The practice of Qigong may be rooted in mysticism, dating back to the practices of ancient Chinese shamans before 500 B.C.E. Followers of Buddhism and Taoism incorporated it as a means of increasing their internal energy flow during long meditations, while others looked to it to extend the life span. Some believe it may have come to China by way of India while others insist its origins are Chinese. Passed down in secrecy for many generations, it influenced and incorporated aspects of Chinese philosophy and is considered the oldest form of exercise developed in China. Daoyin, an ancient system for maintaining health, is believed to be the source of modern forms of qigong.
Qigong forms one of the four pillars of Chinese Medicine, along with acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicine. It is variously defined as qi = life force, essence and qong = practice, mastery, self-cultivation. At its center is the Eastern concept of qi or chi, the life essence that flows through the meridians (energy pathways) of the body. To be healthy and in good spirits, practitioners believe that qi must be free to circulate, maintaining balance or homeostasis throughout the body. Stress and the progression of disease tend to block qi, resulting in stagnation in the flow of energy. The practice of qigong, through movement, affirmations, breath work, visualizations and meditation, is felt to enhance ones natural healing resources, activating and refining the human bioelectrical field. But the end goal of qigong is not only to restore internal harmony, but also to align with the energy of the universe in order to be in harmony with nature.
Although qigong is most often associated with movement, the mental and spiritual disciplines are as important to its practice. Exercises for the internal or self-practice forms of qigong range from some that barely seem like movements, to simple movements with breath coordination, to more advanced self- regulatory movements where the practitioner eventually can control the flow of qi within the body to the point of affecting brain waves, heart rate and other functions. But it is Qigong masters who after extensive training are believed to be able to transmit qi across distances and through substances in a process known as qi emission. This healing energy is at the core of medical or external qigong.
Qigong is an example of a larger group of exercises called Nui Kung (Nei Gong) or inner cultivation, which also includes Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a newer derivative of Qigong that harnesses the energy work of Qigong with a meditative martial arts practice. Qigong combines physical, philosophical and mental training. Studies published in Chinese medical journals and elsewhere have looked at the healing powers of qigong. It is considered an intrinsic part of Chinese culture, and is believed to have a wide range of beneficial effects including the prevention and treatment of illness and promotion of long life. In fact in a number of cities in China (notably Shanghai) there are entire ambulatory care facilities that specialize in Gigong treatment for a wide array of medical conditions.