What Is Qigong?

Qi is the medicine concept of life energy, the animating force which flows through all living things. Gong translates roughly to work, particularly to positive outcomes achieved through practice and perseverance. Qigong, then, is the practice of improving one’s life energy through practice and perseverance.

What qi is specifically?

Qi is ineffable, unobservable, at least in any complete way. It is something one can sense, and there are real-life corollaries that hint at its existence, but it is not something that can be fully understood itself, nor is understanding it fully the goal.

A popular Daoist poem describes a snail and a centipede. The snail asks the centipede, “How do you move all those legs?” and in thinking about it, the centipede becomes very confused and is unable to move at all.

Qi is viewed similarly. Improving one’s qi is something that is the goal and aim of qigong, but understanding fully how this occurs or what qi is is not the point. Theory and real-life corollaries can help, but at the end of the day, it is about practice more than theory.

When it comes to qigong practice itself, medicine divides qi down into multiple categories. These are:

  • Breath qi — from respiration
  • Food qi— from diet
  • Original qi — passed down from parents or universe
  • Internal qi — qi residing inside the body
  • External qi — qiemanating from the body
  • Nutritive qi — qi that flows along the energy meridians
  • Protective qi — qi that forms a protective barrier against pathogens (immunity)