An examination of the relationship between qigong meditation and personality

Author: Leung Y//Singhal A
Dr. Yvonne Leung, 4 Assiniboine Road, Rm.
805, North York, Ontario, M3J1L2, Canada. Phone: 647-299-1101; Fax: 416-736-5774; Email:
York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Conference/Journal: Social Behavior and Personality
Date published: 2004
Other: Volume ID: 32 , Issue ID: 4 , Pages: 313-320 , Word Count: 2983

Qigong meditation is an ancient form of meditation that has been linked with various health
benefits. We were interested in whether or not this form of meditation has a relationship with
personality. To this end, we administered the Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI) to eighty
Qigong meditation practitioners and seventy-four non-practitioners. The results showed that
the number of years of Qigong practice was negatively correlated with neuroticism, but there
was no relationship with extraversion. Even after controlling for age, gender, and education
level, the practitioners were significantly less neurotic than the nonpractitioners. The study of
Qigong meditation and personality may lead to a greater understanding of the various
disorders characterised by high neuroticism, and may provide a viable treatment option for
long-term health.
Qigong (pronounced “Chi Kung”) is an ancient art of self-healing practiced by
millions of people in China for thousands of years. ‘Qi’ means vital energy and
‘Gong’ means discipline. It consists of physical and mental exercises to regulate
mental processes and enhance physical functioning, and is made up of five
components: visualization, meditation, relaxation, deep breathing, and target
circulation (Tseng, 1998).
This study had enormous support from the Qigong Institute in California, U.S.A. The institute granted
permission for making a posting on their website for subject recruitment purposes. Especially the
authors wish to express their sincere appreciation to Dr. Kenneth Sancier for his invaluable support
in subject recruitment. In addition, the authors wish to show gratitude to the Qi Magazine, U.K. for
their sponsorship of free copies of the March 2003 issue. Moreover, they wish to thank Mr. Kendall
Chan and Dr. Kevin Chen, for their precious comments. They also wish to express gratitude to Dr.
Allan Chan for his inspiring discussions.
Appreciation is also due to anonymous reviewers.

Throughout history, numerous types and styles of Qigong have evolved, falling
under four categories: healing, martial-art, philosophical (Taoist), and spiritual
(Buddhist). Despite the variations, all styles have a similar philosophy, which is
based on the ancient Chinese idea that vital energy exists in all matter in the
universe and humans can circulate and exchange it with the environment by
means of voluntarily induced physical and mental action. The two distinct styles
of Qigong practice are classified as internal and external, or moving and static.
The internal Qigong involves meditation and breathing techniques with visualizations
in order to guide the vital energy, while external Qigong includes a
sequence of movements accompanying meditation.
The present study focuses on the relationship between personality and
meditative Qigong because this form of meditation is believed to have a positive
impact on health. In Qigong meditation, the practitioner visualizes a flow of Qi
energy circulating through his/her body. This process is based on repetitive,
positive, reinforcing suggestions, which may promote health and a sense of wellbeing
(Liu, Cui, Li, & Huang, 1990).
Qigong meditation has been shown to be beneficial to patients’ feelings of
wellness when suffering from arthritis, hypertension, dizziness, and chronic pain
(Kuang, Wang, Xu, & Qian, 1991; Wu et al., 1999). Moreover, Qigong
meditation has been found to have a positive impact on postworkout anxiety
(Jiang, 1991), improvement in respiratory capacity in asthma patients (Reuther &
Aldridge, 1998), heroin detoxification (Li, Chen, & Mo, 2002), stroke recovery
(Kuang et al., 1986), sleep disorders (Wang, 2002), and senile dementia (Yan et
al., 2000).
The mechanisms of these effects are not well known, however one theory is
that there is a relaxation response whereby autonomic activity is controlled and
causes a decrease of sympathetic activation (Benson, Greenwood, & Klemchuk,
1975). Benson, Malhotra, Goldman, Jacobs, and Hopkins (1990) showed that
Tibetan monks could vary their metabolic rate at will while meditating.
Furthermore, studies of Yoga-based relaxation show that sympathetic activity is
lessened by guided relaxation compared to nonrelaxed states (Arambula, Peper,
Kawakami, & Gibney, 2001; Lazar et al., 2000; Vempati & Telles, 2002).
A neuroimaging study of Tibetan Buddhist meditation showed an increase in
regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in the cingulate gyrus, inferior frontal
cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and thalamus (Newberg et al.,
2001). These results suggest meditation involves higher order cognitive
processes associated with focusing attention, and perhaps involves an altered
sense of spatial perception (Newberg et al., 2001). These results correlate with
other studies showing electroencephalographic (EEG) indications of heightened
attentional focus and deep relaxation (Aftanas & Golocheikine, 2001; Litscher,
Wenzel, Niederwieser, & Schwarz, 2001; Travis & Wallace, 1998). Other
evidence suggests that meditation leads to increases in activation in anterior areas
of the left hemisphere, believed to be the areas involved in pleasant emotion,
which can also lead to improved immune function (Davidson et al., 2003; Jones,
2001; Lee et al., 2003).
A growing body of evidence suggests that meditation, in its various forms, will
have a positive impact on psychological health associated with anxiety, panic,
and negative affect by increasing positive thinking, self-confidence, and selfefficacy
(Shapiro, 1992). Meditation has been described as equivalent to a
repetitive dose of positive emotional experiences, and may be as beneficial as an
interpersonal therapeutic encounter (Kutz, Burysenko, & Benson, 1985). Miller,
Fletcher and Kabat-Zinn (1995) showed that an 8-week mindfulness meditation
program produced clinically and statistically significant improvements in the
subjective and objective symptoms related to anxiety disorders. Similar findings
have shown that meditation may enhance functional status and well-being, and
reduce psychological distress (Deckro et al., 2002; Jiang, 1991; Miller et al.,
1995; Reibel, Greeson, Brainard, & Rosenzweig, 2001). Elderly Qigong
meditators with chronic illnesses have reported greater physical and
psychological well-being, including decreased clinical depression and increased
self-efficacy (Lewis, 2000; Sandlund & Norlander, 2000; Tsang, Mok, Au Yeung,
& Chan, 2003; Tsang, Cheung, & Lak, 2002).
The brief foregoing review suggests that meditation has a relationship with
physical and mental health, and this relationship is beneficial in nature. However,
there has been little research done investigating whether or not meditation has a
relationship with personality characteristics, despite the fact that there is a known
relationship between personality and general health (Francis, 1999). As a result
we were interested in whether or not Qigong meditation is connected with overall
good health due to its relationship with personality characteristics over a long
period of time. To this end, we designed a study to investigate the relationship
between the number of years practicing Qigong meditation and levels of
extraversion and neuroticism.

Eighty Qigong practitioners (45 male, 35 female, age range 23 - 68, mean age
= 47.5 years), were recruited as participants after providing informed consent.
The majority of participants were practicing Qigong meditation at least once a
day, and many of them had practiced other forms of meditation regularly for at
least a year in the past ten years. The study inclusion criteria were that they must
have practiced for over 12 months and at least once a day in frequency. We
reasoned that this would ensure proper representation of the population of
Qigong practitioners, and would eliminate those who were just “experimenting”
with the Qigong meditation. We excluded those who had used any psychotic
drugs in the past ten years or who had a history of neurological disorders or
mental illness. The participants were recruited over the Internet from Canada, the
United States, and Europe, and a small number from personal visits to Qigong
organizations and classes in Toronto, Canada.
Seventy-four nonpracticing individuals (29 male, 45 female, age range 28 - 73,
mean age = 42 years), were also recruited as above. Twenty participants reported
practicing Qigong meditation for less than 12 months. The control group of
participants was similar to the Qigong group in terms of age, gender, marital
status, education level, occupation, handedness, and geographical location of
The Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI) was chosen to measure the level of
Extraversion and Neuroticism as well as Social Desirability (Lie-Scale). A Lie-
Scale score of over 5 out of 9 questions was used as the criterion for further

The questionnaires consisted of an online survey webpage and the Eysenck
Personality Inventory (EPI). The webpage survey was advertised on different
web sites, including the Qigong Institute, the Newsgroup for Qigong Science and
Research, and the Social Psychology Studies online service. Participants who
responded via the online survey provided either an email address or a set of
unique characters to identify themselves. Informed consent was established by
pressing the “I agree to participate” button. After completion, participants
pressed the “Submit” button to send the information to our database. A “thankyou”
message and the results of the EPI were provided automatically.

The demographic characteristics and the main findings of the study are shown
in Table 1 and Table 2. Four tests were performed on the data. A Spearman
correlation test was done to determine the relationship between the number of
years of Qigong practice and the level of Neuroticism (N-score). There was a
significant negative relationship between the number of years of Qigong practice
and the level of Neuroticism [r = -3.23, p < 0.0001]. Apartial correlation test was
done to see if age, gender and education level were contributing factors. After
controlling for these variables, the correlation between the number of years of
practice and N-score remained significant [r = -.2184, p < 0.004]. A t-test was
done and revealed a significant difference in N-Score between the Qigong group
and comparison group (mean Qigong group = 7.14, mean comparison group =
10.15) [t (152) = -4.07, p < 0.0001]. Finally, linear regression analysis was used
to demonstrate the strength and the predictability of the relationship between the
number of years of Qigong practice and the N-score. The findings were
significant [r©˜ = .069, p < 0.001]. The relationship between the number of years
of Qigong practice and the level of Extraversion (E-score) was not significant.
Meditation (n=80) Control (n=74) Total (N=154)
Male 45 (56.3%) 29 (39.2%) 74 (48.1%)
Female 35 (43.8%) 45 (60.8%) 80 (51.9%)
Left 16 (20.0%) 4 (5.4%) 20 (13.0%)
Right 64 (80.0%) 70 (94.6%) 134 (87.0%)
High School 3 (3.8%) 12 (16.2%) 15 (9.7%)
College and University 43 (53.8%) 34 (45.9%) 77 (50.0%)
Graduate School 29 (36.3%) 24 (32.4%) 53 (34.4%)
Unknown 5 (6%) 4 (5.4%) 9 (5.8%)
Marital Status
Single 24 (30.0%) 29 (39.2%) 53 (34.4%)
Married/Common Law 44 (55.0%) 37 (50.0%) 81 (52.6%)
Separated/Divorced 10 (12.5%) 5 (6.8%) 15 (9.7%)
Widow 0 (0%) 1 (1.4%) 1 (0.65%)
Unknown 2 (2.5%) 2 (2.7%) 4 (2.6%)
Research and Development 3 (3.8%) 6 (8.1%) 9 (5.8%)
Professionals 35 (43.8%) 20 (27.0%) 55 (35.7%)
Managerial/Director 6 (7.5%) 5 (6.8%) 11 (7.1%)
Self-Employed/Consultant 4 (5.0%) 4 (5.4%) 8 (5.2%)
Executives/Sales/Technician 4 (5.0%) 13 (17.6%) 17 (11.0%)
Qigong Instructor/Master 16 (20.0%) 0 (0%) 16 (10.4%)
Student 2 (2.5%) 8 (10.8%) 10 (6.5%)
Admin/Clerical 3 (3.8%) 3 (4.1%) 6 (3.9%)
Retired/Unemployed 5 (6.3%) 5 (6.8%) 10 (6.5%)
Unknown 2 (2.5%) 10 (13.5%) 12 (7.8%)
No. of Years of Practice
Year 1-5 30 (37.5%) 0 (0%) 30 (19.5%)
Years 6-10 21 (26.3%) 0 (0%) 21 (13.6%)
Years 11-15 14 (17.5%) 0 (0%) 14 (9.1%)
Years 17 or up 15 (18.8%) 0 (0%) 15 (18.8%)
Interested in Qigong
Interested 80 (100.0%) 47 (63.5%) 127 (82.5%)
Not interested 0 (0%) 24 (32.4%) 24 (15.6%)
Unknown 0 (0%) 3 (4.1%) 3 (1.9%)
Meditation (n=80) Control (n=74)
M SD M SD t p-value
Age 47.48 9.40 42.04 10.67 3.36 0.001
No. of Years of Practice 9.80 7.87 N.A. N.A. N.A. N.A.
Extraversion Score 13.75 3.05 14.04 3.45 -0.55 NS
Neuroticism Score 7.14 4.45 10.15 4.73 -4.07 0.000

The findings of this study show that there is a negative relationship between
Qigong meditation and neuroticism. Even after controlling for potential
confounding variables: age, gender, and education level, the data still supported
the hypothesis that the Qigong practitioners were significantly less neurotic.
However, the present findings do not suggest that the numbers of years of Qigong
practice are related to extraversion.
These data provide support for the suggestion that Qigong meditation may
serve as a stabilizing agent for mental health by decreasing practitioners’
neuroticism. However, we are cautious about this claim because our results do
not suggest a causal relationship between these variables. The present findings
are consistent with previous research showing that non-Qigong meditation was
related to lower neuroticism scores (Tjoa, 1975). As well, transcendental
meditation has been shown to be negatively correlated with neuroticism
(Williams, Francis, & Durham, 1976).
A common characteristic of neuroticism is elevated anxiety (Eysenck, 1988),
and there is evidence to suggest that meditation can have long-term beneficial
effects in the treatment of people with anxiety disorders (Miller et al., 1995).
Other evidence suggests that meditation can lower anxiety and reduce worry
(Davidson et al., 2003; Gillani & Smith, 2001). In the case of Qigong meditation,
studies have reliably shown that anxiety can be significantly reduced (Lee, Jeong,
Oh, Ryu, & Chung, 1998; Li, Chen, & Mo, 2002).
The results of these studies taken together with our present findings suggest
that Qigong meditation is closely related to a relaxation response, which may be
correlated with lower levels of neuroticism by virtue of an overall reduction in
anxiety over time. The relationship between meditation and personality characteristics
is an important area for continued research. Our study provides a small
window into potential avenues of exploration.

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