What is Qigong?
The practice of Qigong combines physical movement, postures, breath, and an awareness of a flow of Qi along the meridians (energy pathways); these pathways and points are used in Chinese medicine. The movements are gentle yet help promote healing and bring the organism into greater balance and harmony. Sometimes sounds, breath work, mudra (hand gestures) and stimulation of the points are used separately or in combination with the movements or postures. Qigong is considered a branch of Chinese medicine and indeed there are forms of medical qi gong. The exercises help stimulate the flow of qi along the pathways and in turn one begins to perceive that the flow of qi moves the body.
If you are interested in understanding more about the various forms of qi gong, please see Sat Hon's article, A Field Guide to Qigong.
What is Qi?
Having edited many texts on the subject, "Qi" is the best translation for "Qi". There is no translation into English. Qi is a subtle, very fine material that pervades the universe and influences all aspects of life—from the weather to the food one eats. However, the closest word might be breath and/or energy. It is very related with the yogic concept of prana.
What is gong?
Gong is often translated as cultivation or work, but definitions may also include practice, skill, mastery, merit, achievement, service, result, or accomplishment.
Qigong exercises help to order, strengthen and make the body more supple. Everyone's aim with the practice will be different. Some will need more strengthening and others more fluidity. Some will discover deeper aspects of themselves that extend beyond ordinary physicality and others will use the exercises and practices to go about their lives with more ease and freedom. In my practice, I have often felt an opening in the body similar to having a great massage, but somehow the effects go deeper and last longer. Some exercises are gentle and can be done most anywhere, but one must be willing to make time to practice to receive the benefits.
Many clinical studies have been done on the effects of these exercises to cure disease, relieve depression, strengthen the immune system and guard against general degeneration as a result of old age. One could say qigong is a way to maintain life.
Below are a few links with information regarding qigong studies:
NYU Langone Medical Center
National Institute of Health:
A Comprehensive Review of Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi
Qigong and Fibromyalgia: Randomized Controlled Trials and Beyond http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4247977/
The effects of tai chi on depression, anxiety, and psychological well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis
“One moves and forgets the movement;