Updated: Jan 9, 2020
This question whether Qigong is real or not can be answered by looking at Qigong in two ways:
1. External Component
2. Internal Component
Looking from the outside, Qigong is simply a set of body movements (exercises). There are many different types of Qigong and some involve very simple movements and some are more complex. The most definitive characteristic of Qigong is HOW the movements are done; the movements must be performed in a relaxed manner, free of tension.
The internal aspects of Qigong are related to the 'HOW' because as stated above, the Qigong exercises need to be done in a relaxed way. This is the single most important point about Qigong practice because doing Qigong without relaxation is like learning a new word without understanding its meaning: it is an empty word and doing Qigong movements without relaxation equates to 'empty' movements.
In the West, it is common to do exercises with the goal of working out the muscles and achieve muscle fatigue. Qigong has the opposite approach and if the Qigong exercises are done correctly, there are some very interesting effects and results.
Back to the internal component: In order to learn how to relax when doing the movements one needs to do this from the 'inside'. So on the outside we see movements but on the inside, the Qigong practitioner is applying some very specific principles in order to do the exercises correctly. These principles are referred to as 'inner work'.
Qigong is based on the understanding of the human body and how it functions according to the subtle energy system comprised of the 'Meridians' or 'Channels' through which a life-sustaining energy moves through called 'Qi'. This vital channel system is what you see on charts in an acupuncture clinic and which is treated/stimulated by using acupuncture needles.
There is another way to stimulate and treat channel system of the human body: with Qigong exercises. When you practice Qigong first you need to learn the 'external' aspects of the exercises such as memorising the movements, improving balance and coordination and learning how to relax (learning how to relax is nowhere near as easy as it sounds). Once these aspects are established, something very interesting happens: the exercises start to work! it is not that the exercises didn't work before but after getting the initial results from practice such as feeling more relaxed and clear minded & experiencing higher energy levels etc., one may develop Qi sensations.
Developing Qi sensations means that you can more directly understand HOW the exercises work. You can see the connection between the exercises and how you feel and the results that you get after practice. All Qigong exercises have very specific functions and effects, and these effects and functions are as specific as the different and various components of the body's subtle energy system.
This energy system is subtle, and this is why it can take some time to develop sensitivity and understanding of it. Do not take anyone's word for it though! There isn't any instrument out there that can detect Qi or measure it for you, the only way to find out is to try it out! Try it out and develop your own sensory instruments, then, you will know for sure if Qigong is real!
Is Qigong real? If you ask any experienced practitioner they will tell you that once they realised it is real, they never looked back! Even if the question of whether Qi exists or not isn't fully resolved, the benefits of Qigong are real, and how it can enhance one's health and life are widely known and confirmed.