Quigong (or ch'i kung) refers to a wide variety of traditional “cultivation” practices that involve methods of accumulating, circulating, and working with Qi or energy within the body. Qigong is sometimes mistakenly said to always involve movement and/or regulated breathing; in fact, use of special methods of focusing on particular energy centers in and around the body are common in the 'higher level' or evolved forms of Qigong. Qigong is practiced for health maintenance purposes, as a therapeutic intervention, as a medical profession, a spiritual path and/or component of Chinese martial arts. Chinese Qigong has been practiced with a recorded history of over 2,000 years. But it wasn't until 1953, when Liu Gui-zheng published a paper entitled "Practice On Qigong Therapy", that the term Qigong (Chi Kung) was adopted as the popular name for this type of exercise system. Prior to that date, there were many terms given to such exercise, such as Daoyin, Xingqi, Liandan, Xuangong, Jinggon, Dinggong, Xinggon, Neigong, Xiudao, Zhoshan, Neiyangong, Yangshengong, etc.
The 'qi' in 'qigong' means breath or gas in Chinese, and, by extension, 'life force', 'energy' or even 'cosmic breath'. 'Gong' means work applied to a discipline or the resultant level of skill, so 'qigong' is thus 'breath work' or 'energy work'. The term was coined in the twentieth-century and its currency, Ownby suggests, speaks of a cultural desire to separate 'cultivation' from 'superstition', to secularize and preserve valuable aspects of traditional Chinese practices.
Attitudes toward the scientific basis for qigong vary markedly. Most Western medical practitioners and many practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, as well as the Chinese government, view qigong as a set of breathing and movement exercises, with possible benefits to health through stress reduction and exercise. Others see qigong in more metaphysical terms, claiming that cosmic qi can be drawn into the body and circulated through channels (aka meridians).
Qigong has four major areas of application:
a. Healing Qigong (Yi Gong). Healing Qigong or "Medical Qigong" is the preventive and self-healing aspect of Chinese medicine. Qigong teaches us how to control our reactions to stress so that life events do not cause such symptoms as high blood pressure, frustration, or anxiety.
b. External Qi Healing (Wai Qi Zhi Liao). Qigong includes a system of health assessment and non-contact treatment called External Qi Healing (EQH). The healer learns to tap into a well of healing energy in nature and "funnel" it through his or her body. Unlike some purely intuitive systems, EQH includes exercises that increase sensitivity to energy fields and efficacy of treatment. External Qi Healing techniques may be used as a stand alone form of wellness treatment or may be combined with massage, acupuncture, Therapeutic Touch, osteopathy, or any other form of body-work. Because treatment is generally performed at a distance from the body, EQH does not violate psychotherapists' professional ethics (which do not allow touching the patient) and is thus an ideal adjunct to body-centered psychotherapy.
c. Sports Qigong (Wu Gong). In sports and martial arts, qigong is used to strength, stamina, coordination, speed, flexibility, balance, and resistance to injury.
d. Spiritual Qigong (Fo Gong, Tao Gong). As a spiritual discipline, qigong leads to self-awareness, tranquility, and harmony with nature. The spiritual aspect of qigong evolved from Taoism and Buddhism.