Qigong and Tai chi are ancient exercises with origins more than two thousand years old. There are similarities between these two therapeutic exercise arts, but also some subtle differences.


The word Qigong (or Chi Kung) is made up of two words:

1. Qi (chi) means the life force or vital energy that flows through and animates our body. This life force produces electromagnetic energy, heat and other forces.

2. Gong (pronounced “gung”) means the development of a skill through ongoing practice.The actual exercises maintained in Qigong utilise the concepts of the body’s meridians. The Qi flows through our meridians which each contain numerous energetic spots, often referred to as acupoints. These are the spots that are stimulated by acupuncturists during treatments. But they can also be stimulated by gentle and focused motion.

This is what Qigong attempts to do. It utilises mindfulness and an attention to motion that synchronises our spirit with our body.

Qigong is similar to Tai Chi, but its exercises have a greater focus on the merdians and acupoints. Qigong is divided into forms, for example:

  • ShuangShouTuo Tian Li San Jiao: Holding hands high with palms up
  • CuanQuan Nu Mu Zeng Qi Li: Thrusting fists out and glaring eyes
  • Wu Lao Qi Shang Wang HouQiao: Looking backwards
  • Niao Xi: Bird exercise
  • Ba DuanJin: Eight silken movements
  • Liu ZiJue: Six healing sounds
  • Chu Zhao Liang Chi Shi: Spreading wings
  • Yijin Jing: Muscle changing
  • Qian Yuan Qi Yun: Heaven’s creation
  • Yun Duan Bai He: White crane flies high in the clouds
  • Long Deng: Flying dragon

Can Qigong really treat Parkinson’s disease?

Yes, according to a recent study which tested 54 people with moderate Parkinson’s disease. The researchers divided the patients into two groups – one group was treated with ongoing medications and the other group was treated with the same medications but included an additinal 10 weeks of Qigong exercise.

The Qigong exercise group participated in Qigong five times each week for the 10-week period, with each session lasting for 60 minutes. The routines consisted of 10 minutes of warm-up, 10 minutes of cool-down, and 40 minutes of Qigong and included many of the forms mentioned above.

After the 10 weeks, the researchers compared the two groups and their Parkinson’s symptoms. The main measures were:

  • Muscle hardness
  • Hand-eye coordination (using jar turnovers)
  • Action control capacity
  • Walking balance, gait and stride (TUG for “timed up and go”)
  • Physical stability
  • One-legged blind balance test

Each of these tests measured the person’s physical function ability with respect to their Parkinson’s disease.

The research found that the Parkinson’s patients responded positively to the Qigong treatment. For example, in the one-legged balance test, the Qigong group improved from 7.21 to 11.13 on the left side, and from 6.93 to 9.08 on the right side.

Meanwhile, the medication-only group showed no significant differences in scores.

TUG test times significantly changed for the Qigong group as well. The average times for the TUG routine went from 11.19 seconds to 6.92 seconds. Again, the medication-only group showed no significant difference in scores.

The same thing happened for left- and right-hand coordination tests. The Qigong group’s scores went from 8.05 to 6.45 seconds on the right side, and 8.19 to 6.22 on the left side. Again, the medication-only group showed no significant difference.

Muscle hardness test scores also improved significantly for the Qigong group, but not for the medication-only group.

The researchers reviewed their results:

“After the 10 weeks of Health Qigong exercise, the experiment compared muscle hardness on the left and right sides of the round pronator muscle, hand-eye coordination on the left and right sides, stability on the left and right sides, TUG test results on the left and right sides, and the time of one-legged blind balance test on the left and right sides. It was found that Health Qigong exercise could significantly improve Parkinson’s disease patients’ muscle hardness, functional walking capacity, hand-eye coordination, stability, and balance.”

The researchers also addressed whether ongoing Qigong could further improve the patients’ outcomes:

“Researchers believe 10 weeks is too short of a time period. If patients continue the exercise program for a longer time, the effects on Parkinson’s disease will be more significant.”

What about Tai chi for Parkinson’s?

As mentioned, Tai chi is similar to Qigong in many respects, including some elements of the forms, and the gentle and focused nature of the forms. The word “Tai” relates to the balance between ying and yang (Taijin), while the word “chi” is the same as Qi – relating to our life force or vital energy.

But does Tai chi also result in improvement among Parkinson’s disease patients? The researchers say yes.

A 2015 study from the Tongji University School of Medicine in Shanghai tested 40 people with Parkinson’s. They divided the patients into two groups. One group did Tai chi for 12 weeks. The other group did not. They tested the patients with many of the same tests used in the Qigong research above.

Once again, the researchers found significant improvements among the Tai chi group. These included improvements in balance and movement function. The improvements were not as pronounced as found in the Qigong study, but they were still significant.

The researchers concluded:

“This multimodal exercise training could improve motion function and benefit balance function in patients with Parkinson disease. The multimodal exercise training is easy to learn and practice.”