Qigong and Yin Yoga: Two Practices Compared

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Wenlin Tan

Qigong 气功 is a practice that has become popular amongst Yin Yoga practitioner and teacher. Perhaps you’ve tried Qigong 气功 but might not be familiar the history behind Qigong and why it’s taught together with Yin yoga. In this article you will learn more about Qigong, what it is, how Qigong works, how it relates to Yin Yoga and how Qigong can complement your Yin Yoga practice to improve your vitality and health. 

What is Qigong?

Qigong, sometimes known as Chinese Yoga, is an umbrella term for a set of energy cultivation practices that combines movement, breath, and meditation to restore balance within the body, mind and spirit. Qi 气 means breath, energy, life force, air, vital energy. Gong 功 means effort, discipline, movement, practice, skill. According to a 2014 study, Qigong is believed to be at least 4,000 years old, and has been passed down through generations in China.

What are the types of Qigong? How does Qigong relate to TaiChi?

Qigong may take many forms – from shaking to tapping; from stationary stances to fluid, flowing forms. Similar to Yoga which has both asana (physical poses), pranayama (breath techniques) and meditation, Qigong includes various meditation, visualisation and breathing techniques which are Taoist philosophy and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Here’s a  20 minute Qigong practice you can try which will support your meditation and Yoga practice: 

Qigong has various types and styles, which include Buddhist Qi Gong, Health Qigong, Medical Qigong, Martial Qigong, and so on, just as within Yoga there are various types and lineages such as Ashtanga, Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, and so on. Similar to Sun salutations A and B in Yoga, in Qigong there are some more well-known sets of practices such as the 6 Healing Sounds Liu Zi Jue 六字诀 and 8 Silken Brocades Ba Duan Jin 八段锦. 

Some forms of Qigong, such as Taijiquan 太极拳 are more martial, while other forms like Health Qigong are gentle and low-impact and can be tailored to any fitness level or physical ability. Tai Chi is the the short-form of Taijiquan 太极拳, a martial form of Qigong that involves more complex footwork with fixed sequences that generally take longer to master than Qigong. 

How does Qigong work? What are the benefits of Qigong?

Qigong works by aligning the body, breath and mind (intention) together to support the flow of vital energy, Qi 气 in meridians. This is similar to how within the practice of Yoga asana the flow of prana, vital life force energy, is promoted through the nadis. 

Qigong movements warm the tendons, ligaments and muscles; they improve circulation in the body and tonify vital organs and connective tissues. Qigong has been shown to be beneficial for a wide range of chronic and acute health conditions including: arthritis, breast cancer, menopausal-related problems, menstrual disorders, and a variety of physical and psychological illnesses, as described in research conducted in 2017 and 2015

How can Qigong complement my Yin Yoga practice?

Qigong and Yin Yoga complement each other in many ways. Below you can see Qigong, Yin Yoga and other various practices mapped along the spectrum of Yin-Yang or Langhana – Brahmana, from passive to active. 

Qigong tends to be slower and more gentle, Yin, relative to other practices like Tai Chi or Ashtanga Yoga. However, compared to Yin Yoga which is static with long holds of 3-5 minutes, moving Qigong forms e.g. shaking, tapping, flowing are faster, more active and warming. As such Qigong provides a powerful option to support you to transition smoothly from movement into stillness, or awaken gently from stillness into movement. 

Many of my students struggle to immediate land in the meditative stillness that is valued in Yin Yoga. Starting first with Qigong can help to prepare the body for the practice of Yin Yoga by promoting relaxation, making it easier to transition to and, later, linger in stillness. Conversely, Qigong can also be a great segway after Yin to awaken gently from stillness into movement without overstraining the body. 

Qigong & Yin Yoga: Balancing emotions via the Five Elements 

Furthermore, Qigong and Yin Yoga share common roots in meridian theory and the Five Elements, rooted in Chinese Medicine, so collectively they can be used to help balance their related emotions. When planning a class, you can sequence based on the Five Elements or specific meridian channels and their respective organs for added benefits to regulate specific emotions. Below you can see how the Five Elements relate to the Five Zang organs and Five primary emotions. 

If you or your students are experiencing emotional overwhelm from anger, fear or grief, you can use your Qigong and Yin Yoga practice to regulate these emotions. An excess of anger, irritation or impatience can be balanced by moving stagnant Liver Qi, soothing the liver and gallbladder organs and meridian channels. Read this post to explore the Five Elements and how they relate to aspects of your inner and outer world. 

Want to dive deeper? Join us this February to experience the healing benefits of Qigong: 

Join me for the Qigong Global Summit 27 February -3 March 2023. You’ll enjoy my free workshop on the five elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine and how they relate to key phases of your creative cycles and how you can harness them to manifest abundance, joy, and flow in your life. ​By registering, you’ll not only be able to access my workshop, but more than 35+ amazing Qigong and mindfulness workshops by leading experts in the field, to complement your Yin Yoga practice / teaching. Find out more and register for free here.

Join me live on 26 February 4:30pm CET | 9:30am CT on Instagram @LetsTalkYin for a 30-minute Qigong Yin Yoga practice to transition from Water to Wood, from stillness into rebirth. 

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Wenlin Tan
Wenlin Tan
Wenlin is an Inner growth Coach and Women’s Health Yoga and Qigong specialist. She specialises in helping women find flow and ease in their life through coaching and the ancient wisdom practices of Qigong, Taichi, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Yoga. Wenlin brings with her over 15 years experience working across the fields of health, psychology and wellness, with over 3,000 hours of Teacher Training and 8 years of experience helping clients across Asia, Europe and the USA.

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