Today Qi Gong practitioners can be found all around the world, from the US and Canada to Europe and South Korea.
Qi Gong incorporates a mix of meditation and breathing exercises accompanied by a series of languid movements or static postures. The Chinese character for qi (气) refers to energy or life force, while gong (功) refers to cultivating a skill.
The practice was touted by Chinese officials and scientists for its health benefits and was not regarded as a religion or a superstition but as a “precious scientific heritage,” Pew researchers said.
However, Qi Gong is not free of religious meaning and is imbued with Buddhist and Daoist (Taoist) influences, argues Hsiao Guang (a pseudonym), a former Qi Gong master from China who converted to Christianity and wrote a book, first published in simplified Chinese in 1998, that examined the practice’s cultural, social, and spiritual roots.
Buddhist Qi Gong practitioners, for instance, are able to reach a point where they desire nothing, while Daoist Qi Gong practitioners aim to achieve the highest state of enlightenment so that they will never die, he wrote.
Qi Gong is also commonly considered a form of traditional Chinese medicine since it is used to promote healing. And it serves as the foundation for tai chi and other types of martial arts, where practitioners are often trained to concentrate on building qi (or chi) in particular muscles to increase strength and resistance.
Yet for all the popularity Qi Gong has enjoyed through the years, it has not escaped controversy. The Falun Gong movement, which the Chinese government banned in 1999, grew out of its founder Li Hongzhi’s experience in Qi Gong. The movement is also regarded as a cult by many Chinese Christians, with claims that Li brands himself as a deity superior to Jesus and Buddha. (Editor’s note: The Falun Dafa Information Center says there is no evidence of the claim in the faith’s formal teachings.)
CT interviewed a Christian pastor, an author, and scholars from mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore about whether believers can practice Qi Gong, any prevailing misconceptions about Qi Gong that need to be addressed, and what the Bible has to say about this practice. Responses are arranged from “no” to “yes.”
Hsiao Guang, author of Breaking Through the Barriers of Darkness: Recognizing the Cult of Qi-gong for What It Is, from Yi-li, China
No, absolutely not. It is a supernatural demonic power, and evil spirits work through Qi Gong to gradually control and damage the practitioner’s mind and soul.
I gave up the practice completely right after I became a Christian. But it took me many years to get rid of the evil spirits’ control and influence over me during the decade I had practiced Qi Gong. It was a curse and a nightmare that affected me physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
I had very serious rheumatism because I was sitting still for hours outdoors in winter to meditate. I became an easily angered person and later experienced depression and suicidal ideation. And I was frequently disturbed at night by unknown invisible demonic forces, so I could not sleep in peace. I sensed a heaviness and coldness in my soul and heart often.
Some people think that Qi Gong is a way to exercise physically and mentally for the benefit of their health, like practicing yoga. That is a misunderstanding because it ignores the dark spiritual dimension behind the scenes. The spiritual world is very complex, and not every power and force will do you good; they may mislead or even harm you on purpose. Although not everyone who practices Qi Gong will experience this, I still see it as spiritual adultery from a Christian perspective.
God condemns this practice in Deuteronomy 18:9–13. He warns against people who engage in human sacrifice, divination, sorcery, witchcraft, serve as a medium, spiritist, or someone who consults the dead, and says that such a person is “detestable to the Lord.”
As far as I know, many Chinese churches in China and other parts of the world have learned through my book that practicing Qi Gong is dangerous and offensive to the Christian faith. After the first edition of my book in simplified Chinese was published by an underground publisher from a house church movement in Beijing, the traditional Chinese version was reprinted six times between 1999 and 2003. Many people who practiced Qi Gong have given it up and warn other believers against doing so.
Jason Lim, principal of Malaysia Bible Seminary in Kuang, Malaysia
As a Chinese Christian leader, I wouldn’t recommend Qi Gong, which is based on old Chinese pagan religions. Some people do practice it purely as an exercise, but the risk comes from the symbolism behind each movement, which signify the ritual of absorbing qi from the universe and allowing this energy to inhabit you. This is not something we Christians believe or encourage as this could unwittingly open doors to dark spiritual realms.
Two misconceptions about Qi Gong need to be addressed. Firstly, it is not some new, harmless fad. Its popularity in recent years might have made it pop up on Christians’ radars, but it is an ancient Chinese practice dating back to 600 A.D. that has evolved with the pagan practices of its time. Secondly, it is not just a wellness program for the body and mind. Most people ignore the third component: the spirit. Ignoring the practice’s spiritual connotations does not make them disappear but only keeps them out of sight.
I don’t practice Qi Gong as the risks far outweigh the benefits. I’ve met people who encountered demonic spirits while meditating, faced money troubles, or experienced mental health struggles. These testimonies are enough to put me off Qi Gong.
Qi Gong is largely avoided within my community because of these risks. Instead, we exercise to Chinese praise and worship songs, which is a safer alternative to Qi Gong. The few Chinese Christians who still practice Qi Gong usually use the secularized version, to the caution of their denominational leaders.
Whether Christians can practice Qi Gong is a matter of individual conscience. Sifting out the non-religious aspects of Qi Gong to practice it safely requires lots of faith, not just confidence. We need to give priority to the adherence of godly teaching over earthly values and practices. As 1 Timothy 4:8 says, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Corinthians 10:23 (BLB) also says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” If practicing Qi Gong becomes a stumbling block to other Christians, we should avoid it at all costs!
Jacob Chengwei Feng, Oxford Interfaith Forum fellow from Tai’an, China, now based in Princeton, New Jersey, US
In my opinion, Christians can practice Qi Gong as long as they do not empty their minds in their practice.
The earliest Christians who brought the gospel to China are the missionaries of the church of the East. They interacted with the Chinese concept of qi when they endeavored to convey the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit, which they described as a kind of qi.
Some kinds of qi are harmful to people and may cause physical and physiological damage. Likewise, not all spirits are kind, and evil spirits seek opportunities to enter into people. Matthew 12:43–45 reveals that an unclean spirit was looking for a resting place until it found a person like a house unoccupied. Therefore, Christians should be cautious of such evil spirits while they practice Qi Gong. Practices that require people to empty their minds are particularly dangerous as an evil spirit might enter them.
In China, most Christians would not necessarily be aware of the potential danger that lies behind certain practices of Qi Gong. Most would think that it is a physical exercise that helps promote health.
I have not practiced Qi Gong, but when I was an atheist teenager in China, a “Qi Gong fever” swept the country. I became curious and got hold of a book that teaches people to practice it. One of its initial instructions was to empty the mind. In a short while, I experienced some unusual diarrhea, which interrupted my reading of the book. Now, looking back, I realize that God sovereignly protected me from evil spirits.
The most common misconception people have about Qi Gong is that it promotes physical health, and they do not realize that certain mind-emptying practices pose as a spiritual danger. For those who grapple with questions like these, I would suggest reading Bible verses such as Romans 10:9–13, which reveals how Christ desires to fill his people with the Holy Spirit through calling on the name of the Lord.
Pak-Wah Lai, principal of the Biblical Graduate School of Theology in Singapore
Broadly speaking, there are four categories of Qi Gong in my view. The first involves exercises, where one’s physical movement, breathing, and attention are aligned. This is usually practiced in Chinese martial arts and variations like a flow sequence titled “Eight Silk Brocades” or in tai chi boxing.
The second comprises stationary standing stances that improve blood circulation and overall physique. In martial arts, it allows a person to build a strong base and core. In these stances, you adopt a semi-sitting position with slightly bent knees and arms held out at chest level, like what Jackie Chan sometimes shows in his movies.
The third includes more meditative stances which seek to quiet one’s mind and focus on breathing. The fourth entails meditative stances that enable practitioners to engage with the spiritual realm.
I have used the first and second categories of Qi Gong to improve my fitness and develop suppleness in my muscles. The third category has parallels with Christian monastic practices, such as lectio divina or the Jesus Prayer. The fourth category is unacceptable because some can enter into a deep meditative state, where they can perceive and communicate with the spirits.
The healing exercises in the first to third categories of Qi Gong are neither discussed nor prescribed in Scripture. But they have parallels with Greco-Roman Hippocratic medicine, where doctors would prescribe baths, massages, and exercises in addition to drugs.
Christians who are more Western-educated will often see all these categories as negative spiritual exercises that believers should not engage in. Others reject Qi Gong exercises because of their association to Daoism, as Chinese terms like yin yang, qi, and xu shi (“substantial” and “insubstantial”) are often used. This is unfair, since these metaphorical concepts are used generally in Chinese culture, whether in weiqi (a board game), calligraphy, or even in military strategies.
How we can approach the question of practicing Qi Gong, then, is to discern whether a particular practice is simply a form of physical exercise or involves spiritual elements like summoning spirits or spiritual forces. If it is only physical exercise, we should be able to establish its benefits through empirical science. For example, a 2021 Harvard Medical School study found that tai chi offers the same health benefits as aerobic and strength training, such as a reduction in body weight and cholesterol levels.
Seth Kim, lead pastor of Harvest Mission Community Church in Hong Kong
If a person is engaging in various forms of exercise or meditation related to Qi Gong, but their focus is on Christ and their meditation and prayers are directed to Christ, I think it is okay.
I do not practice Qi Gong, but I do take time to slow down, breathe, and meditate on Scripture during my practice of the Sabbath. My church came up with a 4-6-8 breathing technique based on Philippians 4:6–8, which talks about not being anxious about anything but letting the peace of God guard our hearts and our minds while also meditating on God’s truths, promises, and character traits.
To practice this, simply breathe in slowly for four seconds, hold that breath for six seconds, then slowly exhale for eight seconds. We recommend doing it at least three times. As we inhale, we take in God’s promises or ponder an aspect of who God is. As we exhale, we release our cares and anxieties to him in repentance and humble submission. This has been life-changing for some people, because they can practice this breathing technique when they are having an anxiety attack.
Hong Kong Christians tend to view certain practices like Qi Gong as secular or worldly, so such practices are not received well. I wonder if Qi Gong can be “redeemed,” where we recognize its health benefits for us physically and mentally while also understanding its association with various Chinese philosophies and allowing the Bible to guide us.
I don’t know if this is a Romans 14 issue, where the apostle Paul says that doing something or not is a matter of conscience, but we need to have a more holistic view of Christianity. We cannot just focus on the spiritual aspects without recognizing that our bodies and our minds do affect each other.