Qi Gong is a form of Chinese meditative exercise that’s been practiced for thousands of years. The practice focuses on cultivating energy in both the body and the surrounding environment through breathing, focused intention, postural techniques and other movements. It’s often recommended as an alternative form of therapy for improving and maintaining overall health and vitality, as it’s very accessible and has shown to have various benefits for mind, body and spirit.
Skepticism in the West is based on the belief that these energy systems are largely a placebo effect, and that there haven’t been enough documented studies to validate the historical anecdotal evidence.
Some recent studies, however, have evaluated the long-held belief that qigong improves immune system functioning – a characteristic that can be measured and quantified. One study showed that qi gong practice increased the quantities of monocyte and lymphocytes – two white blood cell types that make up the majority of the lymphatic immune system. Another study, conducted at UCLA, compared two groups’ immunity to the shingles virus – half of the group went through a tai chi (similar to qi gong) exercise program for 16 weeks, while the other half was given health classes on stress management and exercises for improved immune functioning. After the 16 weeks, the tai chi group showed an improvement in immunity to the virus similar to the effects of the vaccine. Both groups were then given the vaccine – nine weeks later, the group that had gone through both tai chi and had the vaccine showed a 40 percent increase in immunity over the group that had just had the vaccine. One more study concluded that a consistent tai chi regimen improved T cell helper function for patients with type 2 diabetes.
Though most potential qi gong benefits haven’t been fully studied, practitioners report increased vitality, stress reduction, improved sleep and improved mental clarity, among other things.
If you’re interested in learning qigong at home, check out our The Alchemy of Qi Gong DVDs, guided by Dr. Pedram Shojai. Shojai explains the topics as an experienced qigong master with an understanding of the Western thinker.
Alternatively, if you’d like to learn from a teacher in person, check out the National Qigong Association’s directory to find a teacher in your area.