The origins of Qigong go all the way back to prehistoric times, but these types of practices were not always called Qigong. In fact, Qigong is a rather new term for these types of exercises. The ancient terms for the practices that we call Qigong today were Dao Yin and Nei Kung. Dao Yin translates to mean leading and guiding and the name describes how the movements of the exercises lead and gudie the circulation of Qi or vital energy throughout the body. Nei Kung translates to mean internal work or internal exercises.
One possible origin of the practices that we call Qigong today could be dance, which was an integral part of society in ancient times. Dance was used in ceremonies, in celebrations, and also by Shamans who among many other things were also responsible for health care and curing the sick.
It is very likely that the practice of dance evolved into a system of movement that was used to maintain health and cure disease. What we do know is that there are are very early records back to 200BC that describe how Dao Yin was used to cure certain ailments. Later texts and works actually show that this system of knowledge became well refined though time, with exercises being listed for many different ailments and diseases. In addition to the exercises that were prescribed for certain ailments, there has also always been more general health maintenance practices that were advocated by teachers and practitioners. These systems of practice could include things like self massage, movement exercises, breathing exercises, and static exercises and the goal of practice was to maintain good health and achieve longevity.
Over the years there have been a vast number of Qigong systems that have been developed and practiced. Many of these systems have probably been lost to history, but many of them have stood the test of time and have been passed down and enjoyed by each generation of practitioners. Today Qigong practice has spread beyond the borders of China and many people in the world are discovering the benefits that Qigong practice has to offer.