Qigong – is it Yoga?

I’m not a yoga teacher, although back in 1978 I did teach yoga for a couple of years.

One of the aspects of both yoga and qigong is to enhance your potential.  If we always move in ways in which we are ‘comfortable’, certain parts of us remain static whilst other parts of us elasticate and ‘grow’, or at least remain more fluid.
Perhaps that’s a bit like only oiling the engine on the car but not bothering to grease the bearings?  If the engine works too well, it might be at the expense of the bearings which can’t take the strain.
Enhancing your potential applies to both qigong and yoga.

Qigong falls into a couple of categories: Static & Mobile.
In the static postures you get into a position and then, whilst maintaining it, you work within it, your aim being ultimately to increase your levels of qi (one of those expressions that means little to most people).  I’ll get to that in a moment…
In these static postures you aim to relax, but this isn’t a soggy-relaxation experience, it’s more dynamic. You are aiming to do more than just empty the body of tension, you are also aiming to add what I can only describe as ‘educated’ tension.

‘Educated tension’.
To give an example of this: Hold out your arm in front of you, the palm facing you as though you’ve wrapped it around someone’s waist (see the right arm in the photo).  Completely relax it in that position.
The first point is that, even though you relaxed it, it didn’t drop; all that happened was that you disengaged the muscles that were unnecessary to keep it there.
Now imagine someone is gently pushing your forearm towards you; imagine that you can feel the push but do nothing with the arm.
Then imagine that someone is attempting to pull your forearm away from you; once again, imagine that you can feel the pull but do nothing with the arm.
Now try doing both the pull and push sensations simultaneously.

Is this a form of almost-relaxation or of almost-tension?
It’s usually referred to as ‘educated force’, although I think that ‘educated relaxation’, or even ‘educated tension’ as above, would serve just as well.
This isn’t something that you will come across in yoga.

Moving Qigong takes you into and out of postures continually.  It aims to stretch and twist the body in unusual ways in order to increase the body’s potential.
It often works with acupuncture channels, fascial stretches, and the lymphatic system; this is also true of static qigong although the latter is less obvious and  direct.
This might be unintentionally similar to yoga (‘unintentionally’ because yoga tends not to refer to acupuncture).

‘Increasing your levels of Qi’.
Factor 1
In order to have better levels of energy, you need to avoid wasting it.
Energy is easily wasted.  Using the plumbing analogy – if the pipes are furred, if the joints leak, if the fluid (whatever it is) leaks on the way to the outlet, your system is compromised.
If the body holds tension or stress, the muscles contract, the bore of the piping is reduced, the pressure increases, the pump has to work harder, etc.

This analogy refers to the blood flow, the lymph flow, the functioning of the nervous system, the ability of the body to breathe, the heart to pump, and the ability of the digestive system to clear toxins… in fact any body system you can think of!
All of the body systems need to work to the best of their ability.  If they don’t, the body has to work harder, which burns more energy, and has to combat the various forms of inflammation that will likely result from the system’s inefficiency.

Factor 2
We live in a world that is powered by energy. It’s a self-propelled, self-regulating, self-regenerating system. It works, although we don’t understand how or even why.
What we can say is that it produces and uses energy; you only have to watch a plant growing against the force of gravity to witness that.
Qigong aims to allow us to gather and harvest more of that energy, so that as mobile plants, we flourish.

The Kidneys & ‘ancestral’ qi.
One other point worth mentioning is Chinese medicine’s view of the functioning of the Kidneys.
Apart from their standard physiological functioning, Chinese medicine see the kidneys as housing what they call your ‘Yuan qi’ (or ‘source qi’), which can be defined as the qi that you get from your ancestors.  This is what a westerner would describe as your ‘constitutional strength’, i.e. your ability to fight illness, as well as your susceptibilities to illnesses passed down through the family line.
Qigong aims to increase and repair your Yuan Qi, although it is openly admitted that to do this is very difficult, and is only possible in a limited way.
This does not apply to Yoga.

Does yoga aim to increase levels of Qi?
In my limited experience – yoga does not aim to increase levels of qi, but 1978 is quite a long way away, and I was quite young at the time. The only other yoga classes I’ve attended since those days haven’t altered my opinion of this either, the classes often being filled by those with an unusually hyper-extensive ability (perhaps I chose the wrong class).  The hyper-extensive practitioner is most definitely not aiming for qi-expansion!
James Drewe teaches Taijiquan and qigong in both London and in Kent. Details of weekly classes can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Taijiquan on one Saturday a month.

Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281 or 020-8883 3308


4 thoughts on “Qigong – is it Yoga?

  1. th3gr33nman

    Well, James, that’s a very stimulating comparison!

    If you are short on time, then stop reading here….

    China and India are, perhaps, the most ancient of philosophical cultures.

    Between them was an ongoing philosophical exchange that certainly dates from the time of the Buddha.

    They have a number of common concepts that date from that time or even before.

    For exmple, in Yoga, there is a strong emphasis on the accumulation and manipulation of /Prana/.

    My understanding is that Prana and Qi share many similarities.

    Prana (and Qi?) is variously translated as ‘breath of life’, ‘vital life force’, and ‘universal energy’.

    In the human body, there are 5 forms of Prana – the /Vayus /or ‘Airs’.

    Each vayu has a specific function:

    1. /prana /- breath in the lungs (not /Prana/);

    2. /apana /- elimination & reproduction;

    3. /udana /- throat – making sound;

    4. /samana /- digestion;

    5. /vyana /- circulation.

    Prana is said to flow through ‘energy channels’ or /Nadis/.

    The nadis carry the Prana to wherever its energy is required.

    Sometimes those nadis are blocked.

    Many Yoga techniques and practices are aimed at clearing blockages in the Nadis.

    Clearing the blocked nadis allows a healthy, freely flowing Prana to nourish the body.

    This would seem to have much in common with the manipulation of the flow of Qi in the accupuncture meridians.

    The Prashna Upanishad explains the origin and function of Prana this way:

    “The Lord meditated and brought forth prana

    With rayi, the giver of name and form:

    Male and female, so that they would bring forth

    Innumerable creatures for him.” (Prashna 1:4)

    Later, in the Prashna Upanishad, more detail is given:

    “Within the body dwells the Self with his sixteen forms…

    The Self asked himself, ‘What is it that makes

    Me go if it goes, and stay if it stays?’

    So he created Prana [1], and from it

    Desire [2]: and from desire he made Space [3], Air [4],

    Fire [5], Water [6], the Earth [7], the Senses [8], the Mind [9],

    And Food [10]; from food came Strength [11], Austerity [12],

    The Scriptures [13], Sacrifice [14], and all the Worlds[15];

    And everything was given Name and Form [16].

    As Rivers lose their name and form

    When they reach the sea, so that people speak

    Of the sea alone, so all these sixteen

    Forms disappear when the Self is realised.

    Then there is no more name and form for us,

    And we attain immortality.” (Prashna, 6:2-5]

    Seen this way, Prana shares parallels with Quantum Theory.

    Prana, too, is the energy that – at a sub-atomic level – is the precursor of matter.

    In this state it is also known as /Prakriti /- the original, undifferentiated energy of the universe.

    So, Prakriti could be seen as Yuan Qi – ‘source energy’.

    Contemporary with the Prashna Upanishad (circa 500BCE) are Patanjali’s “/Yoga Sutras/”.

    Patanjali explains how, over eons, the undifferentiated Prakriti evolves into 3 differentiated threads – the /Gunas/

    The Gunas are the foundation of all things – sentient and insentient – and have distinct, progressive, characteristics.

    Firstly, Tamas is dull ignorance; then, Rajas is passion and desire; and finally, Sattva is harmonious purity.

    A rock is tamasic, a lion is rajasic, and a saint is sattvic.

    The real function of a Yoga practice is remove oneself from the cycle of suffering in birth, death and rebirth – /Samsara/.

    To do this, over several lifetimes, we can evolve the gunic qualities that we inherit from our previous existences.

    By enabling mediation, Yoga evolves those gunic qualities.

    The dullness of Ignorance is lightened with knowledge, understanding and, eventually, wisdom.

    The passions of desire and ambition are calmed by the realisation that all things are impermanent.

    As a result, calm wisdom reveals an inner harmony and purity.

    Eventually, in this sattvic state, the gunas dissolve.

    When the gunas dissolve, /Kaivalya /- liberation of the /Purusha /or Spirit – is achieved.

    Thus, the cycle of suffering – Samasara – is broken.

    On a practical level, the ‘8 Limbs of Yoga’ – /Ashtanga Yoga/ – are a guide to that progressive evolution.

    Perhaps the most obvious technique for harnessing and manipulating Prana (and evolving Prakriti) is the 4th Limb, /Pranayama/.

    Pranayama  (/prana /- breath; /yama /- rein) is the restraint or regulation of the breath.

    Pranyama helps the flow of Prana by clearing the nadis.

    Indeed, ‘Alternate Nostril Breathing’ is more accurately known as /Nadi Shodane/ – Cleanser of the Nadis.

    Some of the postures – /Asana /- also have a function as movers of prana through the nadis by exerting pressure on certain nadis and chakras.

    Finally, the performance of yoga postures is always a balanced combination of effort and alignment – similat to the ‘educated tension’ of qigong.

    In both, we release to move into an alignment and use sufficient inwards and outwards effort to hold, and then to move out of, the posture.

    And always, the breath and the movement combine like music and dance – with the breath providing the energy and the rhythm of the movment.

    Yoga’s ‘Sun Salute’ sequence – Surya Namaskar – is an example of this balance of simultaneously conscious attention to the passive and active flows of energy.

    It’s true, I agree, that many Yoga classes ignore this, the more esoteric side of yoga.

    In many yoga classes the whole emphasis is on an almost gymnastic performance.

    But why, I wonder?

    Most Yoga Teachers know the esoteric purposes of Yoga.

    Maybe they ignore them because, if they introduced them, the students would stop attending.

    For example, much as I like chanting mantras (or maybe I just like the sound of my own voice!) I never teach them.

    I would lose most of my students.

    Better to get them there on the pretext of becoming flexible and learning to relax – then drip feed the more subtle ideas and techniques.

    Sneaky, huh?

    A very stimulating blog James – apologies if my reply was over-stimulated!

    Go well,



    1. Taiji.co.uk - James Drewe Taiji & Qigong Post author

      Hi Simon,
      Thanks for that. When I wrote the blog I was hoping that I’d get some kind of feedback telling me that it was a bit superficial – my own ‘training’ in 1978 was certainly so, but then, as you point out, you’re hardly going to be able to teach the subtleties to novices.
      I’ve talked to a great many yoga practitioners over the years, and by and large, most of them seem to be just doing ‘movements’ – but then, the same is true for most tai chi and qigong practitioners.
      All the best,


  2. Jacqueline Graf

    Hi James,
    Check out Simon Borg-Olivier (yogasynergy.com). In Simon’s workshop for the first time I got that feeling that Yoga and Qigong is the same:-)
    Best Regards,



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