Qigong and Acupuncture

By Gavin Elliott, MD, FAAMA
November 2023


Qigong has ancient roots in Chinese philosophical and spiritual traditions. Some of the earliest references to Qigong are found in the “I Ching,” which dates back over 2,500 years. Daoism has played a significant role in the development of Qigong. Daoist sages and monks sought to harmonize themselves with the Dao, the fundamental principle of existence.

Qigong practices are seen as a means to cultivate Qi (vital energy), and achieve internal harmony. Various schools and styles of Qigong have developed over the millennia, each with its unique methods and practices. Some schools have focused on the martial arts, some on healing and others on a spiritual focus, though all would likely contend that these are not entirely separate.

Qigong has been closely associated with Chinese martial arts. It is used to enhance physical and mental abilities, promoting balance, strength, and flexibility. Many traditional Chinese martial arts styles incorporate Qigong exercises as part of their training.

Within the realm of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Qigong has been employed for both preventative and therapeutic purposes. It is considered part of TCM’s holistic approach to health and healing. In TCM, Qigong and acupuncture are closely related practices, both rooted in the concept of Qi.

The essence of Qigong is the cultivation and balance of Qi within the body, which is believed to be essential for overall health and well-being. These practices can include gentle movements, meditation, breath control and visualization techniques.

How Qigong Supports the Medical Acupuncturist

In traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture and qigong are closely related practices, both rooted in the concept of Qi and health. Qigong is useful for acupuncturists in the following seven ways.

  1. Understanding Qi flow: Qigong helps acupuncturists develop a deep understanding of the flow of Qi within the body. By practicing Qigong, they can sense the movement and balance of energy pathways (Meridians) more effectively. This knowledge is fundamental for accurate acupuncture point selection and location.
  2. Sensitivity and intuition: Qigong cultivates sensitivity to Qi. Acupuncturists who practice Qigong are more attuned to the subtle energy imbalances in their patients. This heightened sensitivity can aid in finding the most appropriate acupuncture points and applying the correct amount of stimulation.
  3. Enhanced energy: Regular Qigong practice can help acupuncturists maintain their own Qi balance and replenish their energy. This is essential because working with patients’ Qi can be physically and energetically demanding. Qigong can help prevent practitioner burnout and supports their overall health.
  4. Relaxation and focus: Qigong promotes relaxation and mental clarity. Acupuncturists need a calm and focused mind to make precise needle insertions. Qigong exercises can help reduce stress and distractions, allowing for better treatment outcomes.
  5. Self-care: Qigong is a form of self-care that acupuncturists can use to maintain their well-being. By practicing regularly, they can balance their own Qi, which is essential for providing effective care to their patients.
  6. Therapeutic techniques: Some Qigong exercises can be integrated into acupuncture treatments. For example, acupuncturists can teach patients simple Qigong exercises to enhance the effectiveness of their treatments and empower them to take an active role in their healing process.
  7. Holistic understanding: Qigong encourages a holistic view of health and well-being. Acupuncturists who practice Qigong are more likely to consider the patient’s overall health, including lifestyle and emotional factors, in their treatment plans.

In summary, Qigong is valuable for acupuncturists as it deepens their understanding of Qi, enhances their sensitivity and intuition, promotes self-care, and helps them maintain a clear and focused mind. Integrating these two ancient practices can lead to more effective and holistic healthcare.

How to Incorporate Qigong into Your Practice

Incorporating Qigong into an acupuncture practice can be beneficial for both the acupuncturist and patients. Here are some ways to do this effectively:

  1. Personal Practice: Acupuncturists can begin by incorporating Qigong into their own daily routines. By maintaining their own Qi balance through regular Qigong practice, they can better attune themselves to the energy of their patients and create a healing environment.
  2. Patient Education: Acupuncturists can educate their patients about the benefits of Qigong as a complementary practice. They can provide information about simple Qigong exercises or recommend local Qigong classes, enabling patients to take an active role in their health and well-being.
  3. Pre-treatment Qigong: Prior to acupuncture treatments, acupuncturists can guide patients through brief Qigong exercises to help them relax and prepare for the treatment. Deep breathing and gentle movements can calm the mind and enhance the effectiveness of acupuncture.
  4. Post-treatment Qigong: After an acupuncture session, acupuncturists can lead patients through specific Qigong exercises to help circulate Qi and maintain the benefits of the treatment. This can be a calming and grounding experience for the patient.
  5. Combined Therapy: Some acupuncturists are trained in medical Qigong, a specialized branch of Qigong that focuses on diagnosing and treating patients’ energy imbalances. This allows for a more comprehensive approach to healing, combining acupuncture and Qigong-based treatments.
  6. Workshops and Classes: Acupuncturists can organize workshops or classes on Qigong for their patients. This provides an opportunity for patients to learn and practice Qigong under the guidance of a qualified instructor.
  7. Integration with TCM: Acupuncturists can integrate Qigong practices into their Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments. This may involve addressing not only the physical aspects of health but also the emotional and energetic aspects, which Qigong can help balance.
  8. Energy Assessment: Acupuncturists skilled in Qigong may incorporate energy assessment techniques to diagnose Qi imbalances in patients, which can guide their acupuncture treatment plans.
  9. Referrals: If an acupuncturist is not proficient in Qigong, they can refer patients to experienced Qigong practitioners who can complement the acupuncture treatments.

By integrating Qigong into their acupuncture practice, acupuncturists can provide a more holistic approach to health and healing, addressing not only physical symptoms but also the energetic and emotional aspects of well-being. This can lead to more comprehensive and effective patient care.

Differences Between Qigong and Tai Chi

Qigong (or Chi Kung) has a much earlier origin than Tai Chi. Qigong, which focuses on the cultivation and balance of Qi, has been practiced in various forms for centuries as a means to promote health, vitality, and longevity.

Tai Chi (Taiji or Taijiquan) is a martial art that incorporates Qigong principles and movements. While some aspects of Tai Chi can be traced back to ancient Chinese martial arts, the development of the specific Tai Chi styles we know today are more recent compared to Qigong.

So, to clarify, Qigong predates the development of Tai Chi, and Tai Chi incorporates Qigong principles and movements into its practice. The two are related and share common elements. However, they are distinct disciplines with different purposes and characteristics.

Tai Chi (Taiji):

  • Martial Art: Tai Chi is a traditional Chinese martial art that consists of a series of slow, flowing movements. It is known for its martial applications and self-defense techniques.
  • Form: Tai Chi is typically practiced in a specific choreographed form, with each movement flowing seamlessly into the next.
  • Mind-Body Connection: While practicing Tai Chi, there is a strong focus on mental concentration and balance. It is often described as “moving meditation.”

Qigong (Chi Kung):

  • Energy Cultivation: Qigong, on the other hand, primarily focuses on the cultivation and balance of Qi (vital energy). It involves a wide range of practices, which can include slow, flowing movements, static postures, breathing exercises, and meditation.
  • Health and Wellness: Qigong is more oriented toward health and wellness. It is used to maintain and enhance physical, mental and spiritual well-being, as well as to prevent or address health issues.
  • Variety: There is a vast variety of Qigong practices, each with its own specific goals and techniques.

Despite their differences, Tai Chi and Qigong share several similarities:

  • Mindfulness: Both emphasize mindfulness, with a focus on being present in the moment and maintaining mental and physical balance.
  • Breathing: Proper breathing techniques are a key component of both practices, aiding in relaxation and energy flow.
  • Energy (Qi) Awareness: Both Tai Chi and Qigong involve an understanding and awareness of Qi, albeit with different applications. In Qigong, the emphasis is on cultivating and balancing Qi for health and vitality, whereas Tai Chi uses Qi in the context of martial arts applications.

The ease of mastering Tai Chi or Qigong can vary from person to person and depends on several factors, including individual preferences, physical abilities, and the specific style or form being practiced. However, in a general sense, Qigong is often considered easier to master compared to Tai Chi for several reasons:

Complexity of Movements

  • Tai Chi: Tai Chi forms involve a series of complex and choreographed movements. Learning and memorizing these sequences can be challenging for beginners.
  • Qigong: Qigong exercises typically consist of simpler and more repetitive movements. This simplicity can make it easier for beginners to grasp the basics.

Physical Demands

  • Tai Chi: Tai Chi may demand more physical strength, flexibility, and balance, especially in some of the advanced forms. Beginners might find it physically taxing.
  • Qigong: Qigong exercises are often designed to be accessible to people of various fitness levels. They can be adapted to suit individual physical abilities and needs.

Time Commitment

  • Tai Chi: Learning Tai Chi forms can be time-consuming. It often takes years to master the complete sequence. Regular practice is necessary for proficiency.
  • Qigong: Qigong routines are generally shorter and easier to fit into a daily routine. Mastery can be achieved more quickly with consistent practice.


  • Tai Chi: Tai Chi has martial applications and self-defense components, which require additional training and expertise.
  • Qigong: Qigong is primarily focused on health, wellness, and energy cultivation, making it more straightforward in terms of practical application.

Goals and Objectives

  • Tai Chi: Many people practice Tai Chi for its martial, artistic, and self-defense aspects. Achieving mastery in these aspects can be a lifelong pursuit.
  • Qigong: Qigong’s primary goal is to promote health and well-being, so the mastery of basic exercises can be attained relatively quicker.

It’s important to note that both Tai Chi and Qigong offer physical and mental benefits, and the choice between them often comes down to personal preference and goals. Some individuals may prefer the more meditative and health-focused aspects of Qigong, while others may be drawn to the martial and artistic elements of Tai Chi. Additionally, many practitioners enjoy both practices, as they can be complementary. Ultimately, the ease of mastering either Tai Chi or Qigong will depend on your dedication, practice, and the specific style or form you choose to pursue. It is my personal opinion that Qigong is more health directed, easier and less time consuming, thus useful for the acupuncturist that is interested in expanding their practice and association with Qi.