This summer, qigong is front and center. An ancient mindful movement practice that's pronounced CHEE-kung, qigong translates to "life energy" and is all about syncing your movements with your breath with the intention of getting the energy flowing throughout the body and heightening awareness.
Although it's been around for thousands of years, qigong has become more prevalent in recent months as yoga studios have begun hosting workshops and people who have started exploring it as a new way to drop stress in the body and mind. Bearing resemblances to tai chi, yoga, and meditation, qigong is a complex and powerful practice to have in your toolbox.
What is qigong, and how is it different from tai chi?
Qigong is a graceful, dance-like practice. As we move through it, syncing our movements with our breath, it propels us into high levels of awareness, giving us more power to drop the stress and anxiety that gets caught in our bodies so easily.
At first glance, qigong looks a lot like tai chi. And while the two do bear some similarities, Anthony Korahais, Flowing Zen founder and National Qigong Association board member, says there are a few key differences. "Tai chi is a martial art that’s good for healing. Qigong has a lot of different branches, so it's not specifically a martial art and it’s a lot easier to learn—and it focuses exclusively on healing." He adds, "Qigong is easier than tai chi, easier than sitting and meditating, and is a little less athletic than yoga."
Significant research has been done on qigong and its mental and physical healing properties, and for good reason. As Biet Simkin, meditation expert and mbg class instructor puts it, it engages both the inner and outer body. "Qigong actually is set up as an attempt to reach both the outer and inner body," she explains. "What I love about it is the amount of attention one needs to pay to both the inner and outer movements."
How qigong eases stress
Now that we've broken down what qigong is, let's talk about its remarkable stress-busting benefits. Qigong is a meditative practice, meaning that, like yoga, it has the power to change your DNA and reduce inflammation in the body. Dating back to a time before Lao Tzu, Patanjali or Buddha, qigong is arguably the original stress-reduction tool. "The modern world is falling in love with ancient mindfulness arts because we desperately need to relieve stress and improve healing," says Korahais.
While qigong hasn't been hasn't been massively popular up until now, Korahais sees that changing over the next decade. "Soon we'll see qigong take its rightful place among other mindfulness arts like yoga, tai chi, and seated meditation."
Should you try it?
Whether you want to relieve daily stress or you're a yogi looking to deepen your practice, you won't regret giving qigong a try. "I've taught [qigong] to many yogis over the years, and they've all loved it," Korahais notes. "One reason I think yogis love qigong so much is because it's another form of moving and breathing meditation, but from a completely different historical background. It also uses flowing movements that, quite frankly, feel absolutely amazing and aren't found in other arts."
Be warned, though—qigong isn't easy! A great deal of attention must be paid to your breath and movements. "If you are looking for something that is immediately easy, this isn't it," says Simkin. "However, if you are willing, the effort is well worth it."
Interested in qigong? Check out our tai chi class for more ideas on how to move your body mindfully.