What Are the Health Benefits of Qigong?

woman practicing Qi Gong in park

It’s safe to say many of us are under more stress than usual these days. And sure, you’d love to do something to lower your stress and improve your health. But who has time for that?

Actually, if you have 10 minutes a day, you have enough time to do qigong. This ancient Chinese practice can reduce stress and help your body function at its best.

Integrative medicine specialist Yufang Lin, MD, talks about this age-old practice. It requires no special training or equipment and has some amazing potential health benefits.

What is qigong?

Qigong originated in China about 4,000 years ago. It is based on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) principles, which state that qi, or energy, is present in everyone’s body.

“According to TCM principles, a person’s qi must flow throughout the body in order for people to feel their best,” Dr. Lin explains. “If qi becomes stagnant in a certain area, health problems can occur.”

Qigong uses simple poses and breathing patterns to promote a healthy flow and reduce stagnation of qi. Proper flow of qi can help the body engage its own healing processes. The literal translation of qigong is “to work with qi.”

Yoga versus qigong

Qigong is not a form of yoga. Yoga’s poses tend to require more strength, balance and stretching than qigong. Yoga also originated in ancient India and is not rooted in TCM.

“As a child in Taiwan, I would see people doing qigong in the park on my way to school,” Dr. Lin recalls. “A lot of them were older people. The slow, purposeful movements of qigong are less challenging to your balance. These movements are easy for most people to do and you can modify them. People can also do chair-based qigong if they can’t stand.”

Qigong’s health benefits

Dr. Lin says many smaller studies have shown that qigong offers a variety of benefits. However, more large, controlled studies are needed to prove that qigong can treat or even prevent health problems. Still, Dr. Lin says, qigong’s potential benefits make it well worth the effort. It’s generally safe and easy for nearly anyone to try. Here’s what the research says about qigong:

Reduces depression and relieves stress

One study found that qigong could reduce symptoms of depression. In this study, those who practiced qigong also experienced less anxiety and better moods as compared to those who didn’t. Qigong was also shown to have positive effects on bone and cardiovascular health and improve balance.

Lessens chronic fatigue

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a common disorder that causes extreme tiredness. There is no known cause, and it doesn’t go away with rest. It can be difficult — or nearly impossible — for someone with chronic fatigue to function in their daily life.

In a study, 64 people with chronic fatigue experienced improvements in their symptoms after four months of practicing qigong. They had better mental functioning and less fatigue than those who didn’t. If you’re tired all the time, and your doctor has ruled out any medical conditions, qigong could help.

Boosts the immune response

Your immune system’s job is to fend off unwanted guests like viruses, bacteria and diseases. That’s an important responsibility. And qigong may give your immune system a little extra help.

A review of several studies found that qigong had a noticeable impact on immune functioning. It increased levels of certain immune cells in people who practiced it regularly.

Improves well-being in people with cancer

Many people who are undergoing cancer treatment need relief from side effects and the stress of treatment. Often, they turn to alternative medicine practices like acupuncture, yoga or massage. Qigong may have a place on this list, too.

Some evidence suggests that using qigong can help patients with cancer fight fatigue and mood disturbances. This boost may be a welcome relief.

Keep in mind that qigong is not an overnight fix. Like any exercise, you need time to master it to get the full benefits.

How do I get started?

While taking a class is helpful, Dr. Lin says this isn’t necessary. Many people learn qigong from online videos and instructions. “Pay attention to the form and learn it properly. Then you can focus on breathing and being present,” Dr. Lin says.

Qigong can help you feel your best — plus, it’s free, easy and doesn’t require much time. Not many other wellness activities can make those claims.

Regular exercise — such as 30 minutes of walking a day — is also an effective way to improve your health, reduce stress and help you sleep better. If you exercise regularly or plan to start, qigong is a great addition to your routine. Working it in could be the healthy one-two punch you need during stressful times.

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