Qigong (pronounced Chi-Kung) is an ancient Chinese system of posturing techniques and breathing exercises designed to focus the body’s energy toward a specific purpose such as lowering anxiety, enhancing self-awareness, exercise, and as you probably could have guessed, the promotion of healthy sleep.
In this article, we’ll explore the advantages of Qigong as a sleep agent, as well as some simple, do-it-yourself exercises you can use at home.
With roots in Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, as well as traditional medicine, philosophy, and martial arts, Qigong has evolved to incorporate elements of each philosophy into its teaching, making Qigong one of the most multi-faceted holistic practices available.
Because Qigong works by channeling your body’s natural energy into a specific purpose, it can be used for a wide of treatments ranging from lowering blood pressure, to improving mental health.
In fact, studies show a significant correlation between the practice of Qigong, and reduction of the stress hormone Cortisol.1
And because stress is such a major contributor to insomnia, reducing it through the natural means of Qigong just makes sense.
After all, it’s simple, recommended for all ages, and free! Best of all, it can be performed in the comfort of your own bedroom.
How to perform Qigong
Because Qigong dates back roughly 2,500 years, it’s had plenty of time to develop and evolve, with hundreds of different routines and exercises for a variety of specialized purposes.
However, we’ll be limiting our focus to five simple Qigong exercises centered on the specific intent of improving sleep quality. These include:
- Dynamic Qigong
- Static Qigong
- Meditative Qigong
- Qigong through external agents
Each of these forms carry its own unique benefits, so deciding which to use will depend largely on the goal you’d like to achieve, as well as personal preference.
So with that in mind, here are some effective sleep-inducing Qigong exercises in each of these four basic forms:
1. Dynamic Qigong for improving sleep quality
If you’re having a restless night of tossing and turning, doctors recommend that you get up and move around for a little while. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t fall asleep within the first thirty minutes of lying down then you need to get up and stimulate blood flow.
This is where Dynamic Qigong comes in.
Dynamic Qigong works by blending motion with mindfulness, achieving peace of mind by focusing attention on the sensation of movement. In doing this, you’re able to locate and then dispel areas of tension within your body.
It’s this blend of mediation and light exercise that make it a great solution for the restless sleeper.
Here’s a simple exercise you can use should you find yourself tossing and turning in the middle of the night:
Three Step Dynamic Qigong routine for nighttime restlessness
Step 1 – Stand with your feet parallel and at shoulder width. For 2-3 minutes, gently swing your arms and shoulders by rotating your hips, making sure to keep your knees straight in the process.
Step 2 – After 2-3 minutes of gentle swaying, swing your hips left to right, moving your arms across the front of your body, alternating side-to-side and front to back. Continue this motion for roughly one minute.
Step 3 – Bending your knees and letting your arms hang limp at your sides, bounce gently up and down. This brings awareness to the body’s inner tension. Focus on moving your body to incorporate these areas.
Note: while performing this exercise, it’s important to keep a clear mind, allowing thoughts to drift past without focusing attention on your internal dialogue. Focus on areas of the body that feel “tight” or uncomfortable, and adjust your routine to incorporate movement in these areas.
2. Static Qigong for Sleep
Static Qigong is as its name implies- static. It involves maintaining a single position with very little physical movement and all attention and energy focused inward.
This means maintaining a relaxed body posture while still keeping a sharp, focused mind.
However, while it may appear to the outside observer that Static Qigong is an exercise in using as little energy as possible, instructors of this type of exercise are quick to point out that this does not mean energy or “qi” is not being utilized. Rather, this energy is simply focused inward.
This makes Static Qigong an ideal exercise for those with limited mobility. In fact, you can do it without even having to leave your bed! This exercise is perfect for when laying in bed wide-eyed and struggling to fall asleep.
Three step Static Qigong sleep routine for those with limited mobility
Step 1 – Keeping your mouth closed, steadily inhale through your nose over the course of 8 seconds, extending your abdomen in the process.
Step 2 – Exhale over the course of 6-8 seconds, pushing air up from the bottom of your lungs and out through the nose, deflating your abdomen on the exhale.
Step 3 – After a few repetitions, reverse the process by contracting the abdomen when inhaling, and loosening during the exhale.
Because Static Qigong uses deep breathing to reduce anxiety, it makes for a great treatment option for those suffering from insomnia due to stress and tension.
Deep breathing exercises such as these have a profound physiological impact on the mind and body, with immediate, beneficial effects to the heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol levels, and general outlook on life.
In a nutshell, deep breathing works to balance the sympathetic nervous system (which manages energy, alertness, and anxiety) with the parasympathetic nervous system (which counters the production of energy/alertness/anxiety responses.)
In Qigong, this process is explained by a “grounding” of the mind and body by returning to a harmonic balance with the natural flow of qi, or life energy.
3. Meditative Qigong for Sleep
Meditative Qigong refers to a wide array of breathing and visualization practices as well as chanting, mantra, and sound techniques all centered around the purpose of balancing the flow of qi within the body.
Meditative Qigong can be performed in a variety of ways, implementing elements of dynamic, static, and external agents, and can be performed while sitting, standing, or in motion.
Here’s a simple meditative exercise you can do while either sitting or lying down in bed with your eyes closed.
- Rest the palms of your hands palm-side up either on your lap, or parallel to your body.
- Focus your attention on the palms of your hands.
- Inhale at a steady 6 second count, exhaling at an 8 second count.
- While maintaining a steady breathing pattern, bring your hands together (fingers pointed upward), and pull them back apart as though you are playing an accordion. In doing this, you’re activating the palm chakras, or “Lagong”.
- Alternate directions, from vertical, to horizontal, to diagonal.
- Repeat as desired.
This exercise focuses on mindfulness and removing negative thought through intention, movement, and deep, controlled breathing.
4. Performing Qigong through external agents
Believe it or not, Qigong does not necessarily require you to be an active participant.
Because Qigong is founded upon the practice of redirecting the body’s natural energy, it includes, by definition, external agents that stimulate energy flow such as acupuncture, natural herbs, and massage.
Put simply, you can reap the benefits of Qigong without having to do any real work, yourself!
Here are some of the most effective external agents you can use in the evening to reduce stress and stimulate the flow of qi within the body
Reishi Mushroom for anxiety and insomnia
This mushroom is highly regarded in both traditional and Western medicine for its myriad health benefits ranging from boosting the immune system, to fighting high cholesterol, right down to preventing stomach ulcers.2 You may have heard reishi mushrooms referred to as Lingzhi mushrroms, both are one and the same.
However, it’s the mushroom’s calming effects that make it so invaluable to the Qigong practitioner seeking to improve the quality of their sleep.
Reishi Mushroom has been proven effective in treating insomnia by reducing stress and lowering blood pressure.3 In fact, so effective is this mushroom, that the Qigong practicing Daoists of ancient (and modern) China have sought to consume Reishi on a daily basis.
Reishi Mushroom is commonly sold as a supplemental extract in capsule form. Prices vary, but most organic retailers charge about $12 for a 100 capsule supply.
Qigong Sensory Treatment massages before bed
While a before-bed massage will improve the sleep quality of anyone receiving it, Qigong massage or “Qigong Sensory Treatment” has recently come into the spotlight for its effectiveness in regulating, among other things, hyperactivity and sleep quality among children with Autism.4
Because Autism directly inhibits sensory response to touch, children with Autism do not experience a feeling of pleasure or bonding through human contact, and instead, reject or fail to notice touch entirely.
However, multiple studies have shown that just 15 minutes of Qigong massage before bed over the course of 5 months can reduce behavioral issues by 32%, and over the course of two years, moves roughly 25% of children out of the autism spectrum entirely!5
Parents charting their child’s progress with a diary noted a significant reduction in parental stress (an average of 44% improvement averaged over 15 studies), as well as an improvement in sleep quality due to less “off-task” behavior.
Of course, as previously stated, Qigong massage is beneficial to the sleep quality of anyone receiving it, Autism or not.
In fact, there are a number of easy, do-it-yourself routines that you can perform on yourself right in the comfort of your own bed.
Here’s a quick Qigong massage for treating insomnia that can either be self-administered or performed by a partner:
Step 1 – Begin by stimulating the nerves/qi in your fingertips by gently rubbing the ends of your fingers in a light, swirling motion.
Step 2 – Next, place your thumbs against your temples, massaging the sides of your head in a clockwise direction with the same light swirling motion as before. Massage for roughly 1-2 minutes.
Step3 – Repeat step 2, this time using your index and middle finger to massage your temples. Massage for another 1-2 minutes.
Step 4 – Continue massaging as needed, alternating from clockwise to counterclockwise every nine or so rotations.
Whether the result of redirecting your body’s qi or simply enacting mindful, self-soothing techniques, it can be safely stated that the healing power of touch plays a major role in regulating the quality of healthy sleep.
Stimulating qi through Acupuncture
Acupuncture can be classified as a form of Qigong due to the fact that both practices focus on redirecting the qi; Qigong from the inside out via mindfulness, meditation, and movement, and acupuncture from the outside in, by more or less “hacking” into the hard drive of your body and tweaking its circuits for maximum performance.
Benefits of these needle-based tweaks to the qi range from reducing pain, to improving athletic performance, and of course, aiding in the reduction of stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
And while Qigong and acupuncture tend to get a bad rap in Western society as nothing more than pseudoscience, recent medical studies argue just the opposite, showing a significant correlation between acupuncture and the production of the sleep hormone Melatonin, as well as an overall improvement in the quality of sleep.6
So before you go reaching for that prescription sleep medication, why not first try the ancient alternative? After all, it’s been treating insomnia since 100 B.C.!
Note: Most insurance plans do not cover acupuncture therapy, so you’ll want to shop around for the right practitioner for you and your budget. In most cases, this requires no further searching than your local chiropractor or spinal clinic.
Have you used Qigong to cure your insomnia? Let me know your experience in the comments below!