Is Qi Gong a Religion?
For many, Qi Gong is not only a catalyst for powerful emotional and energetic transformations, but also a spiritual transformation. In Qi Gong, spirit is translated as “shen”, which has many different meanings – consciousness, mind, heart-mind, spirit, thought. Given Qi Gong’s deep reaching impact on human consciousness, many practitioners end up asking themselves how Qi Gong fits into their religious or spiritual beliefs.
In most Qi Gong classes the emphasis is on the health and healing experience, and often, the question of religion is left out of the conversation. Many practitioners will encounter one or several of the following questions: What is Qi Gong in relation to God and spirituality? Is Qi Gong its own religion? What’s the relationship between Taoism and Qi Gong? Does Qi Gong conflict with Christianity or any other region? These are healthy preponderances, and questions that this blog will seek to answer. Before delving into these questions, let’s set the foundation about where Qi Gong came from.
Origins, Foundation, and Practice of Qi Gong
Qi Gong originated in ancient China and was a way for people of all classes and backgrounds to tap into their own inner potential for health and vitality. Put simply, Qi Gong is an exploration and cultivation of who we are as humans. Practicing Qi Gong doesn’t require any specific set of beliefs, and in fact, you don’t even need to believe in Qi (although you probably will once you feel its effects). Qi signifies the aliveness within. Do you believe you are alive? What name do you want to give that aliveness? In China, it was called Qi. Believing in Qi is like believing in air. Both are invisible, both sustain and support life, both are so apparent that we often don’t notice them.
So no, Qi Gong is not a religion, it is a practice that does not need to imply anything whatsoever beyond your own experience. Long before doctors were prescribing medicines and surgeries to deal with ailments and sickness, Qi Gong practitioners were using their own innate energy to regulate their energy and heal their bodies and minds.
Another foundational element of Qi Gong is that it is practiced from the inside out. This means that Qi Gong can be absolutely anything you want it to be. It is completely your own practice, and a way for you to relate to your body, mind, and spirit. Many people find that Qi Gong takes them on unfamiliar internal journeys into their bodies, feelings, and thoughts. Since we all relate to similar feelings and experiences of energy, it is often helpful to have an experienced Qi Gong teacher guide you through practices to help you realize yourself more clearly. This doesn’t mean that someone is telling you what is real or what you should believe, it simply means that a teacher might be able to help point you in the direction of yourself. By tapping into the energy and uniqueness that is already inside, you can join millennia of practitioners who all shared the same intention for health, vitality, and self-awareness.
Relationship Between Qi Gong and Religion
We’ve already discussed that Qi Gong is not a religion, but a practice of self-exploration and growth. Oftentimes, discovery of self leads to religious or spiritual awakening. On occasion, a devoutly religious person may say “I am a dedicated Christian/Muslim/Jew/Etc…, how can I share a spiritual practice with others who have different beliefs.”
A psychologist may point out that we each have our own schema of reality, and each person will experience the world through his or her own set values and beliefs. This just means that each person will have a little different experience of Qi Gong, and that is completely okay. Again, Qi Gong is simply the study and cultivation of who we are, so it’s actually completely impossible for us all to have the exact same experience of Qi since everyone is different. Obviously, religion plays a big role in determining worldviews, so it is only natural for religion to influence the experience of Qi. If a Christian experiences Jesus in connection to Qi, that is completely legitimate, and if thoughts of the Buhhda are felt by a Buhhdist, that can be embraced as well.
What Qi Gong is not, is a set of rules that tell you how to live. Qi Gong may help you to discover truths within yourself, perhaps even via a specific religious context, but Qi Gong does not tell you what should or should not do.
Since Qi Gong does often awaken self-realization and help people to become aware of their truest intentions, many people do integrate Qi Gong into their spiritual or religion practice. In fact, many people of all religions find that Qi Gong is an excellent compliment to their relationship with the divine. It’s very normal for the practice to enhance one’s connection to a belief or religion that is already established. For others, they may decide that Qi Gong is simply a useful tool to let go of stress and get some exercise, and that is completely okay also.
Taoism and Qi Gong
Those who are slightly more experienced may wonder about the relationship between Taoism and Qi Gong, since many higher level lessons talk about Taoist teachings. Although many Qi Gong practices are based on the same understandings that Taoist texts discuss, there is nothing that is specifically religious about the practice. Similar to Qi Gong, Taoism is not a set of rules or beliefs that tell you how to live, but rather, it is a way of seeing causality in the Universe. Understanding Taoist principles can be helpful in Qi Gong, because each person is their own microcosm of the entire universe.
Some people do practice Taoism as a religion, but it is not exclusively that. There are many people who say they appreciate buddhist psychology and meditation, but in a conversation they are adamant to clarify that they don’t consider themselves buddhist. Recognizing the merritt of a way of looking at the world does not mean you need to ascribe to its teachings. It is completely possible (and healthy) to continue cultivating whatever religious or spiritual path you are on, while practicing Qi Gong in the way that best serves your individual needs.
In conclusion, a healthy approach to Qi Gong is one in which practitioners puts themselves at the center of the practice, and allow their own truths to channel through it. As an exploration of the self, Qi Gong can be a great way for you to gain greater insight into mind, body, and even religion (if you want to go there). Just as gravity can be felt and experienced by people of all religions, so can Qi. Hopefully this discussion has cleared some questions for you, or perhaps stirred some thoughts about what you want Qi Gong to be for you. Just remember, if you’re ever confused about what Qi Gong should be, just turn your gaze inward and you’ll always be right.
By Ian Drogin