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Qigong is a Chinese movement and breathing discipline which is practiced all over the world, by Chinese and non-Chinese alike. There are many different styles of qigong — sometimes spelled as chi gung or chi kung — including the famous tai chi, all of which focus on slightly different end goals, ranging from fitness for martial arts to maintaining healthy bodies in the elderly. This movement discipline is a topic of controversy in some areas, with people arguing about its benefits and potential applications, although many people agree that regular practice is probably healthy.
The practice of qigong goes back to at least 500 CE, and it is probably much older, judging from depictions of similar activities in Chinese art. It has long been practiced as part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a holistic healing art which integrates a number of different approaches to medical treatment. In China, qigong classes are offered at many hospitals for the benefit of patients, and regular practice sessions takes place in many public squares. Outside of China, qigong classes can be found in a variety of locations, from schools to city parks.
There are two important aspects to qigong. One involves movement of the body, taking the body through a series of flowing poses. The other involves the regulation of breathing. Together, the breathing and movement is meant to focus and calm the body, generating a sense of well being in the practitioner while also improving strength, flexibility, and range of motion. Together, the movement and breathing exercises are meant to cultivate internal energy, or qi.
The controversy over qigong comes from the debate over its precise benefits. Most people in both East and West can agree that it is good for the body, especially for the elderly, because it is one way to get active, and it is very gentle, making it suitable for elderly and disabled people. Some people also say that this practice has spiritual benefits, equating it with metaphysical concepts, while others simply say that it encourages a calm state of being. Claims about practitioners' ability to harness energy or the forces of nature are viewed skeptically in many communities.