What is Qigong?
The word is Chinese, but the practice of Qigong is not limited by national borders. There exist a myriad of forms practiced throughout East Asia. Each region or country lends its own subtle variations.
Formed from the characters for Qi and Gong. Qi approximates in meaning to energy in its broadest possible interpretation. Even non-living things (mountains, rivers, clouds) possess certain qualities of Qi. From a scientific viewpoint this may be termed latent energy. When considering living beings, the word is often translated as Life Force or Breath of Life. The second character Gong may be translated as work, routine, exercise, cultivation. So the combination Qigong roughly equates to Life Force Cultivation.
Depending on the form of practice this translation will often subtly change to emphasise the underlying intention. In Chinese culture, the Qi of a living being is usually given five fundamental qualities or powers; Warming, Moving, Protecting, Supporting and Transforming. Qigong practice enhances these life activities.
It is important not to confuse Taiji with Qigong. Taiji is a powerful form of martial art. In the West the practice of Taiji has become associated, more often than not, solely with exercise. Qigong has from its origins been a form of exercise in own right.
The broad spectrum of activities carrying the label of Qigong, leads to an impossibility of any rigid definition. Over the millennia that Qigong has been practiced and refined, the underlying motivation and intention varies depending on individual, cultural, social &/or climatic need. As a somewhat rash description we could say that combining movement or posture with breath and imagery (visualisation and mental focus) is beginning to be Qigong.
There has to be an additional refinement to our definition. So far there is nothing to differentiate the practice of Qigong from the actions and mindset of the dedicated athlete, who combines mental focus with physical training, achieving unbelievable feats of prowess . . . but, at what cost? The development of fitness to the longterm detriment of health.
So the essential difference here is . . . Qigong practice enhances our awareness of the body functioning as a Whole (not separating Mind and Body) and supports being in the moment.