China has more than 3,000 years of qigong history. There are probably over a thousand forms of qigong practices still existing as of today. To help us to better understand them, we can categorize them into three major groups, according to their origins and theories. They are Buddhist qigong, Taoist qigong and Confucian qigong.
The Buddhists don’t call themselves qigong practitioners. However according to qigong definition, it is one kind of qigong practice. They call their practice “修心” and “炼性” since they focus on mind and spirit (灵) practice. They talked a lot about awareness and awakening consciousness (觉知、明觉) practice.
Buddhist qigong practice is motionless. Sitting position is the most common one. They usually set an idea (念想) or some object (佛法器) and then let the mind to think/imagine/visualize it to practice. Zen meditation is one kind of Buddhist qigong practice.
Confucian’s philosophy has only two words: Middle (中) and Harmonious (和). Confucian’s Middle means impartial, unbiased. Confucian philosophy is the core of ancient Chinese culture, therefore influenced and then became the core of Japanese and Korea and many other Asian countries’ traditional cultures.
In Confucian qigong practice, to be Middle one needs to be emotionless. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have feelings, and actually they do, like all other people. However they choose not to react to those feelings which would otherwise become emotions.
The Confucian way of qigong practice is day-to-day life practice. They reflect and never react. They are modest and impartial. They value harmonious way of dealing with people and things. Morality is their life. They are a better social people.
Although we couldn’t find any Confucian qigong practice form existing today, Confucian philosophy is widely used by two other qigong practices.
Taoist qigong practices focus on physical body and qi/chi practice at the earlier stage, and mind practice at a later stage. One of its practice theories is “炼精化气，练气化神”, which can be explained as “once human body qi is strengthened and intensified could it nourish human mind”.
That’s why Taoist qigong is highly effective in healing and physical fitness enhancement. Taoist qigong is also famous for its mantra, energy points and meridians. You would find those Taoist qigong essence in lots of qigong practices, locally and globally.
Small circulatory cycle practice (小周天功), big circulatory cycle practice (大周天功), breathing methods (呼吸吐纳功), relaxation methods (松静功), guidance methods (导引功) and so on are Taoist qigong pracices.
Over time, those three major qigong practices merge with each other a bit. Especially since Song Dynasty (宋朝), many people started to practice all three of them, which is called “儒释道三修”. Zhi Neng Qigong (also known as Wisdom healing qigong or Chi-lel qigong) is the modern qigong practice that integrated with the best parts of all three practices.
Actually besides those three major groups of qigong practices, there are two other well-known types: Chinese traditional medical qigong (医家功) and martial arts qigong (武术气功). Both of them were originated from Taoist qigong. The former one is more focused on healing i.e. meridian channels practice. The later one is more focused on physical body qi practice.