even include videos and audios! 

Mindfully yours,
Sifu Anthony

[hr] 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 to use qigong for their own stubborn health issues. I teach online courses, and also lead in-person retreats and workshops.

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8 Responses to The 5 Categories of Qigong

  1. David Burch April 12, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    Excellent article, Sifu. I really enjoyed it.

  2. Vicky April 13, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    Nice topic. I’m curious about the intellectual category. Looking forward to the next article about cross-training, Sifu!

  3. M. (Portugal) April 21, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    What a great ideia! It’s good to learn from a master in person, but we need to read a few good ones too. I’m happy I discovered Sifu Anthony Korahais. I love the way he comunicates, he’s wise and he can motivate us.



  4. felicia goade May 8, 2013 at 4:44 pm #


    Do you have any timeframe when your book will be done I am really looking forward to it.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais May 9, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

      Hi Felicia. It will definitely, definitely, definitely be done in 2013. 🙂 In theory, it could be done in month, but I keep running into unexpected obstacles, so I’m not giving an official date until I’m SURE I can hit it.

  5. Paul June 19, 2013 at 2:42 am #

    In my reading on qigong I have come across a couple of types of qigong. One is zyq, the other is xyq. Is there any difference between the two types? Any information would be appreciated.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais June 19, 2013 at 9:05 am #

      Hi Paul. Those are probably styles of qigong, rather than categories. I am not sure what the letters stand for, but ZYQ is probably “Something Something Qigong”, and the same with XYQ. My particular style of qigong is called “Shaolin Hunyuan Yi Qigong”, which translates to “Shaolin Cosmos Qigong”. So someone might abbreviate it as “SCQ”.

  6. Mary Bast November 16, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    Enlightening! And fascinating for me to realize my typical daily routine includes at least one from each category. Maybe that’s why I’m so healthy, happy, and healed.

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