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The History of Qigong Meditation for Health and Longevity


Medical qigong uses qigong exercises to modify or moderate chronic disease and injury. Qigong is one of the pillars of traditional Chinese medicine (T.C.M.); as a result, the foundation of medical Qigong is the theory and diagnosis practices of T.C.M. The focus in this method of Qigong is on medical therapeutics, rather than spirituality or training physical or mental strength.

Medical qigong is used either as the primary therapy for a patient or as an adjunct therapy with other forms of traditional Chinese medicine. The different modalities used in T.C.M. also include acupuncture, herbs, bone-setting, and massage. You can also use martial art training to strengthen the body and prevent disease. Medical Qigong is a complementary therapy that is used safely in conjunction with Western medical practices and drug therapies.


In the 1990’s the health-promoting traditions of ancient Daoists & Buddhist meditators began their integration into the mainstream medical system in China. The foundation of this integration was due to these unique exercises having a long history in disease prevention. Throughout the history of Qigong, its soft flowing movements were considered to be extremely beneficial in the treatment of disease and the maintenance of good health.

The ancient Chinese have long advocated for consistent exercise to support good health. This context is important to note because China has been civilized for a very, very long time. The symptoms that we now label as “diseases of civilization” have been studied and treated in T.C.M. texts dating back thousands of years.

In the Spring and Autumn Annals (770-476 B.C.) it states:

“Flowing waters do not stagnate, and door hinges that move do not rust. Our bodies are also like this. If the body does not move, the vital essence (jing) does not circulate; and if it does not circulate, the energy of the body (qi) will stagnate.”

In 1995 the Hai Dian University of T.C.M. in Beijing began to teach what we now call Medical Qigong. The foundation of this program had roots in martial art applications and the movements of animals.  In 1972 archaeologists began excavating the Mawangdui Tombs of Ancient Han Dynasty China (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.). During this time they discovered a silk relic that portrayed the drawings of what is now called “Dao Yin Tu,” or “Guiding and Stretching Postures.” This set is considered the first comprehensive Medical Qigong routine.

Daoist Influences

Around four centuries after these tombs were sealed, the great doctor Hua Tuo (140–208) is said to have originated a famous series of daoyin exercises based on the five animals: the tiger, deer, bear, monkey, and crane. Animal style practices were even then ancient, and probably have their roots in shamanistic dances.

For direct use with patients, Zhang Zhongjing (150-210 A.D.) the famous physician and author of Prescriptions from the Golden Chamber advised ill patients to use special breathing techniques and gentle movement to promote health.  Dr. Zhang recommended that acupuncture should be used to purge the bodies meridians of illness and that Qigong is used to nourish the essence (jing), energy (qi) and spirit (Shen) of a patient to promote long life.

Sun Simiao, one of China’s most significant doctors and popularly known as the God (or Buddha) of Medicine, devoted one scroll of his Beiji Qianjin Yaofang (Essential Prescriptions for Every Emergency Worth a Thousand in Gold) to nurturing life, with advice on exercise, self-massage, cultivating qi and circulating the breath. Regarding physical activity he repeated the age-old advice of balance and moderation, “running water does not grow stale, the pivot of the door does not cause rust. The reason for this is that they move.”

Buddhist Influences

Many of the postures used in medical Qigong have their roots in martial arts training, including Daoist methods (Wudang Mountain) and Buddhist methods (Shaolin Temple). Around 500 A.D. Bodhidharma journeyed into China from India to teach Buddhist practices. He eventually ended up in Henan province and entered the Shaolin temple at Mount Song. While at the monastery he noticed that although the monks had achieved much in the way of mental cultivation through seated meditation, their bodies had become weak and sickly due to a lack of exercise.

Legend has it that Bodhidharma berated the monks for not respecting their bodies and that their bodies were the vessel of their spirits. He was firm in his position that a weak body meant a weak spirit, and he developed three forms of Postural Qigong to help rebuild their bodies: the muscle and tendon changing method (yi jin jing), brain marrow washing (xi sui jing) and the 19 Buddha’s hand method (shi ba shou luo han jing). These three routines became the progenitors of countless forms of Qigong over the millennia since their creation.

The Modern History of Medical Qigong

In the early 20th century, many of the traditional multifaceted methods of Qigong began being gathered together under the broad name of ‘cultivation methods,’ and many books were published that aimed to modernize them. The goal of these books was to make T.C.M. more accessible to a wider audience and redefine them as ‘scientific.’ This movement anticipated the later ‘scientization’ policy of the Communist regime towards traditional Chinese medicine and qigong.

It was not until the midpoint of the twentieth century that the term ‘Qigong’ – the ‘gong’ (work or skill) of ‘qi’ (vital energy) – began to be used to unite all these traditions. Moreover, using the term qigong as an umbrella term for a multitude of older traditions explains the tremendous variety of qigong practices. These methods range from meditative sitting and standing, quiet breathing, visualization practices and soft and gentle movement on the one hand; it also includes powerful and strenuous exercises and even ‘hard’ qigong.

Within a few years, officials at every level of the Chinese government, right up to President Liu Shaoqi, were practicing qigong. Also, research papers on qigong were being published regularly in medical journals. In the late 1950s and early 1960s upwards of 70 Qigong clinics were established. However, the tides turned on government support for Qigong practice in China in the mid-1960s and the practice was actively discouraged.

Cancer Qigong Developer Guo Lin

Guo Lin

Guo Lin was an artist and the daughter of a Daoist priest. She was given months to live after receiving a cancer diagnosis.  She developed a form of Qigong in the 1970s based on the walking Qigong she learned from her father as a child. Guo’s method has proven itself useful in promoting the Quality of Life of cancer patients; it has also been studied as a potential treatment method for people diagnosed with cancer with positive results. The development of Guo’s approach led to a massive boom in Qigong study and practice in the 1980s.

The Objective Detection of Qi

Around this same time, in 1979, Ms. Gu Hansen, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear Research, announced that she had developed a machine which could detect the existence of external qi emitted by a qigong master. Other experiments carried out by a Dr. Feng Lida reported that external qi emission was real and that she had demonstrated that it could weaken or even kill various viruses as well as typhoid and dysentery bacilli and silver staphylococci.

To practitioners and proponents of qigong, these announcements were earth-shaking. No longer the weird practices of ancient religious and mystical sects, qigong was now truly ‘scientific,’ fitting comfortably alongside modern medicine and the dialectical materialism of Communist theory. Qigong became recognized as the birth of new science – and a Chinese one at that – which had the potential to transform the world.


Included in this blog post is a very brief overview of the history of medical Qigong.  This history is what forms the basis of all of the Qigong and Meditation taught at the Jade Dragon Qigong School. When followed correctly, qigong and the internal martial arts simultaneously develop the body (physical strength, flexibility, balance, rootedness below and extension above), the breath (slow, long, healthful) and the mind (presence in the now, tranquillity, intention). Achieving more finely-tuned physical and mental functions in this way these practices helps to be holistically healthy.



Founder of the Jade Dragon Qigong School – Click for a FREE meditation video course!

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