What Is Qigong, Qi Kung, Or Chi Kung?

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Qigong Exercises to Boost Energy What is qigong all about, and are qi kung and chi kung the same thing? Sometimes the more we learn about a topic, the more questions we have, and that’s what happened with this section of my self-healing website. This article is to get you started, but there’s lots more we can explore together.

In brief, qigong is a form of exercise and meditation, for cultivation and cleansing of qi (chi). It has developed from Ancient Chinese healing practices that were in use over five thousand years ago.  That’s a lot of time to question and to refine this method of energy healing.

Over the years qigong  has had many different names. Most of them described the function or benefit of this healing and energising routine.

For example, tu gu na xin, refers to expelling old energy and drawing in the new; yang shen refers to nourishing the life forces; nei gong focuses more on inner achievement; xing qi is simply named, for moving the qi. Dao-yin also focuses on moving chi but emphasises leading and guiding the energy.

There are so many different qigong movement styles and forms that you could spend a lifetime or two learning them. Thankfully there’s no need to do that, unless its your passion, of course.

Introducing Qigong, Chi And Gong

What’s In A Name?

The word, ‘qigong’, comes from the transliteration of Chinese characters, to the closest Roman lettering equivalent, which explains the confusing variety of spelling. They all sound the same but look different. Both q-i and c-h-i sound like ‘chee’; and g-o-n-g, g-u-n-g and k-u-n-g all sound like ‘koong’ (as in kung fu).

Depending on which format is used (pinyin, Wade-Giles, or Yale), you may see qigong written as: qi gong; qi kung; chi kung, chi gung, and occasionally chi gong.

However, it’s not the spelling that matters, but rather the meaning of the characters. To understand what qi kung really is, it helps to look first at the individual components.

What Does Chi Mean?

Symbol for Chi | qi symbol Chi Symbol

To the Chinese, Qi  (or Chi), means a few different things. It is defined as breath, air, vital energy, and life force energy.

Chi flows through every part of your body, but it’s hard to track because it’s invisible to most people. It travels primarily through a network of energy channels known as meridians, but also flows along your blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves, and other soft tissues.

When the meridian channels are blocked or narrowed, the flow of chi becomes sluggish or stagnant, affecting your ability to thrive.

Your vitality and power levels are the first areas to be hit.

In Chinese medicine, blocked chi is believed to be the major cause of any state of mental, emotional or physical dis-ease, so it’s important to keep it flowing freely.

To learn more about what chi means, check out the part of my “Exploring Qigong” series called The Chi Story.

What Does Gong Mean?

Chinese Symbol For Gong Gong Symbol

The English word, gong, might make you think of a metal disc that produces a ringing sound when struck, but that’s not the gong (sounds like kung, remember) we’re talking about here.

In Chinese, Gong (gung or kung), can mean lots of things, but in relation to qi gong, the best translations are, to cultivate or transform; work; and right effort.

One of the reasons that chi kung may be growing in popularity now, is that there is less emphasis on work or effort, and more on the idea of cultivating and transforming your chi, particularly in relation to its personal health benefits.

What Is Qigong?

As you can see from the meanings of qi and gong, this word can be translated as cultivation and transformation of life force energy, or simply, energy work.

The obvious intention of this practice is to cultivate or BOOST your energy.

But…  there’s more to it than that.

Qi kung is rooted in Taoist and Buddhist philosophy; the ancient healing dances of Chinese shamans; and Traditional Chinese Medicine practices. It is centred around your breath; deliberate focus; fluid movements, and the feel of your energy.

And, if I may wax lyrical for a moment, this is what I imagine qigong to be…

Qigong is philosophy wrapped in a slow dance; flowing into meditation; breathing in a sea of qi; and bringing all that you are into balance and harmony.

The movement on its own, without the energy focus, and breathing techniques, is just exercise. This is still beneficial, but it ignores the soul of this self healing method.

Qigong Exercises in Beijing

However, if you follow your teacher’s directions and spend some time learning to be more aware of the qi within you and the qi around you, and what it does for your physical body, then you’ll feel the power of these simple exercises.

Qi kung is about restoring and maintaining the balance of life force flowing in and around your physical body. It’s also about building your chi, for greater strength and longevity. It’s a way of topping up your batteries, to keep you buzzing with vigour, for much longer.

Qi kung guides you towards a state of balance between yin and yang, and masculine and feminine energies; between Earth chi and Heaven chi; between shadow and light, and between the fullness of your physical self and the emptiness of the Universe.

It finds the balance between fast and slow; action and rest; between hard and soft; warm and cool; between no-mind and conscious thought, and between holding on and letting go.

So…  what if all of this sounds too esoteric and strange?

Then consider Qigong to be a graceful exercise and breathing routine, that improves your strength, flexibility, energy levels and physical balance.

More importantly, perhaps, it teaches you how to increase and direct  your vital life force!

And I need to point out that without this qi, you die.

We all do.

So keeping your life force topped up and flowing smoothly will ensure a longer, happier and healthier life for you.

A Brief Look At Qigong History


Qigong - Mythical Chinese God What are the true origins of qigong? No one knows exactly. Traditionally, methods of qi healing were passed down in secret, from generation to generation within individual families; or from qigong master to student. Originally it was a select group of practitioners, and training was by invitation only.

What Does Huangdi Have To Do With It?

Qi gong (or some form of it) has been around for nearly five thousand years, according to those who believe that Huangdi, the legendary Yellow Emperor, is the source of qigong knowledge. Huangdi is one of the ancient Chinese demigods and sages from the fabled period of the three sovereigns and five emperors,  (circa 2600 BCE).

One of the reasons he is linked with qi gong is that the teachings of the Yellow Emperor are the basis for the Huangdi Neijing, a highly revered book of internal medicine. This classic text, written many years after the emperor’s death, includes questions and answers on Chinese medicine; and Daoist lifestyle and theory. Similar concepts are included in qigong practice. (Note: Daoist is the pinyin spelling of Taoist. They both sound like dow-ist)

What About Historical Evidence?

The origins of qi kung have always been clouded in myth and legend. Maybe it WAS a gift from the Gods; or maybe it came from the earliest Chinese shamans, and their healing dances. Most likely, we will never know.

Throughout history, this healing art has left few footprints, but that’s the problem with secret practices. People aren’t supposed to write them down or talk about them publicly. There have been some references though.

Around 500 BCE, Confucius alluded to qi training concepts in some of his writing, as did Mencius a few hundred years later. This is  referred to as the Scholar qigong tradition.

There were also Taoist qigong traditions recorded by Lao Tzu (ca 499 BCE) and Chuang Tzu (ca. 300 BCE), that mentioned physical exercises and meditation practices for longevity and higher consciousness.

But, one of the best pieces of evidence of early forms of qigong is a piece of decorated silk, from the tomb of the Chinese King Ma (ca 168 BCE). This art work shows a chart of 44 dao-yin postures, that closely resemble those taught in qigong today. The chart was named Dao-yin Tu, (the Dao Yin Illustrations). Some of the figures have captions that are names of animals; names of specific diseases; or directions for movements.

What’s the significance of that?

Well, many current qi kung methods or movements are named for particular animals or birds, such as the leaping monkey, flying crane, wild goose, and the happy dragon.

According to peer reviews, on Amazon.com, Chinese Healing Exercises: The Tradition of Daoyin (A Latitude 20 Book) is a great book on the topic of Dao-yin Tu. It is written by Livia Kohn, an expert on Chinese Daoism, with more than fifteen books to her credit. See what you think.

Recent times – The 1900’s

The term qigong (however it was spelt) was not officially used in China before 1979, although there are references in the titles of several works published  up to 60 years before this.

In the early 1950s, Dr Liu Guizhen published a book called, “Qi Gong liaofa shiyan” to promote his method of body energy cultivation for health.  What prompted him to go public was his excellent personal, and patient, results.


It must be obvious by now that a quick look at the topic of qigong cannot fully answer questions like, “what is qigong?” and “what does chi mean?”  That’s why I’ve written a series of ‘Exploring Qigong‘ articles. You’ll find all of them listed in my qigong directory.

And as to where qi kung came from…

It’s important to recognise that even if it came from one source originally, it has developed along a multitude of paths. It has been influenced by family ideals; monastic teaching; secrecy; and changing government controls. More recently, western influence and media coverage have changed the way that qigong is taught and practiced.

It has obviously proven its worth, many times over, or ít would have died out, when in fact, the opposite has happened. This form of healing exercise is not only flourishing in China, but has spread to many other parts of the world.

Today, hundreds of millions of people around the globe, benefit from doing qigong exercises, and YOU could be one of them.


You can access my qigong dvd reviews here.

Or GO HERE NEXT>>  to find out about qigong exercises and how to learn qigong.

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