Medicine in the west is undergoing a sea change, as millions of people begin to explore energetic based approaches to healing. Acupuncture has been in the vanguard of this revolution, but acupuncture itself is about to undergo “a second revolution” of its own as it begins to integrate the wave of powerful qigong healing technologies that are rapidly becoming understood and used in the west.
The practice of qigong is essentially oriental medicine without needles. The qigong craze is spreading like wildfire in the west because it is easy to learn, easy to do, and produces fast results, whether you need healing or are just a bliss junkie. It may be the greatest blessing ever for Oriental Medicine. If tens of millions of Americans graduate from jogging and muscle-building to the more subtle practice of qigong, they will become educated about qi flow. That means millions of more people who will feel comfortable seeing an acupuncturist /herbalist to diagnose and help balance their qi. This is the real grassroots foundation of the revolution in energy medicine occuring in the west today.
1. What is Qigong/Chi Kung therapy?
Qigong, or “chi kung”, is the ancient Chinese art that means “mastering subtle energy”. When applied to healing, there are two basic modalities. One is called “qi emission”, in which a medical qigong therapist often employs TCM style diagnosis to assess the energetic patterns in the patient. Qigong diagnosis may use pulses or off the body methods of scanning the patient’s qi field. Then the qigong healer may tap into either his personal or a universal energy field, which is then focused and radiated into the patient’s body lying on a table or while sitting. This alters the energetic matrix of the patient’s meridians, and causes their physical body to be reorganized or regenerated to be free of the original injury or illness.
The patient may feel a gentle warmth or tingling begin to flow in different parts of the body. Depending on the skill of the healer, it can be used with great success on anything from mild headache to broken bones to sexual dysfunction as well as chronic illnesses such as cancer and aids. Some healers can work at a distance, even hundreds of miles away. When combined with acupuncture, qi is sent thru the needles to regulate meridian flow, allowing for much faster and deeper healing than using needles without qi emission.
This type of qigong therapy is already part of standard TCM curriculum in mainland China. You simply have to choose: which 3 or 4 year program do you want, qigong, tui-na/moxa, or acupuncture? TCM theory overlaps neatly, the techniques and training are different for each. In China, you might be tested for your qi emission skill before getting a license. All the major hospitals in Beijing have separate Qigong departments that often take on and heal the most difficult cases that have not been cured by either drugs (western) or acupuncture/herbs (TCM) protocols. (For a description of a National Qigong Associagtion trip I helped lead o these hospitals, see Winter 2000 issue of Qi Journal, article by Damaris Jarboux).
A second approach is called “qigong prescriptions” or “self-practice qigong”. The patient is taught how to do certain qigong movements that will benefit their particular condition. There are many hundreds of different qigong systems of movement. Some are specifically designed for different illnesses, i.e. a special anti-cancer walk or for joint disease, and others are meant for summer, winter, or the heart or lung meridian, etc. All are easily performed even by the elderly or by people in a weak condition. The patient usually feels improvement immediately and a general sense of well-being.
The more powerful methods known as “nei kung” create “internal movements” of subtle energy by training the patient to use visualization of meridians (i.e. the “microcosmic orbit”), sub-vocal sound frequencies focused on the vital organs (the “six healing sounds”), or by evoking emotional states (the “inner smile”) or even by redirecting sexual energy from the genital area to stimulate the endocrine gland system, kidneys and the production of blood in the bone marrow.
This second approach using qigong prescriptions requires some self-discipline on the part of the patient, but because the patient is taught how to take responsibility for their own healing it generally produces the most effective and lasting results. Once the patient learns to generate “chi” or “qi” within themselves, the results are not limited to self-healing. You may continue to practice the qigong to achieve ever higher levels of wellness and spiritual awareness.
The Taoists are famous in China for their medical qigong. They claim to use neigong to tap into the universal pool of pre-natal jing. Medically, this means you can replace the “acquired jing’ from your parents that is gradually spent, the depletion of which causes one to age. A high level practitioner of neigong is considered an “immortal”, since death now becomes a voluntary event, not an unconscious process that forces us out of our body. There are many cases of people claiming to regrow hair, teeth, repair diseased organs, or recover from near death conditions.
This focus on tapping into the universal pool of pre-natal jing defines one of the differences between “classical qigong” (largely suppressed by the Communists as being too spiritual) and “modern TCM qigong”. Classical qigong might also focus more heavily on the Eight Extra Meridians and the role of the five vital organ shen (zhang fu spirits, or intelligences) that regulate the flow of qi in the five elements cycle. In Taoist neigong,these practices include the famous “Microcosmic Orbit” and the more secret “Fusion of the Five Elements” . The five types of qi are fused into a “pearl” of concentrated or purified consciousness that has the power to dissolve deep physical or emotional trauma.
This type of healing method is known as “nei dan”. Dr. Cai Jung, the head of the qigong dept. at Shi Yuan (western and TCM) Hospital in Beijing told me that “out of the 50 or so systems of qigong I have studied, Taoist nei dan is the best foundation for qigong healing I have yet found”. The higher steps in nei dan training are often referred to as “Kan and Li” (Water and Fire) practices, a kind of internal sexual coupling of the body’s yin-yang elements. This alchemical process, formerly kept very secret, was described allegorically in many of he 1160 volumes of the Tao Canon, the bible of collected writings on qigong and neigong. The Kan and Li practices open the Sea of Qi in the dan tien to a deeper dimension of pre-natal qi and jing and thus vastly speed up healing.
On a more basic level, all qigong is so simple yet powerful that many energy healers use qigong to repair themselves from “healer burnout”.
2. What a typical qigong healing session is like.
If a patient is passively receiving “qi” from the healer, the key requirement is that they simply sit or lie down and relax , keep an open receptive attitude, and do not interfere with the process. Often the healer will first read the pulses on the wrist or neck, which reveal the condition of all the meridians and internal organs, not just the heart. Some healers may utter certain sounds to vibrate the internal organs or expel the “sick” or “perverse” qi that is causing the illness or psychosomatic symptoms. The healer will typically be able to feel inside their own body the exact problem in the patient’s body. The healer can do this by resonating the qi in his body like a tuning fork that is ringing at the same frequency as the patient.
The healer usually passes their hands over different meridians, points, or vital organs and may or may not touch the body. Some may stamp their foot to activate earth chi or move their hands over the client’s body to stimulate or sedate the flow of qi. Some healers utilize “wu si gong”, or spontaneous qigong. They emit a certain frequency of qi that activates the qi of the patient to begin moving. The patient’s body, usually in a relaxed standing position with eyes closed, may begin to undulate or seem to involuntarily dance or sing, rhythmically releasing physical, mental, or emotional tension that has been locked in the body for years (or from past lives). This is not hypnotic suggestion, as the client may choose to stop the releasing movement at any time.
If the client is learning to heal themselves with qigong exercises, they may learn the movements either in a class or have them customized for their specific condition privately. Some Qigong movements use the walking, sitting, or lying positions, but most are performed standing. All share the same underlying principles. The visible physical movements of the arms and waist are usually very gentle and circular in nature, and are often accompanied by rhythmic breathing methods and subtle shifts in body weight between the left and right foot or between the toe and heel. These rhythmical movements cause qi to flow thru different movements and in western terms, stimulate the lymphatic and immune system.
Many qigong teachers in the west are only skilled in martial arts and are not trained in the therapeutic uses of qigong. They use them as a warm up or training for tai chi or other arts, and many of the some health benefits will accrue. But if your intention is to use the qi for fighting, it will not have the same benefits as doing the qigong for healing. Qigong private healing sessions range from $40 to $100., depending on a variety of factors. Classes may range from $7 to $15. per hour class.
Drawings depicting qigong movements have been found in Chinese tombs at least 3500 years old, with other references going back 5000 years or more. This makes it the grandparent of many eastern energy-based healing modalities such as acupuncture and acupressure, tui-na (meridian) massage, chi nei tsang (deep organ massage). It probably guided the development of the internal martial arts such as Tai Chi Chuan and Ba Gua Chuan, and the many derivative Japanese/Korean healing arts such as shiatsu, Do-in, as well as the numerous martial spinoffs of Aikido, Judo, etc. Some historians speculate that qigong even travelled into India where it became part of the repetoire of yoga and sacred temple dance training.
There are hundreds of different styles of qigong, which can seem overwhelming to the beginner.
4. Qigong Theory
The basic premise of qigong is that everything is made out of qi, or life force, and that we can influence the movement of this qi in ourselves or in others in a myriad of ways. Modern visualization techniques for healing (“I see white tigers eating up my diseased cancer cells”) only partially tap into the qi at the core of the mind-body interaction. Properly taught qigong gives the practitioner an internal map of the energy pathways inside the body. These are activated to aligns the physical, emotional, mental, sexual, and spiritual aspects of qi so that all levels move together to create an entirely new alignment of energy flow in the body that can alter even the genetic unfoldment of a person.
“Nei Gong”, the more internal aspect of qigong, may be the original and most powerful method of internal visualization and energy manipulation ever invented to cure illness. It is closely linked with the development of internal alchemy methods in China for achieving longevity and immortality, which involve setting up an internal laboratory inside the body. The most advanced method uses the “fire” or heat and emotional energy of the heart and the “water” or sexual energy of the kidneys to interact and thereby “cook” the physical body into a blissful state of harmony.
Nei Gong differs radically from most eastern systems of meditation, which are focusing on emptiness or transcendental states of awareness. Nei Gong brings the subtle qi of the universe down into the physical body to transform it into radiant health. There is no desire to escape the physical plane as a kind of hell realm of suffering; our body is seen as the “Later Heaven” physical manifestation of the Tao. This philosophy makes Earth (our physical body) as potentially equally divine as Heaven (our formless spirit) within the all embracing Tao — once we allow our qi to circulate freely beteween the two.
5. Benefits & Limitations of Qigong
In China, patients are often divided into two categories: acute and chronic diseases. The acute are sent for western treatment, the chronic for qigong therapy. There have been thousands of studies done in China that verify the efficacy of using qigong for virtually every type of chornic illness, from arthritis to cancer. 20 year studies in China show definitive reductions in mortality of 50% for hi blood pressure, stroke, and related coronary diseases that are epidemic in the west. Qigong can also be used for treatment of pain therapy, often with faster results than acupuncture. This suggests that there are certain types of acute conditions that can be treated with qigong, depending on the skill level of the practitioner.
The main limitation of qigong is the skill of the healer or the willingness of the patient to practice. Acupuncturists are in the best position to introduce this healing modality into the west, and they can gradually increase their qi skills to complement their needle/herbal practice and TCM diagnostic knowledge. Learning to do so is both fun and rewarding for the acupuncturist.
The current educational pattern in most acupuncture schools is much as it was in Tai Chi Schools 20 years ago: a little qigong warmup or elective course, and you’re covered. But now qigong/neigong is unfolding its wings as
both the Mother/Father of the later branches of oriental medicine and as a pillar of TCM. Several acupuncture schools are offering Qigong degree training programs.
We are just now waking up to the fact that qigong science is a vast network of arts and sciences that we’ve barely begun to understand and apply. Classical medical qigong therapy is neat, rigorous, elegant, has well defined terminology. If you blend Classical and modern TCM styles, you can have the experience of perfect mirroring between your inner spiritual practice and your outer healing practice.
Michael Winn is President of the National Qigong (Chi Kung) Association, Professor of Tao Arts/Sciences and the founding Dean of Healing Tao University in Big Indian, N.Y., the largest qigong program in the USA with a faculty of 20 teachers and offering academic credits for B.A. completion or graduate degrees. Courses may be eligible for CEU’s. Winn has co-authored or written with Tao Master Mantak Chia seven books on neigong and qigong over the last 20 years. He lives in Asheville, NC. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org. He is leading a Medical Qigong Training in China trip that offers clinical experience in major Beijing hospitals, Sept. 23 – Oct. 7, 2000.