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Qigong and Addiction Recovery

Medically Reviewed Fact Checked
Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD
When your body is in need of healing, whether from alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or other toxin exposure, it is important to incorporate a variety of methods that work for you. Many people in this situation cannot or do not want to rely on medication for their healing, so they seek natural, holistic treatments. Many cultures from around the world have developed holistic healing methods that are still beneficial for patients today.

These include Qigong, a Chinese practice that helps heal the mind and body.

Qigong Is an Excellent Model of Exercise and Activity for Anyone Embarking on a Healing Process

Qigong is composed of two different Chinese words. Qi, pronounced Chi, is commonly translated to mean vital energy or life force which flows throughout all living things. Gong, the second word, means work. Together, Qigong means creating energy, and is a system of health maintenance that results in increased vitality and healing.

Qigong Is a System of Ancient Chinese Health Care that Integrates Breathing Techniques, Physical Postures, and Focused Attention

qigong for recoveryThere are many health care professionals who suggest Qigong as an essential part of alternative medicine. Qigong produces an awareness of dimensions of the body that are not included in traditional exercise. Most traditional exercises don’t include the meridian system that is used in acupuncture and don’t emphasize the essentiality of adding breathing techniques and mind intent to physical movement. When these components are added, the advantages of physical exercise exponentially increase.

Those who regularly practice Qigong find that it helps them regain youthful vitality, recover from illness faster, and maintain health. Western medicine has confirmed that Qigong decreases hypertension. One of the most important effects of Qigong is the reestablishment of the mind/body/soul connection. At Alternative to Meds Center, we have found that reconnecting with your body, mind, and soul is greatly helpful in overcoming mental health symptoms, substance abuse, and other problems.

The History of Qigong

Qigong has a history that can be traced back thousands of years. The early iterations of Qigong were created due to humans’ desire to understand how humanity, earth, and heaven could all work together. While it has experienced some necessary changes and adaptations through the years—the modern practice of Qigong draws on concepts from Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and other cultures—it continues to utilize many of the same theories today.

Qigong centers on the flow and alignment of an individual’s Qi, or life force. Scholars and practitioners from as far back as 1122 BC during China’s Zhou Dynasty were focused on the importance of controlling and guiding an individual’s breathing in order to maintain health and a strong Qi. When Buddhism was brought from India and accepted into Chinese culture during the Han Dynasty, the practice of Qigong expanded along with it. During this time, those who practiced Qigong became more intentional about their work. The use of Qigong began to focus on full body strength and conditioning rather than simply being used as a means of maintaining health.

Primary Types of Qigong

Qigong has changed and shifted through the years to better meet the needs of those who practice. While some early forms focused on the importance of breathing and maintaining health, over time, some practices centered on physical strength and martial arts as a form of protection. Qigong has also held spiritual significance for many cultures through the years.

Many forms of Qigong have been taught through the centuries, but they all fall into three primary categories.

Medical Qigong

This type of Qigong is central to traditional Chinese medicine and is a cornerstone for many other treatment styles. The primary intention of medical Qigong is healing. This healing can be for the self or for others, depending on the practices used.

Medical Qigong, with a focus on the healing of the self, incorporates various breathing exercises and movements. These practices are meant to prevent illness, strengthen the body, and address specific illnesses. External Qigong, however, is focused on healing from a trained practitioner. These individuals emit Qi to their patients as a way to clear any blockages or illnesses. Many Qigong practitioners who perform external Qigong also provide exercises that their patients can do on their own to maintain the healing beyond each session.

Martial Qigong

Martial Qigong centers on the physical aspects of the practice and is used as a way to strengthen the body. This Qigong practice was developed during the 5th century BC as a way for Buddhist priests to strengthen their bodies along with their minds. It was also taught as a way for priests to protect themselves when necessary.

This practice uses many of the same methods and exercises of medical Qigong but for a different purpose. Individuals who practice martial Qigong gain significant physical strength. They are also able to channel that strength into impressive actions, such as breaking stones with no harm to their physical bodies.

Spiritual Qigong

This aspect of Qigong draws heavily on practices and ideals from Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Spiritual Qigong places a major emphasis on discipline and self-awareness. The goal of this Qigong practice is to be fully in tune with both nature and the self. The spiritual aspect of Qigong means focusing awareness on one’s present existence, and as in other mindfulness practices, this practice been shown in many studies to be beneficial for depression, stress, addiction, psychosis, pain, and many other undesirable conditions. Add citation #7 here.

Becoming in tune with nature and self is accomplished through meditation, mantras, prayers, and other practices. Individuals work much more intentionally with their Qi at a much deeper level to help ensure that they have full control over every function of their body. Some practitioners hope that their work with spiritual Qigong will remove them from the cycle of reincarnation.

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How Do You Practice Qigong?

The practice of Qigong focuses on being intentional about both the movements of your body and your breath. This often involves breathing exercises, meditations, and controlled movements of the body. Each movement or exercise that is practiced with Qigong is slow, methodical, and intended to increase the life force or Qi.

How Do You Practice Qigong


There are three primary adjustments, sometimes called Intentful Corrections, that are made when you practice Qigong.


The first adjustment that must be made when practicing Qigong is an adjustment to your posture. There are many issues that can arise as a result of poor posture, both physically and spiritually. From a spiritual standpoint, having poor posture slows down the flow of energy through your body and, in some cases, can even block it entirely. Physically, if your posture is incorrect, you may be more prone to injuries, have less stamina, and your body may be forced to use excessive amounts of energy when it is not necessary.

The slow, intentional movements of a consistent Qigong practice help significantly with your posture. During these exercises, you must be fully aware of every part of your body so that you can maintain balance and complete the exercises effectively. That awareness can have a positive impact on other parts of your life, as well.


The second adjustment that must be made to practice Qigong consistently is also likely the most familiar: breathing. One of the roots of the word Qigong translates to “breath” or “air,” so it is easy to see why the practice of breath control would play such a vital role in the practice. In fact, the goal of many Qigong practitioners is to guide others back to a more holistic, full form of breathing.

Most people are born breathing in the healthiest way, which is full, deep breaths that fill the abdomen. Over time, however, we are conditioned away from that type of breathing and toward shallower breaths that typically fill the chest first. While practicing Qigong, the goal is to use breath that centers in the abdomen instead of the chest. This means taking deep, slow, intentional breaths that expand the abdomen, then contracting the abdomen on the exhale.

This form of breathing is beneficial for practices like Qigong because it forces you to focus on the functions of the body and also helps to ease any stress or anxiety. Deep breathing draws in more oxygen, so your body is more balanced and allows your heart to rest. It is also a way to strengthen your lungs so that your immune system is able to function more cleanly and help stave off illness.1


The final adjustment that is central in a Qigong practice is an adjustment of awareness. The slow, methodical movements of Qigong force you to center all of your attention on the movement of your body. This is a way to decrease your stress levels by eliminating any unnecessary or heavy thoughts. Pure, intentional awareness is achieved through a combination of movement, breathing, and meditation.

When each aspect of Qigong is practiced correctly, it allows your body to reset and enter into a healing mode. The slow breathing, intentional focus, and methodical movements of Qigong help your body reduce its activation of the sympathetic system, which is often overactive while you are awake, and provide a balance with the parasympathetic system.2This creates a calming mindset, which further expands your awareness and helps you to be more productive. Qigong is an engaging, healing practice that is beneficial for anyone.

Qigong for All

Many people assume that they must be strong and physically fit to get started with any type of health and wellness practice. For some practices, that is true, as having a fit body is essential for success as you continue your practice. This is not the case for Qigong. In fact, for many people, Qigong plays a key role in their health and wellness.

The physical movement and breath control associated with Qigong can significantly improve the health, strength, and wellness of anyone who practices. This is particularly true for people experiencing disease conditions. Consistent Qigong practice can improve the quality of life for people living with chronic diseases like fibromyalgia, COPD, elevated blood pressure, heart failure, and Parkinson’s disease.3 The practice can improve balance and regular everyday motor functions and may also lessen the impact of feelings of depression.

For anyone who practices Qigong, one major benefit is an improvement in balance. The movements and awareness of the body help individuals be more aware of themselves and their surroundings, which can also prevent falls and other major injuries. Overall, regardless of an individual’s level of physical fitness, Qigong can play a key role in growth, recovery, and development.

Qigong as an Alternative to Medication

Medication is not an option for many individuals who are on a healing or recovery journey after experiencing dependence on illicit drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol. Instead, alternative or holistic methods can be a vital way to reduce cravings and withdrawals, prevent relapse, and calm anxiety. Qigong can prove to be an effective alternative to medication for these individuals.

One of the greatest strengths of Qigong as a wellness tool is that it serves as a form of preventative care. Increased awareness of the body, which is developed through the breathing and movement exercises associated with Qigong, can help an individual recognize the signs of pain, illness, and even anxiety early on and work to prevent them rather than rely on medication.

On a physical basis, building strength in the body and improving balance can help prevent falls and other injuries, which will remove the need for medication in many situations. When practiced properly and on a consistent basis, Qigong is able to provide many individuals with an avenue to lessen their dependence on medication through intentional physical and spiritual work.

The Benefits of Qigong for Addiction Treatment

As a part of a holistic treatment program, Qigong has proven to be an extremely effective form of substance use disorder treatment for many individuals. Studies have demonstrated that individuals struggling with opioid use disorder and cocaine use disorder who integrated an intentional and consistent use of Qigong into their treatment plan saw a significant reduction in their cravings.4 This is an exciting development that shows the positive impact that Qigong and other holistic treatments can have on SUD treatment.

Qigong and other holistic-centered treatments are effective because they focus on the whole person rather than just the physical aspects of substance use. As a result, you are able to begin to experience physical healing while also gaining a better awareness and understanding of your body and yourself. That understanding can help guide you as you focus on recovery and provide a valuable coping strategy to prevent relapse.

QiGong for addiction treatment

Qigong FAQs

Qigong can be a valuable component of a holistic SUD treatment program, but it is often unfamiliar to people beginning rehabilitation. We’ve answered a few of the most common Qigong questions.

Q: What Is Qigong?

A: Qigong is an ancient Chinese practice that centers on being intentional about how you breathe and move your body. Qi is the Chinese word meaning “air” or “life force,” and Gong is the word meaning “effort.” Therefore, while you are practicing Qigong, you are putting a concentrated effort toward sustaining your life force. This practice is thousands of years old and has been a staple in Chinese culture for centuries.

Q: Do I Need to Be in Good Physical Shape to Practice Qigong?

A: No, the practice of Qigong can be undertaken by anyone, regardless of your level of physical health. In fact, utilizing Qigong as part of a holistic health and wellness practice can improve your health significantly.5 The practice is ideal for individuals who wish to improve their general health, support healing after depression or other medical problems, or who are just beginning an addiction recovery program because the slow, intentional movements can reduce stress and improve the function of various bodily systems.

Q: Can Qigong Help with Addiction Treatment?

A: There is evidence that including Qigong in a holistic addiction recovery plan can help you begin recovery. Studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing cravings in people who use cocaine and opioids. There is also preliminary evidence that indicates that the use of Qigong for substance use treatment is more effective than medication at reducing anxiety, stress, burnout, and other issues that can be beneficial to address during recovery.6

Q: Is Qigong More Effective Than Medication?

A: Several recent studies have shown that, when it is a part of substance use disorder treatment, Qigong may be more effective than prescription medication at reducing anxiety. Qigong is also more effective than medication in terms of improving the movement and strength of the body. When Qigong is practiced regularly, it can significantly improve mental and physical functions, particularly if you struggle with SUD, chronic pain, or other chronic illnesses.6

The Rhythmic, Gentle Movements of Qigong Decrease Stress, Increase Stamina, Enhance Vitality, and Boost the Immune System

Natural, holistic healing practices are an essential part of any recovery journey. When you incorporate Qigong into your treatment, it can help you build physical strength as well as spiritual and mental focus that will offer support as you continue on your healing journey. In addition to Qigong, Alternative to Meds Center offers a variety of other holistic adjunctive services, such as acupuncture, equine therapy, art therapy, and more.


1. Haryanto, J., Sukartini, T., Ulfiana, E., & Putra, M. M. (2018). The effectiveness of spiritual, emotional breathing towards respiratory function and immune response of tuberculosis patients. Jurnal Ners, 13(1), 93-97. Retrieved October 8, 2022, from

2. Russo, M. A., Santarelli, D. M., & O’Rourke, D. (2017). The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human. Breathe, 13(4), 298-309. Retrieved October 8, 2022, from

3. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, (2022). Qigong: What you need to know. NCCIH Clearinghouse. Retrieved October 8, 2022, from

4. Smelson, D., Chen, K. W., Ziedonis, D., Andes, K., Lennox, A., Callahan, L., Rodrigues, S., & Eisenberg, D. (2013). A pilot study of Qigong for reducing cocaine craving early in recovery. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine, 19(2), 97–101.

5. Toneti BF, Barbosa RFM, Mano LY, Sawada LO, Oliveira IG, Sawada NO. Benefits of Qigong as an integrative and complementary practice for health: a systematic review. Rev Lat Am Enfermagem. 2020;28:e3317. doi: 10.1590/1518-8345.3718.3317. Epub 2020 Jul 15. PMID: 32696918; PMCID: PMC7365612.

6. Zhang D, Lee EKP, Mak ECW, Ho CY, Wong SYS. Mindfulness-based interventions: an overall review. Br Med Bull. 2021 Jun 10;138(1):41-57. doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldab005. PMID: 33884400; PMCID: PMC8083197.

Originally Published September 13, 2018 and updated December 30, 2022 by Diane Ridaeus

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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