Well, consider your wish granted.
Qigong (pronounced "chee-gung") is an ancient Chinese practice that boasts many well-documented health benefits and is quickly gaining popularity in the West. Simply imagine the meditative powers of yoga + the low-impact strengthening movements in tai chi + the feel-good endorphins of a runner's high. That's qigong.
Medical qigong focuses on keeping the body and mind in a state of wellness. According to traditional Chinese medicine, sickness, pain, and discomfort result when the flow of qi, or energy, is blocked, and you may feel stuck, tired, stressed, and sick. With gentle movements, qigong unblocks and increases the flow of qi, our vital energy.
Still not sold on qigong? Here are 5 more reasons to try this ancient practice today:
1. It lowers inflammation and slashes disease risk.
Of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States, eight of them—heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, pneumonia/influence, and kidney disease—are directly linked to the same root cause: inflammation.
There are actually many studies that have examined qigong's effect on inflammation. One examined the effect of twice-weekly qigong practice on measures of stress and biomarkers of immunity. After 10 weeks, qigong practitioners showed a significant improvement in scores of anxiety, stress, and depression, as well as an increase in the secretion rate of salivary immunoglobulin A, an immune system antibody. They also exhibited a decrease in salivary cortisol concentrations, indicating a reduction in psychological stress. How does all of this relate? Qigong reduces stress, which reduces inflammation, which improves the immune system, which prevents a wide range of illnesses and improves overall health.
2. It's a simple way to lose weight.
Sixteen weeks of qigong practice was found to decrease "subcutaneous adipose accumulation" in healthy adults. Translation? Less belly fat! The 110 people in the study ranged in age from 20 to 59, and they practiced qigong three times a week for 30 to 60 minutes. Fat that accumulates at the abdomen is known to be one of the most dangerous forms of fat because it produces pro-inflammatory cytokines, as well as the hormones that contribute to insulin resistance.
3. You'll say goodbye to stress and anxiety.
Many studies consistently demonstrate that qigong has a powerful stress-reducing effect. Some people experience relief from anxiety even after one session of qigong, but not surprisingly, the stress-relieving effect is greatest in those who engage in a regular practice.
4. It nips nagging aches and pains in the bud.
Qigong has also been proven effective as a method of pain control. In three separate clinical trials, people with osteoarthritis of the knee who practiced qigong experienced reduced pain and improved ease of movement. Other studies have pointed out that qigong can reduce arthritis pain by promoting relaxation and increasing blood flow to the affected areas. Because improved blood flow leads to more efficient delivery of oxygen, nutrients, and natural painkillers such as endorphins, pain in the affected area is lessened; improved blood flow also helps remove metabolic waste products that can contribute to pain.
In another study of office workers who use computers most of the day, a half-hour of daily qigong relieved neck pain and disability; a separate study of similar office workers demonstrated qigong's ability to relieve lower-back pain and reduce stress.
Qigong can also be helpful to people living with fibromyalgia. Recent studies have found that a regular qigong practice (daily for 6 to 8 weeks) improved pain, sleep, and overall physical and mental function. Those who continued their practice beyond eight weeks experienced even greater benefits.
5. It's extremely easy to do.
Qigong is much easier to learn than traditional tai chi, which can take many years to master and involves more complex movements. No special equipment or attire is needed—just comfortable clothing that allows you to move freely. It may also be the most adaptable form of exercise around: It can be done standing, sitting, or even lying down, so people of any fitness level and age can practice it, even those who are ill or injured. In fact, a form of qigong that requires less complex movements and balance poses has been used by those with mild traumatic brain injury.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you're in good health and already have a dedicated exercise practice, qigong can be an excellent add-on to increase flexibility and help protect your joints from injury.