The first of the two words is qi: Chinese people talk about “good wok qi”, meaning good food, or “sky qi”, meaning the weather. “Qi” means “breath”. In the context of health, it’s usually translated as “energy”. Chinese doctors talk of “Kidney qi” or “Spleen qi”, meaning the ability of these organs to function. When “qi” is sufficient and moving smoothly we are healthy. If it is insufficient or does not circulate freely, we get ill. “Qi” is formless, without physical substance, it cannot be seen, except by its effects.
“Gong” means “work”, or “cultivation”.
Qigong is a practice that cultivates “qi” for good health.
“Qigong” is a new word in Chinese, invented around the nineteen seventies to cover a wide range of practices, some ancient, others modern.
My Grand-teacher (my teacher’s teacher) was honoured as a Chinese Living Treasure. Her name was Yang Meijun and she lived to be 104. The system she inherited is over 1800 years old. Some of the exercises are named after animals such as barr-headed geese, which are long-lived and loyal. Other sequences are named after mythical creatures such as dragons: they are powerful and they relate to flowing water, essential to life, just like “qi”.