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Home > Newsletters > December 2004 >

An Introduction to Medical Qigong

By Yuqiu Guo, Dr. Ac.


Qigong (pronounced chee goong) is a system of Chinese health care that combines physical training, preventive and therapeutic medicine, with Eastern philosophy. The word “qi” (or chi) means air, breath of life, or vital essence. “Gong” means work, self-discipline, achievement, or mastery. Qigong is said to be “the cultivation and deliberate control of a higher form of vital energy,” (Dong & Esser1990:xi), as well as “ an ancient philosophical system of harmonious integration of the human body with the universe,” (Yan Xin (1991:i). Qigong challenges the foundations of Western biomedical thought by rejecting the idea that the human species is unaffected by nature. More specifically, this art combines the physical benefits of isometrics, isotonics, and aerobic conditioning, with the healing elements of meditation and relaxation. Qigong is a discipline that focuses on gaining awareness and control over the life force or “qi” present in our bodies. There are more than 3,000 varieties of Qigong, which can be divided into five major categories: Medical, Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian, and the Martial Arts. Qigong is one of the soft forms of a sub-set of disciplines that includes Taiji (Tai Chi Quan), and the hard form of Kung Fu. In this article, we will discuss Medical Qigong.

For many centuries, Qigong has been a mainstay in Chinese medical practices.  Ancient turtle-shell artifacts conclusively show the art was important at least 7,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence suggests the practice may date back one million years. About 2,000 years ago The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine was the first literature to systematically describe the tradition.  However, during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1965-76) the Communist Party and Red Guards suppressed the discipline. Around 1978, renewed interest in the medical art began to arise in China.  This trend continued into the 1980s. In 1988, the Chinese held the first World Conference for exchanging Qigong medical research in Beijing (MacRitchie 1993: 4).  Subsequent World Conferences took place in Tokyo and Berkeley. Another was held in the summer of 1996 in New York City. 

North American psychological, physiological and medical researchers are also studying Qigong with great interest. University students throughout North America have formed Qigong groups.  Even such institutions as the film industry, (with the creation of Kung fu movies) and the New Age Movement have significantly increased the study’s proliferation.  Qigong homepages are blossoming on the Internet World Wide Web as well.

Today, more than 70 million Chinese practice Qigong daily (McGee w/Chow 1994:xiii). Some view the method as a curative step for existing afflictions, while others use the method as a preventative measure. Qigong can be an integral component in the fight against virtually any disease.  As many as 50% of all diseases dismissed by orthodox doctors as untreatable or 'psychosomatic' may be impressively impacted by the method; some of which being eradicated completely.

Chinese doctors have applied Qigong in hospitals and clinics to treat individuals suffering from a variety of maladies.  The following is a list of some of the common ailments frequently treated with Qigong:

Circulatory & Nervous Systems

Digestive System

Respiratory, Ocular & Auditory Systems

Other Chronic Diseases






Substance abuse




Cancer; reduce side effects of chemo-therapthy Insomnia

Sciatic Neuralgia

Liver disease

Meniere’s disease Cerebral Palsy & Multiple Sclerosis Stress

Peripheral Vascular disease

Kidney disease


Parkinson’s disease Paralysis, due to external injury




Post-stroke syndrome Chronic pain

Hypertension &High Blood Pressure



Gout Aphasia; temporary loss of speech

Since it is best used for staving off disease and treating chronic conditions or disabilities, Qigong may not be the most suitable treatment for acute illness or medical emergencies. It can be used as a compliment and supplement to conventional medical practices.  If one decides to try Qigong during the course of treatment of an existing illness, it is advisable that do so under the guidance of a licensed Chinese medical doctor. Professional supervision is strongly suggested for beginners.

Preventing Disease

In addition to its curative potential, by preventing the onset of disease, Qigong can significantly reduce the amount of suffering and financial burden experienced by many patients due to long- term health care. Qigong increases physical strength, heightens resistance to infectious diseases and premature senility, and helps ensure a long life. Practicing this method can greatly reduce the likelihood of stroke. It can improve blood sugar levels for diabetics. Because it normalizes the level of sex hormones, it helps ward off sexual impotence and frigidity. In fact, Qigong’s stress relieving attributes may improve one's overall sex life -both quantity and quality. Practicing this discipline can hasten recovery from surgery, as well as from sports and other injuries by up to 50% (McGee w/Chow 1994:17-9). Qigong offers individuals a way to achieve a relaxed, harmonious state of dynamic equilibrium. It typically improves overall health, allowing them to maintain a pain-free life full of vigour and grace.

How does Qigong Work?

Breathing and meditation are an important part of Medical Qigong.  In a Qigong meditative state, one is fully relaxed, yet not in a trance. One can increase qi and direct it to any area of distress. Anxiety and self-doubt are replaced with peace of mind and increased confidence. Gradually, all distractions, worries, and hints of depression begin to dissipate.  Meditation fosters feelings of happiness, which, in turn, stimulate circulation of blood and qi. This therapy contributes to the healing of those who are already ill, as well as increasing the Vitality of healthy individuals.  People of all ages can develop and maintain internal vigour and good health through Qigong.

Practicing Qigong lowers blood pressure, pulse rates, metabolic rates, lactate production, and oxygen demand. It raises the endocrine system's capabilities. It also has a regulating effect on the substances cyclic adenosine monophosphate and cyclic guanosine monophosphate, which play important roles in proper respiratory function and the delivery of oxygen to the body's cells. The sense of serenity the exercise produces is the result of slightly elevated body temperature and an increased rate of oxygen absorption. Qigong activates qi, improves blood circulation, and balances yin and yang. It bolsters the immune system, and stimulates the conductivity of the meridians and channels through which qi flows (Dong & Esser 1994:94-6).

In Chinese medical theory, many diseases come from adverse environmental conditions such as

Heat, cold, wind, dryness and humidity; wrong diet; spoiled food; worms and microbes; poisoning and pollution; trauma and accidents. Internal conditions can arise from excess or deficient emotions of anger, joy, sympathy, grief or fear [and] inappropriate mental attitudes and beliefs. There are also maladies of the spirit that [sic] can cause serious problems. These factors can cause one's chi (qi) to become excessive, deficient, stuck, blocked, congested or stagnant, and thereby cause all manner of problems.
-MacRitchie, 1993:64 

The goal of Qigong is to encourage the circulation of qi throughout the body. This helps the body resist or overcome imbalances or blockages, and the resulting disharmonies. It shares similar objectives with some other disciplines such as acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.  As illustrated by Dong and Esser:

Chinese herbology, acupuncture, and chi gong are three parts of a single entity, as closely related as water, steam, and ice. They can be and often are used separately, and may be used together. With dietetics and massage they are considered to be the indispensable components of traditional Chinese health care…. While acupuncture and herbal medicine typically focus on curing sickness, chi gong usually focuses on maintaining good health (as do massage and balanced – for yin and yang – nutrition).                                    
-Dong and Esser 1994:66

A primary aim of Qigong is to maintain or restore balance and harmony of mind and body, while becoming aware of the human body's place within nature's oneness. As a Qigong practitioner becomes more conscious of the state of his or her body, he or she gains a greater resistance to the imbalances and blockages affecting qi. This sensitivity aids in the balance of the yin and yang, the two opposing forces of Universal Order.  In the seventeenth century, Descartes’ postulate, (which most Westerners still accept today) stated that the mind and body are separate entities. The Qigong student will contend that such a notion is a fallacy. It is in this context that we are able to understand the philosophy of Qigong, where qi is the force that integrates the relationship between body (matter, structure) and mind (process, function). Scholars of this art gain more than improved health. They learn another way of viewing and experiencing the dynamic unity of life, an attitude far removed from the feelings of disenchantment and alienation common in Western civilization. Students of qigong learn to achieve their potential as highly successful members of our species.

How Does One Practice Qigong?

One need not become a Qigong master to experience many of its healing effects. For health purposes, one needs to learn only a few exercises. One must achieve a state of tranquillity, find release from tension, take on a positive attitude, and develop strong will power.  Benefits can be further achieved in one of three ways. First, one can go to a master for treatment by that master's external qi. Although some masters exist in some Western metropolitan areas such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Vancouver, the most experienced masters reside in China. Second, one can seek education from a master and practice exercise and meditation. Third, in a supervised group, one can learn to treat oneself. The latter is the most realistic option for most North Americans.

In order to fully benefit from Qigong training, one must apply time, patience, commitment, determination and persistence. This art involves more than simple physical training. It requires retraining one's breathing and thought processes.  Learning the basics can take from three months to a year (Dong & Esser 1990:52).  As with any other human endeavour, some people will prove more adept at the art than others, and so will progress more quickly. However, anyone with enough motivation can learn adequate skills to make a positive impact upon one's quality of life. While there are no shortcuts, there are also no limits to how far one may progress.

Some Caveats

Although Qigong has numerous invaluable benefits, there are a few pointers for the novice that will make every experience a positive one.

Because Qigong thins the blood and increases circulation, pregnant and menstruating women, persons with internal bleeding, persons suffering from acute infectious diseases, and those recovering from oral surgery or trauma should avoid the practice until the condition disappears. Avoid exercising if you are prone to dizziness. Qigong is not for severely disturbed mental patients.  Because of the elevation of energy levels, people may find the temptation to slight one’s nutritional needs while utilizing this program.  Fasting (bigu) does have a place in the discipline; however, a genuine fast should only be performed under the strict supervision of a Chinese medical doctor well versed in Qigong.  People with anorexia should exercise caution.  Do not eat or drink, especially alcohol, within an hour and a half before a session. Avoid sexual intercourse for at least one hour before and after a session as well. When exercising, face either North or South, in line with the earth's magnetic field. Exercise at the same time of day and the same days through the week.

For neophytes, it is exhilarating to take in energy from the universe.  People often prematurely try to emit external qi like a Qigong master through the eyes, fingertips or palms. Doing this can dangerously deplete one’s own Vitality. One should not attempt to do so until after many years of practice, and only then under close supervision of a Qigong master or Chinese medical doctor. 

Biographical note

Dr. Yuqiu Guo studied advanced Western medicine at Japan's Osaka University. She was formerly Chief Doctor at China's famous Harbin Medical University Hospital. She follows the approach of Dr. Yan Xin, perhaps China's most eminent contemporary Qigong master (Dong & Esser 1994: 123-4; McGee w/Chow 1994: 190-6; Wozniak, Wu and Wang 1991). Her clinic and herbal pharmacy, the Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Centre, are located at 883 Somerset Street West, Ottawa, and Ontario, Canada. (613) 233-1098 or (613) 723-2098.


      Dong, Paul and Aristide H Esser. Chi Gong: The Ancient Chinese Way to Health. (New York: Paragon House.1990).

      Eisenberg, David with Thomas Lee Wright. Encounters with Qi: Exploring Chinese Medicine. (New York: Penguin Books.1985).

      McGee, Charles T. with Effie Poy Yew Chow. Miracle Healing from China: Qigong. (Coeur d'Alene, ID: MediPress: 1994), 17-19.

     Wozniak, Jo Ann, et. al.. Yan Xin, Qigong, and the Contemporary Sciences, Preliminary Edition. (Champlain IL: International Yan Xin Qigong Association. 1991)

      Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine. 2nd ed. Berkeley: (University of California Press). 1972.


This Month's Articles

December 2004
Volume 2, Number 8

What Can Traditional Chinese Medicine Do For You During the Flu Season

The Difficult Problem of Mold Infestation - Part II-A

An Introduction to Medical QiGong

Recent Research

Ask The Doctor


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