Qigong and Chronic Illness

Is Qigong beneficial when suffering from Chronic Illness?

For the past five years, Yuan Qigong teachers have been teaching through cancer programs in Marin County, CA, and Santa Barbara, CA. Beginning by teaching a simple practice aimed at “gathering Qi”, or life force, into the whole body, the teaching gently expands to include a direct emphasis on the state of mind of the patient living with cancer. To understand a chronic illness diagnosis, in particular one like cancer that carries with it the definite possibility of death, it is vital to understand that the treatment must focus on more than just the healthy functioning of the body. Depression, a sense of isolation, and a feeling of having lost control of one’s life on many levels must be addressed.

Science and Qigong

Because of the growing interest in complementary approaches to the treatments for chronic illnesses many important studies have been completed assessing the validity of Qigong as a viable treatment option for illnesses like:

  • Cancer
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders

These studies clearly and consistently establish the beneficial impacts of Qigong on these and many other disorders.

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What is Qigong?

Qigong is an ancient body/mind practice originating in China as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Using gentle movements, visualizations, and the breath, the various forms of Qigong are aimed at creating a deep calm in the body and the mind, along with an invigorated sense of healthy energy flow through the channels, or meridians in the body. Qi, or life force, is gathered through the movements and is then encouraged to move freely through the “channels” in the body, which promotes health and vigor. For patients suffering with depression or anxiety disorders, for example, Qigong helps to reduce stress and has been proven to enhance immune function and a positive outlook on life, despite difficult diagnoses.

Yuan Qigong and Chronic Illness

The Qigong form of Yuan Qigong is a comprehensive program designed to work on all parts of a person’s life. By addressing the whole life – the emotions, the body, and the spirit – a person with a chronic illness can feel a greater sense of personal control and agency in their treatment. The resulting sense of calm directly affects the stress response in the body, which in turn allows the immune system to do what it was created to do – to protect and heal the body.

Ren Xue, Chronic Illness and the Heart

A defining characteristic of Ren Xue is that the emphasis is on the whole life, not just the health of the body. In particular, there is a strong focus on qualities of the heart – those ways that we humans are able to feel connection, love, beauty, and gratitude. This emphasis allows the patient to begin to see an illness as an opportunity to open to the people and the life around them in ways not usually apparent to the healthy. This deeper understanding is the “other” healing to be found underneath the pain of a difficult diagnosis. It should be stressed that Yuan Qigong is not intended to substitute for traditional western treatments. Instead, the teaching is to understand that the mind has a direct, supportive, and powerful influence over whatever treatment a patient chooses. Using the mind in support of the chemo, for example, is a strong and clear decision on the part of a patient to heal. This supportive mindset is key to enhancing the positive effects of any form of treatment and provides a powerful experience of taking back control of one’s life and body. In turn, this sense of agency directly impacts decisions on how to live beyond a difficult diagnosis of chronic illness. Learn to practice the first method of Yuan Qigong – Gathering Qi – the best way to begin a daily Qigong routine!

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About The Author


Bill McMillan

California, USA
I am a retired Marriage and Family Therapist with over twenty years experience working with adults, adolescents, couples and Veterans, with a general focus on trauma, grief and recovery. I have had a long standing Buddhist practice and bring all of this experience to my teaching of Yuan Gong and Ren Xue.

I have completed Level Six and have been teaching in various settings for many years now. My primary focus has been teaching classes to Cancer survivors and family members, but have also taught in many other settings, including to high school students, veterans, Seniors and the general public. I am currently teaching three classes in Santa Barbara - The Breast Cancer Resource Center, Casa Dorinda Retirement Community, and a class for family members, caregivers and others living with a chronic illness.

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