The Best Way to Learn Qigong At Home

The mental and physical health benefits of learning qigong (pronounced chee-GONG) are becoming well-known and more scientific studies are coming out each year backing up the positive results.  The great news is that it is relatively easy and inexpensive to learn qi gong at home because you don’t need to attend a class and you don’t need any gear. 

Anyone can learn qigong at home by receiving good instruction from a workshop, visiting a teacher regularly, or following a reputable online program. Learners are taught a few moves at first and then moves are added progressively. Health benefits from qigong build over time so consistency is a must.

The health benefits of qigong are great, research as to why qi gong works has finally hit the mainstream, and the expense and difficulty are really low. It makes sense to try qigong, especially if you want to reduce the impact that stress can have on work, heal, or sleep better.  You just need access to good instruction, need to know what to expect, and need to keep five things in mind to experience the same benefits that the studies have shown. Let’s start with answers to the most often asked questions and then dive into how some tips and resources from long-time practitioners.

How Long Does it Take to Do Qigong?

A Qigong set can typically last 3-15 minutes.  When taught correctly, each section is learned incrementally where a few moves are learned and remembered, and then new moves are added.  As you progress, the set actually TAKES LESS TIME because each move can be performed with a correct level of intensity and accuracy.  As an example:

Mantak Chia teaches a sitting meditation that takes 30-45 minutes to perform when you are learning.  When you have ample knowledge and sensitivity to what is going on in the body, the same set can be performed in under 8 minutes.

Where in My Home Can I Do Qigong?

Qigong can be performed inside or outside and you don’t need a lot of space because even the moving qigong sets are pretty stationary.  Inside, typically you want to be in a quite space with dim lighting. The important point is that you will be concentrating for a few minutes and don’t want to be distracted or uncomfortable hot or cold.

I do want to share one point that is often missed by new instructors or practitioners: Feeling energy in the body, as crazy as this sounds, is possible after a few months of practice.  Think of it as building up a reserve of fuel that has never been full enough for you to feel before.  This is easier to experience inside in low light, in the morning, than outside on a windy day. So the best place to learn qigong at the beginning is somewhere calm, dimly lit, and quiet.

When is the Best Time to Do Qigong?

The morning is almost always the best time to do qigong.  This is because most routines are designed to give you energy and because we are more likely to follow through with activities early in the day rather than what we plan to do in the afternoon after our day gets away from us. 

There is one exception though:  Certain Qigong sets are designed to be completed at night to help you unwind from the day and have powerfully deep sleep.  You remember right? The kind of sleep you had as a kid?

How Often Do I Need to Practice Qigong?

The honest answer is daily in the beginning and probably 4-5 times each week after you learn the set.  This is a lot easier than you think so let me explain before you jump ship!

I do the Good Morning Qigong set which I will tell you about at the end. About 6-7 days each week.  It takes about 6-8 minutes and is not something I have to force myself to do or remember to do.  Here’s why:

Think about how you typically wake up.  Are you a bit groggy and stiff?  Now think about how you are around 9-10am. Awake and feeling better, right? What if you could get to that good place almost instantaneously?

Well, the stretching-like movements of qigong and the deep breathing get me there immediately.  Before having my coffee, I am thinking clearly.  Before putting a sweatshirt on I am warm.  I can tell you that my mood, no foggy thinking, and how I feel are 10X better.  I am having fun with my family and ready to be productive when I get to work. 

There is a second benefit to your health that comes after practicing qigong at home for a while.  You are doing the same thing ever day – every day, boring-boring-boring! Then one day you are still exhausted after the set. Or maybe your breathing is really labored.  You realize that something is wrong.  Maybe you are run down from stress or have the start of a cold.  The amazing thing is that, maybe for the first time in your life, you notice this BEFORE it gets too bad. You can then sleep in, eat better, or relax before something worse happens.  Before I started doing qigong, I think I got sick more because it was too late before I started to do something about it. With 20-40-60 days of paying attention to what “normal” feels like, the onset of a cold or a tweak in your knee is like an alarm bell going off and you can proactively do something about it.

So yes, like any new habit it takes some diligence at first to keep doing qigong.  But if you chose a good qigong set, you will feel the difference and won’t need discipline to keep practicing.

Is it Difficult to Learn Qigong at Home?

The movements of qigong are really easy to learn and there is a special reason for this.  The average qigong set has 3-12 moves.  Each of these moves are repeated several times and typically move in the direction from head-to-toe or vice versa.  So this is really easy to learn and remember.  Secondly, the moves are pretty gentle.  Imagine circling your arms in front of you nine times. 

Qigong is designed purposefully with movements that are easy to perform and remember so that we can spend our time focusing on our breathing, thinking, posture, and internal development.  I know this can sound a bit new-agey but it’s why many people fail to benefit from qigong.  They learn the movements and think “this is too easy,” missing the whole point of what they should be doing.  Getting better at the internal stuff takes more effort but let’s us enjoy the positive effects can be felt right after a set is complete.  There are three things we focus on while doing your qigong set at home.

What Type of Qigong Should I Do at Home?

There are many different types of qigong to choose from based on what you want to accomplish and your physical abilities.  There are qigong routines where you lay down, sit, stand, or move.  Any type of qigong is a perfect activity to do at home.  Some sets focus on relaxing you, calming the mind, giving you energy, or all of the above. However, there are three principles that every good qigong set focuses on:

  1. Posture – The spine is elongated in every position of qigong, stretching from the tailbone through the top of the head.  This includes laying down or sitting.  Even in qigong routines with movements your head most often stays above your feet. If you are moving lower, you are squatting rather than moving forward.
  2. Breath – Every breath is long and slow and follows the body’s movements.  For example, if you are circling your arms, you inhale as the arms come up and exhale as the arms go down.
  3. Clearing the Mind – Many teachers instruct to “clear the mind” during qigong but I am going to have to disagree here because I really don’t believe it is possible and causes more stress.  A better way to look at it is that when your thoughts arise (grocery list! Angry coworker?) you acknowledge the thought and return to thinking about your breath. 

Sometimes I find that qigong makes my chaotic thinking worse! I get flooded by everything I forgot to do, am worried about, or forgot to write down. Again, an additional bonus of qigong! Isn’t it better to remember and write it down rather than forgetting and missing an appointment or something?  During busy times in my life, it’s like my brain is thanking me for creating some space. I have to stop my set, write a list, and then begin practicing again.

When choosing a qigong set to learn at home, identify what the benefits of that set are and if they match your goals.  Next, if you have a health issue, make sure that you are able to sit, stand, or move for the required time.  Most qigong is really easy on the body so you shouldn’t be too concerned.  Basically you are just taking 8 minutes out of your incredible hectic day to focus on your posture, breathing, and body. 

How to Be Successful Learning Qigong at Home

I have a lot of students who have tried qigong before and quit or didn’t believe qigong was worth doing because they tried and didn’t experience any of the benefits.  Typically, they had bad instruction, were training incorrectly, or gave up too soon. If you are lucky enough to have a qi gong class taught near you, here are seven criteria to use to evaluate the class, Otherwise, let’s cover some of these pointers so that you can avoid the same pitfalls.

1) Don’t try to learn a set of qigong movements all at once.

When qigon is taught correctly, you focus on individual components for a while to really sense what is going on in those moves.  Then, you glue them together into a qigong form at the end.   As an example, let’s say you learn 12 movements.  Progress could look like this:

Week 1Movements 1-3
Week 2Movements 1-6
Week 3Movements 1-9
Week 4Movements 1-12

This means that a full month of diligent practice could pass before the set is completed. The trouble comes in because this isn’t often explained in weekend workshops or in videos.  They can be truly great, research-based qigong routines but by doing the whole thing at once, each movement is just mediocre because there is too much to think about (posture, breath, movement).

2) Focus on deep breathing and keeping your posture upright.

Qi-Gong literally means “Energy-Set” and we are building energy in the body.  This doesn’t have to be esoteric. Through stretching and movements we are wringing out the muscles which moves toxins into the body to be excreted.  By breathing deeply we are taking in more air and instructing our nervous system to calm down. 

Looking back up at the chart above, you can see that as we are perfecting the movements, we are also priming the body to have more energy on a weekly basis as we add movements, rather than all at once.

3) Be consistent, your development depends on it.

learning qi gong at home is like pumping water

The best part about learning qigong at home is that we almost have no excuse for not being consistent.  And consistency is one of the most important components of success for qigong because it enables us to build the new energy.

I think using an old water pump is a perfect metaphor for qigong. When you begin pumping for water, nothing comes.  Then a trickle, and finally a gusher.  But what happens when you stop?  You have a little water for awhile but then you have to start all over again building up the pressure.

The same is true for qigong, especially in the beginning.  You have to consistently build your energy up for a few weeks until you have an overflow and can “feel” the excess.

4) Be patient, energy (“chi”) development is extremely subtle and unrecognizable at first.

If you are out of shape and you go to the gym what happens?  Most things in life give us immediate feedback and the initial efforts have the greatest positive impact.  Chi development through Qi Gong is the exact opposite.  Little to nothing can happen for 20-30 days.  Without knowing this and practicing with active faith you are likely to quit. 

Here’s the truth, our level of energy goes down as we get older and is even more negatively impacted by stress or if we are out of shape. For most of us, we only feel an increase in energy with the help of things like caffeine or a jolt from an emotional response.  It takes some time to build energy up to a level that it is recognizable.  It will never be as obvious as drinking a double espresso.  But what if you don’t need that double espresso anymore?

What is the Best Online Program to Learn Qigong at Home?

If you are looking for a qigong set to practice or are wanted to replace your current practice, the best program that I have found to date and the one I personally do is the Good Morning – Good Evening Qi Gong Set. I share what I think the pluses and minuses are about this qigong routine compared to everything else out there.

Scott Prath

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.

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