I've started reading "Daoist Nei Gong" by Damo Mitchell, but I'm struggling with most of the concepts because I don't share the same metaphysical perspective. What prompted me to read it was having experienced the benefits of standing qigong years ago and wanting to understand it more.

Are there non-dualistic perspectives on qigong? Or is it required to believe in something non-physical?

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    Define "non-physical." I say this because while I don't believe in anything "mystical," I also believe there are things we don't have a full understanding of (yet). Can you be more specific regarding what it is you're trying to avoid/have concerns about? Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 1:12
  • @DaveNewton I'm referring to Cartesian dualism where there is everything that follows the laws of physics and then something else, which would include mental phenomena and concepts such as "spirit" or "ether" or "the ghost in the machine". I don't subscribe to this view, so I can't follow an explanation of nei gong that relies on accepting qi as a non-physical phenomenon.
    – Jenny
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 9:37
  • @SteveWeigand I agree with all of your points. The problem is that a detailed classification of something that I don't believe can exist (as opposed to a classification of fictional animals, say, which don't exist but could) is not helpful, yet I know that practising qigong was extremely beneficial so I wanted to understand that more. Perhaps there are other explanations for how it all works that don't rely on a dualistic perspective.
    – Jenny
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 9:45
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    I suspect that, as with many chi-based practices, it is possible to benefit from the practice by seeing it as a non-magical practice with physical benefits and a magical narrative. Are you having difficulty practicing parts of it? Or is it just that you don't necessarily understand the philosophical underpinnings? Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 11:13
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    @Macaco Branco - It's the philosophical underpinnings I don't get. (I've studied philosophy and I've read eastern philosophical works before but sometimes I come across concepts that I just can't get my head around and I want to read the material in good faith, assuming that it may be my own misunderstanding, rather than dismissing it out of hand.) If I just focus on the practice, that's fine, I was just hoping I might be able to enrich that with some theory too.
    – Jenny
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 13:19

2 Answers 2


There is nothing that anyone can claim about anything which does not manifest. If it doesn't manifest, how can anyone observe it in order to know anything about it?

You can hold a qigong pose and feel heat on your palms when you concentrate on them. Is that chi? What is chi? Define it.

So far, nobody has shown that a metaphysical definition of chi (as a "force") is real. There's no reason to believe in it other than as a mental tool for improving yourself in some way.

Is it helpful? Then use the concept. But just because it's useful, don't think that makes it real.

The only way to read that kind of stuff which you know is based on ideas that are unscientific and wrong, or language from a time when science wasn't a thing, is to see what conclusions they make about how best to live / practice, and then see if it confirms what you already know. How they got to those conclusions is pretty well bogus, or at least there's a better, modern explanation for why it worked out well.

And maybe if you understood the scientific explanation for why it works, you could refine it and remove the bits that don't add anything or which make it harder to do.

Hope that helps.



Let's consider just breathing for the moment. From a qi gong practictioner's perspective, the idea that breathing well will improve your health becomes self-evident. If you have experienced benefits from standing qi gong, I assume you have an understanding of how learning to breathe better improves your wellbeing.

If you consider breathing from a Western medicine perspective, it's difficult to explain this effect to the mainstream. Breathing is an autonomic process, and even breathing with what a qi gong practictioner would consider suboptimimal technique still results in high levels of blood oxygenation. I recently read the popular science book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor, which explains why you should breathe through your nose and slow your breathing, but it will not help inform qigong practice.

If you want to study nei gong, you have to accept that the roadmap is written in a different cultural context.


I recommend Awareness through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais. I'm still not sure the degree to which this overlaps with qigong/neigong, but it models the body as a collection of opposing muscle groups over which we have learned only incomplete control. It advocates slow, often very small movements as a means of gaining greater control.

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