Curious to try qigong? The ancient Chinese healing technique dates back more than 4,000 years -- and as more eyes are turning to China and interest in alternative medicine mounts, the trend is going global.
More than 80 million people reportedly practice qigong in China, and foreign interest is growing. The Chinese Health Qigong Association has a reported more than 50 organizations outside China in 29 countries.
What it is: Qigong (pronounced "chee-gong") is made up of two Chinese words. Qi is usually translated to mean the life force or vital energy that flows through all things in the universe. Gong means accomplishment, or a skill that is cultivated through steady practice. Together, the two words mean cultivating energy to maintain health and increase vitality.
What it looks like: The practice involves a series of exercises and postures, such as slow, circular movements, all while employing regulated breathing, focused meditation, and some self-massage.
How it differs from t'ai chi: Here some debate on the subject exists, with some saying that both kung fu and t'ai chi are actually forms of qigong. However, LiveScience reports that unlike the much younger t'ai chi, which dates back a few hundred years, qigong has little in the form of movement based on self-defense. Rather it takes a deeply spiritual and even paranormal approach and some forms can involve touch healing, distance healing, and even levitation. But other forms are more physical and better adopted by Western practitioners.
Benefits: While large-scale studies are mostly lacking, qigong is believed to relax the mind, muscles, tendons, joints, and inner organs -- helping to improve circulation, relieve stress and pain, and restore health, writes WebMD. And some research supports these claims. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Hypertension found that qigong helped lower blood pressure, while another study published in 2007 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found the practice helped control diabetes.
Lots of variety: Qigong has many varied forms, with some styles being extremely gentle while others have the more vigorous vibe of kung fu. One of its most basic forms is Baduanjin qigong with eight movements, often called the Eight Brocades.
Risks: There really aren't any. Qigong is mostly gentle, but if you are older and/or have a health condition, talk to your doctor about your plans to try the practice, advises WebMD. Also, if you're pregnant or have a joint problem, check with your physician first. And of course, talk to a qualified qigong teacher about your concerns.
Getting started: Find a qigong school or qualified instructor in your area, or visit The Qigong Institute for a wealth of information on the subject. Or try an app like Qi-Gong, which features a 40-minute video to teach you the ropes, as wellas a beginner video lesson.