Finally, the popularity of qigong meditation is spreading throughout the West as more and more people are benefitting from starting a practice. Despite having a deep history within many martial arts and eastern religions, it had never shared the same fame as tai chi or yoga. The recent surge in interest I think is due to the pandemic as people searched for activities they could do alone, at home, and that improved their mental and physical health. Add to this recent research proving its effectiveness, accessibility to online learning, and people who would like to meditate but have difficulty sitting still, and you have a perfect storm for popularity.
Qigong meditation combines slow movements (dynamic) or static postures (passive) with breathing practices and concentration to improve the body’s energy. Pronounced Che-GONG, it is based on Chinese medicine and has been used for over 2000 years to reduce stress, improve mental health and thinking, and promote healing.
With the popularity of qigong comes what seems like an infinite number of meditations that we can choose from. Choosing one just depends on finding a version that matches your goals. Secondly, the excitement around qigong means that a lot of new practitioners are eager to share their results. Again, this is a good thing but some of the suggestions that are being made about how to do qigong are incorrect. Let’s talk about how to find the perfect qigong meditation for you and include five important techniques that are needed so that you get the most out of your practice.
What are the Kinds of Qigong Meditation and How Do I Choose the Right Practice?
Qigong meditation is really hard to define because it’s not as regimented as the other internal arts. While yoga and tai chi have specific styles like Hatha or Yang Style with standard forms, qigong meditations are modifiable and more general. There are purportedly over 10,000 qigong practices because in addition to the common sets, they are modified like prescriptions for specific people or ailments.
There are qigong meditation practices that you can learn that have overall health benefits but there are also sets that are specific to an illness such as liver dysfunction. There are qigong meditations that are only practiced at a specific part of the day with nighttime sets typically calming you down and morning routines giving you energy. There are qigong meditations where you move, don’t move, stand, or sit. That being said, all qigong meditations fall into two categories; dynamic and stationary.
Dynamic Qigong Meditation Practices
Most qigong meditations are active, meaning that you are moving the arms and legs and breathing in a specific way even though you are standing in one place or sitting. Active qigong meditations involve circling the arms, thumping and tapping the body, squatting down, and sometimes taking small steps or lifting the legs.
Breath is coordinated with the movements and they are usually performed in a specific order. What makes qigong different from any other exercise or just stretching is that the knowledge of the meridian systems and organs from Chinese medicine are used to create the sets. Meridian lines are tapped or thumped in specific directions. Body parts are addressed from the ground up or head down with the goal of clearing blockages or increasing energy flow.
Example of Active Qigong Meditation
Eight Pieces of Silk Brocade is probably the most well-known and most practiced qigong meditation. It begins by stretching up to the sky and ends by bouncing on the ground. It warms, heals, and builds energy which is a great way to start your day or begin your tai chi/yoga practice.
Stationary Qigong Meditation Practices
Passive qigong practices look a lot like meditation. A person sits or stands in a relaxed posture and focuses solely on cultivating internal energy. While some people say that passive qigong IS meditation, I think it is more like meditation with a purpose. You concentrate on a specific organ and then move around the body in a specific sequence. Or, you can concentrate on the energy itself and move it through different areas of the body.
It would be wrong to think that passive qigong meditation is easier. It’s been my experience that students are more successful building and feeling chi energy doing active qigong meditations and then they can transfer this into sitting practices because they know what they should be looking for and their energy has built up enough to be able to feel it.
Examples of Passive Qigong Meditation
The grand-daddy of all stationary practices is the Microcosmic and Macrocosmic Orbit practices made popular by Mantak Chia. You move energy from point to point around your torso and head until it is strong enough that it circles like a current of electricity. Then you also work to move the energy through the limbs to creator the bigger (macro) circle.
The six healing tones is another stationary practice where you focus on an organ, imagine a corresponding color, and make a corresponding sound. Most people talk about active and passive qigong meditation but I like the translation of “stationary” better because there are a lot of meditations where you are not moving your body but are doing things like saying mantras.
You can see how this is really important information to know before choosing a qigong meditation because if the set doesn’t meet your goals or is not performed correctly you won’t get any benefit out of it. Here are some important questions to ask yourself before choosing a qigong meditation. Then I will share some great examples I found and techniques to focus on while you practice:
Questions to Ask Yourself to Find the Right Qigong Meditation
Can you stand or do you need to sit?
Is your goal to build energy or calm yourself?
Do you want to reduce fatigue or improve sleep? Both?
What time of day can you commit to practice?
How much time do you have?
Do you want general benefits or do you have a specific medical condition?
Qigong Meditation on YouTube and Courses
There has been an explosion of qigong meditations on YouTube and it’s a bit difficult to figure out which is good or not. As a general rule, to increase energy do qigong in the morning. If you want to improve sleep, find a specific nighttime set. Choose a length of time that seems totally doable. There are sets that only take three minutes. Try to do the sets at the same time every day and in the same place, this improves consistency. If you have a specific ailment, research that topic on this qigong meditation channel with Monk Thich Man Tu or talk to an herbalist or acupuncturist who also specializes in qigong.
Here are qigong meditation videos that I have curated based on what most people are searching for and asking me about. Definitely give YouTube a try. If you want better and exact instruction you should consider an online course. I suggest two of those also.
Active Qigong Meditation
There are a few fundamental active qigong meditation sets which have been practiced for hundreds of years. This is important because centuries of masters have refined the movements to create the shortest sets, that created the biggest impact, for the widest variety of conditions.
Bone Marrow Cleansing Qigong
5 Elements Qigong
Seated Passive Qigong Meditation
Tai chi practitioners will be familiar with the name Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming. He has produced more resources for the Western world than probably any other internal arts practitioner. I am happy to say that he is now creating courses which give you all the expert advice that you need to become proficient quickly.
Step by step qigong meditation explained in detail by Master Yang, filmed in his meditation gazebo in California. YMAA
Standing Passive Qigong Meditation
Passive qigong meditation actually requires as much instruction or more instruction than moving qigong practices because there isn’t a lot to see to imitate. How you begin the set and how you end the set are also important so a standing qigong meditation needs to be taught across the entire progression. The most famous and most popular standing qigong meditation is called Zhan Zhuang or pole standing. Here is a great instructional tutorial.
Qigong Meditation Music
Sometimes things are better with music. Tai chi also has a long history of using music during practice so definitely give it a try if music makes you enjoy things more. If you are having trouble concentrating or your goal is to relax, consider listening to qigong meditation music. Here is a nice track that is over two hours long.
Qigong Meditation For Sleep
Are you looking to improve your sleep? Who isn’t? When you look around at all the suggestions for how to fall to sleep, people are talking about limiting caffeine late in the day, turning the lights down, taking a bath, reducing screen time, etc. I don’t know why no one is talking about qigong. A proper qigong sleep meditation can practically knock you out.
Here is a great set from a Vietnamese Buddhist monk trained in the same tradition as Thich Naht Hahn After, if you are looking for a powerful sleep qigong practice with expert instruction, check out the Good Evening Qigong Set. It’s the one I do.
Good Qigong for Beginners
People can easily get confused when looking for qigong for beginners because what is marked as “beginner qigong” is not always correct. Novice teachers think “beginners” means “make it easy.” So they might take sets like Eight Pieces of Silk Brocade and reduce the number of movements. Sets can definitely be modified for people who have injuries or fatigue easily. In these cases though, the same number of movements are performed, they are just done in a chair or instead of doing nine repetitions you only do three.
As an example, let’s say you wanted to learn Spanish and you were a beginner. Beginner here means you would be learning simple pronunciation, greetings, nouns, and maybe a verb or two. You wouldn’t want to watch an advanced Spanish video where the instructor takes irregular past-tense verbs and only teaches you the first person form. Beginner doesn’t mean advanced content watered down.
What qigong for beginners actually should do is wake up dormant chi energy in the body. This means that there are specific exercises, in a specific order that introduces a person to the concept of qigong and prepares the body and student to do more. From a simple learning standpoint, it should be easy enough so that the student doesn’t get frustrated. Qigong exercises for beginners usually have bigger, obvious movements. If you are a qigong beginner, you are doing a good job if you can learn the series of movements, get a routine going so that you continue to practice, and learn to coordinate the breathing with the movements.
Here is a great example from Thich Man Tu. Then memorize the following five techniques so that you get the most out of your practice.
5 Qigong Meditation Techniques to Ensure Progress
Every qigong meditation is very different but there are some truisms that will help you progress with whichever set that you have chosen so you can reach your goals. Some of what I am about to share contradicts a lot of “truisms” that are being shared online. These five qigong meditation techniques have helped multiple students build and sense chi and frankly are true for everyone from Asia that I have studied under or seen teach. Every set of qigong for beginners should go over these basics prior to starting.
1. Stick with one set for a while
Don’t be flighty. Energy takes a while to build up and you need to do the same movements for a while before you are able to sense it. You also need to get to a point of familiarity so that you are not worried about which move is next and can focus on what you are feeling inside. Doing many different sets before you have them down is about the worst advice you can get.
Learn the set in a group or class and have fun with it but then practice alone, inside, with low or no lighting. It’s really hard to sense chi when you first begin if there is a lot going on around you. Secondly, the first sensations you will feel are typical in the palms. Wind can disturb this. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing qigong outside. However, I have developed to a level that I can sense what is going on and concentrate.
3. Breathe correctly
Breathing in qigong is natural and not forced but I am willing to bet that you are not breathing deeply enough or are using your lungs’ fullest capacity. This is the steepest part of the learning curve and once you breathe more deeply you get more benefits. I can’t do the topic justice but here are a couple videos explaining it well.
How to Breath and Stand
4. Promote blood flow
How do you promote good blood flow? Keep your major arteries open at the pelvis and armpits. Keep your armpits open at all times like you have a racket ball in them. In standing sets, soften your lower back and sit a bit like you have a tall stool behind you.
5. Maintain good posture
Throughout the sets you should try to push up through the crown of your head and press down with your tailbone towards the floor. This feels great and elongates the spine.
These last two techniques are the easiest way to tell if a qigong meditation video on YouTube is good or not. Novice practitioners flap their arms closing their armpits more and break their posture. I invite you to revisit any video above and grade them based on these techniques.
Disadvantages of Learning Qigong Meditation Online
There are two criticisms of much of the current information that is out there about qigong meditation that I want to correct so that you don’t become frustrated. The first one I mentioned above but it bears repeating.
Once you choose a qigong meditation practice, stick with it for a while. Each time you do the same qigong meditation a little bit more energy gets built so that you can eventually feel it. This can’t happen if you are always doing something new. Secondly, after learning the movements you don’t need to concentrate on them anymore and can focus on your breath and what is going on inside. People that talk about roaming around YouTube and doing a different set each time haven’t experienced internal development yet. I know they are excited and well-intentioned but it won’t lead to progress. As an example, when I learned the microcosmic orbit meditation it took five months before I correctly experienced what was going on inside. So choose one that meets your goals and then stick with it a bit.
Very few free online qigong videos talk about when to do the meditations or why to do them. Most people do qigong to increase and improve their energy. This means that they should be done in the morning, almost daily. You are the only one who knows your schedule so if you are super busy you need to pick a short set. The set I most often do takes eight minutes and I am consistent about five days each week. Remember that we are slowly building energy. If too many days go between practice, your energy goes back down and you are always starting from scratch.
There are some sets that target specific medical conditions and some that are for calming you down so they are done at night. These are not common and are prescribed by a qigong teacher. So assume that most of what you find out there is general. I talk about the strongest calming nighttime set here if that is one of your goals.
Qigong Side Effects
There are basically no side effects from trying qigong. The movements are simple and gentle and the breathing is kept light and natural. Energy is increased but a sequence needs to be learned and performed for a short period of time before the body responds. The only potential side effects result from a person doing a series of movements that are not aligned with what they are hoping to get out of the practice.
Qigong means “energy routine/work” and practices purposefully increase, decrease, or balance the energy of the body. Therefore, if a person is having trouble sleeping, they wouldn’t want to do an energy-producing set at night. Or, if a person wants to increase their energy, they should choose a balanced or energy-increasing set for the morning. Qigong side effects, if any, are just that you don’t get the results you were hoping for because a different routine or time of day would have been a better choice.
What Is The Difference Between Tai Chi, Qigong, and Yoga?
Qigong meditation, tai chi, and yoga are often lumped together because of their shared benefits, Eastern origins, and communal aspects. However, they are extremely different arts. While yoga holds static postures, qigong meditations move the body while standing or sitting in one place, and tai chi moves around the room. The movements of a qigong meditation are easy to learn but the techniques are the challenge. Learning a tai chi form takes several months but once you have it, it is easy to enjoy. A yoga sequence is easy to learn and follow along but perfecting the postures and breathing is where your time is spent.
I know many practitioners of each art and many people who do more than one. The choice largely comes down to personality and which group the person enjoys associating with and interacting with. You can try free classes out on YouTube to see which one you like the most and then look for a class, teacher, or course.
I think the most important point when choosing between tai chi, qigong, and yoga is accessibility to great teaching. A great teacher can help you problem solve, trouble shoot, and make great progress. This will keep you practicing for years to come. Here is a chart comparing the three to make the decision easier.
Centered Comparison Between Tai Chi, Qigong, and Yoga
Single static postures or a series of movements performed standing in one place or seated.
A learned, series of movements.
Several static postures and stretches performed on the floor.
Length of Practice
Typically 3-15 minutes. A few standing sets last over an hour.
Short forms take 5-8 minutes and long forms take 10-18 minutes. Class is usually over an hour long.
Typically 30-90 minute classes or sessions.
Slow, unforced breath timed with movements.
Breathing times with movements and alternative breathwork such as reverse breathing taught for specific movements.
Relaxed breathing as well as complex breathing patterns that improve health and concentration.
Degree of Difficulty
Movements are not complicated, not numerous, and repeated so that effort can be spent on internal development and focus.
Complex series of 13-108 movements which can take several months to learn. Benefits come from doing the form so less internal mental focus is needed.
A low number of postures which become more strenuous as practitioners improve. Concentration and breathing during postures creates the most challenge.
There are meditations that have general benefits and sets that are specific to the time of day, goal, or ailments.
Benefits are generalized from doing the same form.
Benefits are generalized from doing the same sequence of postures.
Goal and Benefits
Improved mental and physical health. A better relationship to our environment and community.
Almost no equipment needed. A space to practice and possibly a mat or a chair.
Solo Practice or Community
Can be learned and practiced at a school, in a group, or alone. Most practitioners enjoy communal practices but also practice alone in between classes to improve their form and increase the benefits.
Free online examples and free classes exist. Teaching is typically needed to make tangible progress which can be done with online classes, online courses, workshops, or in person classes. Costs vary but are typically reasonable.
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Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.
My start with tai chi was rocky at best. After several years in another martial art I was introduced to tai chi near my university and was totally absorbed. I liked the class and people a lot and was...