Qigong follows traditional Chinese medicine principles, which claim that qi flows through our bodies. According to TCM, people tend to feel their best when qi travels freely, but health problems can crop up if the energy becomes stagnant or blocked in a certain area of the body. Through simple poses and patterned breathwork, qigong is believed to remove obstacles to promote a healthy flow of qi.

Beginners first learn how to coordinate physical movements with breath through the repeated practice of exercises. Once they achieve proper form, students work on turning those exercises into moving meditation, or finding the change in energy within the postures, movements, breathing patterns, and transitions.

It may sound simple, but there’s a lot happening within the body and mind during a qigong practice.

For starters, the slow, gentle movements are believed to warm up your tendons, ligaments, and muscles; mobilize the joints; and promote the circulation of body fluids (like blood, synovial, and lymph).

Meanwhile, deep breathing, which plays a central role in qigong, calms the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system and activates the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) side of your autonomic nervous system, Bouguyon says. The autonomic nervous system regulates involuntary processes like breathing, heartbeat, and digestion.

By tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system, qigong can help reduce stress and anxiety, which has many implications for health. “Qigong offers the beautiful gift of working to quiet the mind, settle the emotions, and relax into the body,” Bouguyon says.

From the traditional Chinese medicine perspective, qigong optimizes the flow of energy in your body to help mitigate or attend to any number of conditions.

Take constipation, for example. It can be thought of in relation to the spleen, which regulates the primary digestive process in traditional Chinese medical thought, says Bernard Shannon, a doctor of TCM, the chair of the NQA, and the founder of the International Medical Qigong College in Bradyville, Tennessee. (Shannon notes that the spleen is similar to but conceptualized differently than the conventional medical understanding of the physical organ.)

As he explains, constipation often has one of two causes, according to TCM yin-yang theory, which looks at illness as an imbalance of yin energy (conceptualized as cold, soft, and passive) and yang energy (conceptualized as warm, hard, and active).

“If you have a yin deficiency, there’s not enough moisture, and so you’re constipated because it’s too dry. If there’s too much yin, it becomes stagnant and can’t move forward. It’s kind of like quicksand — you take a step forward, and it slides back,” Shannon says. (This is one view of constipation from TCM. Other theories and schools of thought that involve qi, blood, and other patterns share similarities to the yin-yang theory but have different approaches.)

A practitioner who specializes in using qigong for health purposes, like a licensed acupuncturist and TCM practitioner who also offers qigong, will help you determine potential qigong postures to help move more of that energy toward your spleen to relieve constipation, according to Shannon.

Qigong instruction isn’t regulated by the federal government,

so do your research before consulting a practitioner. Many national and international qigong organizations offer training, certifications, and industry standards. You can find qualified qigong practitioners through the Red Thread International Qigong Institute, the International Medical Qigong College, and the NQA. It’s also essential to work in an integrative way with your primary doctor to make sure you are evaluating any symptoms and concerns via a conventional medical perspective alongside your visits with an acupuncturist and qigong practitioner.

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