Introduction (Origins and History)
Qigong (or “chi kung”, pronounced chee kung) literally means “skill in managing the Breath of Life”. It’s an ancient healing art utilizing meditation, movement exercises, self-massage, and special healing techniques to regulate internal functions of the human body. Qigong is a Branche of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) along with acupuncture & moxibustion, herbology, and tuina (massage). Its practice can promote, preserve, circulate, balance and store Qi (or”chi”, vital energy) within the body to achieve health and longevity.
Archeological finds in China depict Qigong movements at least three thousand years ago, and some believe it goes back 8,000. years. The 3500 year old Internal Medicine Classic refers to “ancient ones” who understood Qi thousands of years earlier. Other old texts suggest Qigong is the “grandfather” of basic theories of Chinese medicine and other healing modalities in Asia that employ the concepts of Qi and its circular pulsation of Yin and Yang in the body’s meridians. (Examples: ki is the Japanese word for Qi, Do is the word for Tao: Ai-ki-do, Rei-ki, Jin Shin-do are all derivative schools.)
The major schools of Qigong are Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian. The three major types are martial, medical, and spiritual, with Taoism being famous for its medical styles. Although there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different styles of Qigong, most have the common purpose of relaxing and strengthening the body, improving mental capacity, nurturing innate potential, promoting longevity, and preventing or treating disease.
For these reasons, Qigong is called the “Chinese Miracle Exercise.” The better known Tai Chi Chuan is actually a series of short qigong movements strung together to create a longer “form”. An estimated 100 million people around the world today practice Qigong on a daily basis for its many benefits, making it possibly the world’s most popular health exercise.
Mechanism of Action According To Its Own Theory
What is Qi? It is the Life Force (bio-force, or matrix of primal energy) that underlies all existence, from subatomic particles to galaxies to empty space itself. Within humans it is the very substance of our aliveness that pulsates at varying rates within our vital organs and cells. Different qualities of qi define and regulate different biological functions, just as a stem cell differentiates into specialized functions.
Qi is NOT mechanical energy, it is the intelligent mind substance that crystallizes into our thoughts, feelings, sensations, desires, and cells. It’s the motive force of DNA replication and immune system function. Qi is the functional level of the body’s innate intelligence.
Qigong shares the same philosophical foundation as Traditional Chinese Medicine (which is actually modern) with its theories of Qi and Blood, Yin/Yang, Meridians & Zang-Fu Organs, Five Elements, and the pathogenesis of disease. It also embodies the older Classical Chinese Medicine which focuses on the alchemical transformations between Shen (mind), Qi (energy), and Jing (body essence) and the shamanic concept of the Five Jing Shen (“vital organ souls”) that govern one’s health. Beyond the overlap of theory, the methods of Qigong differ from those of acupuncture, herbology, and massage.
When Qi becomes deficient or excessive, stagnant or blocked in different parts of the body, or unable to ward off pathogenic factors, a pattern of imbalance is set up that can lead to disease. Imbalances in Qi can occur as a result of improper diet, over strain, stress, lack of physical exercise, traumatic injury, toxins, environmental factors (wind, cold, summer heat, dampness, dryness), or the seven emotions (anger, worry, sadness, grief, fear, fright, joy). When the body?s natural equilibrium is overcome by any of these factors, disease can occur.
One type of qigong therapy employs “external qi emission”.
The qigong healer may tap into either his personal or universal energy 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 regenerated. 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.
The second type is for a patient to self-practice qigong. The patient is taught how to do qigong movements and meditations that will benefit their particular condition. Some are specifically designed for different illnesses, i.e. asthma, a special anti-cancer walk or for joint disease, and others are meant to balance the qi of 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 powerful Qi meditation methods known as “neigong” create “internal qi movements” using the mind to flow qi in the meridians. Most famous is the “microcosmic orbit”, which circulates qi up the spine and down the front of the body. Others might use sub-vocal sound frequencies focused on the vital organs (the “six healing sounds”), or by evoking postive feeling states (the “inner smile”). There is even a sexual qigong for redirecting sexual qi to alleviate impotence, PMS, and stimulate the production of hormonal pre-cursors in the bone marrow.
The self-practice approach requires 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 “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. Qigong is so simple yet powerful that many healers use qigong to repair themselves from “healer burnout”.
Biologic Mechanism of Action
The physiological effects of Qigong have been extensively scientifically studied in the past twenty years. The Computerized Qigong Database (Qigong Institute) has over 1300 studies. Qigong has been shown to decrease blood pressure, decrease oxygen consumption, increase respiratory efficiency, improve cardiovacular functioning, alter and integrate brain wave patterns, decrease stress hormone levels, and improve cellular and humoral immunity .
These changes are characteristic of effects on central and autonomic nervous systems, hormones, and neurotransmitters. The overall relaxation response is believed to play a significant role in the mitigation of the devastating effects of stress, and the prevention and treatment of illness.
There are seven aspects of emitted qi that have been quantified scientifically. Qi emission resulted in significant changes in infrasound, electromagnetic, static electricity, infrared radiation, gamma rays, particle and wave flows , organic ion flows, and light. Most dramatic were human infrasonic frequencies that leaped from 60 MHz to 400,000. MHz during qi emission.
In experiments on externally emitted qi from Qigong masters on various biological substrates and chemical compounds, emitted Qi was found to affect DNA
synthesis and structure, protein synthesis, artificial cell membranes, chemical reactions, and polarized light beams. In similar experiments involving long-distance Qi emission and its effects on molecular structures, evidence was found to suggest the existence of such a phenomenon.
Research into emitted Qi is still in its infancy, but it is rapidly expanding our knowledge of human biomagnetic energy. Study of emitted Qi on biological systems has the potential to unsettle the foundation of modern science and thinking. Qigong does not appear to behave entirely according to the laws of linear physics, but rather to the advanced concepts of quantum and chaos theories.
Qigong exercises and meditations are practiced on a daily basis by an estimated 100 million people in China and in growing numbers throughtout the world. The profile of those utilizing Qi healing ouside of China is not well known. In the authors’ experience, the typical profile of a client seeking Qi healing is: woman, professional, higher education, between age of 30 and 50.
Qigong teachers and self-practitioners are now relatively easy to find in North America, especially in large cities with Asian communities. Contact national Qigong associations, Qigong (Chi Kung) or Tai Chi Schools, acupuncture schools, Chinese associations, herbal pharmacies, health food and martial arts stores, alternative health publications.
Forms of Therapyinternal (self-practice) and external (qi emission) qigong are the two broad divisions. Internal Qigong consists of meditation and movement exercises which are practiced by individuals to regulate their own Qi. External Qigong is performed by a trained Qigong practitioner to detect and correct imbalances in the circulation of Qi in another person.
Indications and Reasons for Referral
Most older children and adults can learn to practice simple Qigong to increase their sense of well being, decrease stress, improve health, prevent illness, and especially to treat chronic and difficult conditions. Qigong is a valuable adjunct to Western medicine in that it supports a pro-active, preventative approach to health.
Qigong therapy alone is not appropriate for acute or emergency situations unless the Qigong therapist is
highly skilled and experienced.
Common reasons for referring someone to Qigong instruction or therapy:
Most of the research on Qigong in the past 30 years are in abstracts in proceedings from international scientific
meetings or published in Chinese. Many are now available through the Qigong Institute research database.
Several studies suggest Qigong can reduce both systolic and diastolic high blood pressure, decrease the amount of medication required to stabilize hypertension. It reduces excessive responses to stress and improves the function of the
In an impressive twenty-two year controlled study of 244 hypertensive patients, Qigong practice was shown to decrease overall mortality (19.3% Qigong vs. 41.7% controls), decrease the incidence (18 % Qigong vs. 41 % control) and mortality for stroke (13.9 % Qigong vs. 24.7 % controls), improve control of systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and help reduce antihypertensive medication dosages (47.7 % of the Qigong group in contrast with an increased dosage requirement in 30.85 % of the control group). Qigong also helps offset cardiovascular lesions such as progressive retinopathy and abnormal ECG findings.
Studies suggest Qigong affects hormonal balance, decreasing estradiol levels in hypertensive men and increasing estradiol and testosterone levels in post-menopausal women. It improves left ventricular function, increases cardiac output, and decreases peripheral vascular resistance in patients with essential hypertension and coronary heart disease.
Hemodialysis patients reported subjective improvements in appetite, increased frequency of bowel movements, increase in general well-being and physical strength, improved sexual activity, and sleep quality.
The existence and measurement of Qi has been the object of many studies. Seto et al. measured an extraordinarily large magnetic field (10-3 gauss) emanating from the palms of three individuals emitting Qi. This is one thousand times stronger than the known, naturally occurring human bio-magnetic field (10-6 gauss). The frequency of this unusual magnetic wave was 4 to 10 Hz (29).
Chien et al. documented the effects of emitted Qi on human fibroblast cell growth, DNA synthesis, protein synthesis and boar sperm respiration.
Studies suggest several possible mechanisms for the physiological effects of Qigong. Emitted Qi is able to affect RNA and DNA UV absorption , change artificial phospholipid membranes , and alter molecular compositions of non-living substances similar to those found in the body. Similar results at long distances defy our current understanding of physical laws.
The effects of Qigong on the nervous system have been well studied. The Qigong state is different from the waking state, resting with eyes closed, drowsiness, sleep, or any state in between. EEG studies show slowing of alpha peak frequency and increase in alpha-1 (8-10 Hz) components in the anterior-frontal regions (7, 12) .
Qigong meditation with active abdominal breathing is a method common to many schools. In one study, this was found to improve ventilatory efficiency for O2 and CO2 by about 20%.
Risk and Safety
Qigong enjoys an enviable and remarkable safety profile, but is not without possible side effects. Side effects are infrequent and are usually not due to the techniques themselves, but rather to incorrect practice. Patients with acute infections should avoid vigorous types of qigong which may circulate the infected blood. Some White Crane styles with rapid fluttering of limbs have been reported to overstimulate frail individuals, causing nervous breakdown.
Qigong “deviation syndrome” — dizziness, headache, nausea, palpitation, feeling hot or cold, dissociative feeling — is easily corrected by the practitioner with relaxation and correct mind set, body posture, or breathing. Qigong induced psychosis has been described in rare cases with auditory hallucinations and delusions. This is usually self-limited and resolves soon after stopping Qigong. When this fails, an experienced Qigong practitioner or master can help.
The percentage of patients who respond to Qigong vary according to the level of experience and skill of the practitioner. Common estimates of benefits run from 80 to 90 %. With greater length of practice and experience, the benefits appear to increase.
Efficacy is enhanced if people fully commit to practice on a daily basis. In a study of hypertensive patients, the overall mortality rate of people who practiced>3/4 of the timewas 11.2 % compared with 29.3 % in the inconsistent group.
Future Research Opportunities and Priorities
Further research will likely be directed toward demonstrating effectiveness rather than
understanding why and how Qigong works.
Qigong can infuse Qi into everything that acupuncture needles can, and reach even deeper into the mind-body relationship. This makes it a premier treatment choice for most chronic conditions:
Hypertension: benefits include improved blood pressure control (systolic and diastolic), decreased medication use, decreased mortality, decreased incidence and mortality of stroke, offset of the progression of cardiovascular lesions and retinopathy .
Asthma: disorders which are affected by emotional components or stress are very amenable to Qigong,which improves respiratory efficiency.
Allergies: Studies show Qigong can affect the immune system and stabilize the effects of stress and emotions.
Stress and stress-related disorders: (e.g. fatigue, tension headaches, poor concentration, difficulty sleeping, problems with appetite, vague aches and pains, etc.) Sitting and moving Qigong are excellent tools to mitigate the devastating effects of stress on the mind, body and spirit.
Cancer: with experimental data about the effects of Qi on DNA, protein synthesis , chemical reactions, cell growth, the immune system, emotional well-being, and improved
quality of life, Qigong should be an integral part of all
programs dealing with cancer. Many studies have been presented at scientific meetings about the beneficial effects of Qigong on cancer cells and tumors.
AIDS: Same reasons as for cancer.
Gastro-intestinal: Irritable bowel, peptic ulcer disease, poor appetite, constipation, hemorrhoids, etc.
The effects of Qigong on the functional aspects of digestion are well recognized by research.
Chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia: These syndromes can be frustrating to treat with Western medicine. Qigong can help these patients rebuild their stores of Qi and balance their energy circulation.
Diabetes: There is evidence that Qigong can alter hormonal levels in the body. Specific Qigong techniques exist for diabetes mellitus.
Arthritis: Qigong is often used for arthritis. It appears to benefit rheumatoid as well as osteoarthritis. The exercises are gentle and generally easy to learn.
Musculoskeletal pains and sports injuries: Acute or chronic
musculoskeletal injuries. Best used under the guidance of a trained Qigong practitioner to avoid further injury.
Low energy states: If Western medical investigations reveal no clear cause for fatigue or low energy states, it is likely due to Qi deficiency.
Hepatitis: Anecdotal reports of benefits. Some schools have specific Qigong techniques for hepatitis/liver problems.
Most Qigong schools or instructors in the United States teach Qigong self-practice, which include meditation and/or gentle, movement exercises. For patients who practical methods to promote well being, deal with stress, ?recharge their batteries?, balance their mind-body-spirit, or handle functional complaints or disorders, Qigong is a great tool.
As for Qigong therapy (external Qi emission), most physician initiated referrals (author?s personal practice) tend to be for conditions that do not respond to standard medical treatment, for strange symptoms that do
not fit into the Western model, or because of requests from patients for more ?natural or holistic? approaches. A Qigong practitioner should be used as any other consultant when a physician needs a fresh look from a different theoretical healing model, and his/her patient is open to it.
Qigong works very well with Western medicine and does not interfere with medications. Numerous studies in China show patients on chemotherapy and radiation recover faster and survive longer when qigong is practiced.
Self-Help vs. Professional
Basic Qigong meditation or movement exercises can be learned through books or videos, but it is preferrable to learn from a trained instructor. External Qi healing requires a therapist with experience.
Visiting a Professional
If a patient is passively receiving “qi” from the therapist, the key requirement is that they simply relax, keep an open receptive attitude, and do not interfere with the process. Qigong therapists will ask the client some questions to determine what is going on and then go on to their form of assessment and treatment. This varies significantly from tradition to tradition. Clients remain clothed during the session, and may be sitting or lying down.
The healer may read the pulses on the wrist or neck, to diagnose the condition of all the meridians and internal organs. They will look at the appearance and demeanor of the patient. The healer may 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 often scans for Qi imbalances by passing their hands over different meridians, points, or vital organs at a distance of 3 to 12 inches from the body. They may or may not touch the body during treatment.
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. 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.
Other healers utilize “spontaneous” qigong. They emit a certain frequency of qi that helps activate 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 begin to dance or sing, rhythmically releasing physical, mental, or emotional tension that has been locked in the body for years. This is not hypnotic suggestion, as the client may choose to stop the releasing movement at any time.
Group lessons may be given in an office, school, home, or e park, or customized for a 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.
Most clients report a wonderful sense of relaxation, warmth, and lightness after a session. Chronic onditions, severe or life threatening illness require more work. The interval between visits is usually lengthened as Qi imbalances improve and the system remains balanced.
Many people experience significant changes after one session. Clients with significant challenges may feel some kind of shift in their symptoms or improvement in their quality of life within 10 visits. Others may take months or years to heal. It may depend on whether they practice at home or make lifestyle changes to support their Qi cultivation process.
As with any other healing modality, Qigong may not work all the time. It is not meant as a ?quick fix?. However, it can lead to long-term healing, greater insight, self-discovery, and improvement in quality of life.
Credentialing and Training
Currently there is no official credentialing or licensing of Qigong instructors in the USA, or guideline for what is required to be called a Master or Qigong therapist. There is a National Qigong (Chi Kung) Association ? USA working to establish reccommended minimum curriculum, hours of training and ethical guidelines for both general qigong and medical qigong therapy.
Curriculum is difficult because schools have different roots and the mastery of Qigong is a lifetime process. Currently each school has its own internal regulations and credentials. Some people train in Qigong schools in China and receive official credentials. So it’s not always easy to determine the quality, level, and experience of a Qigong practitioner.
Many qigong teachers in the west are only skilled in martial arts and not as Qi therapists. They often use Qigong as warmups for Tai Chi, and many of the same health benefits will accrue. But if Qi training is done mostly with the intention to fight, the health results may not be the same if the Qi is tied up in anger or defensive boundary setting.
One difficulty of credentialing Qigong is that in
many schools there is a spiritual aspect to learning Qigong. Many practitioners go through long apprenticeship periods with masters to learn advanced techniques and well-guarded secrets. The degree of spiritual development of a student or practitioner is difficult to measure using written and laboratory-like practical tests. To study only the intellectual theory of Qigong would be to separate mind, body, and spirit, and miss the essence of this art.
What to Look For in a Provider
Look for someone who practices and teaches full-time, and who has many years of experience. Ask for references, the names and phone numbers of their teacher(s), or check their school to confirm their training. How good is their personal health?
Beware of those who make exaggerated claims of vast experience, incredible ability to cure everything, being
the only lineage holder, or tries to impress you with circus tricks, etc. Look for someone with a strong, moral character who appears calm, caring, warm, and compassionate. Healing Qigong is practiced from the heart for the benefit of all beings.
Barriers and Key Issues
There is a wide theoretical gap between the healing models of Qigong and Western medicine. The apparently contradictory paradigms may be reaon for integrating them. Some problems are best addressed with Western
medicine, some with Chinese medicine, and others with both. In China, many hospitals have qigong departments working along side western trained doctors.
The concept of Qi, vital energy, appears to be a large stumbling block. Energy medicine incorporates the concepts of mind, body and spirit into a whole inseparable from the Universe we live in. It incorporates the meaning of life and death, and champions quality of life through natural connectedness. Its healing power is experiential rather than purely intellectual or mechanical. To overcome this barrier, we need to accept the importance of personal experience in our daily lives. This requires openness, suspension of judgment, and expansion of our field of vision to include different systems of science. Qigong must be experienced first before it can be understood.
To further scientific and mainstream acceptance, the meticulousness of the experimental designs and statistical analyses must increase. Future research will have to be clearer about which Qigong techniques and styles are used in studies, and the level of experience/training of the
Master or practitioner. It is easy to discount the results of experiments that defy conventional theories, especially when we do not understand or believe a phenomenon. Science must remain objective and examine all phenomena, believable or not.
Healing Tao University
POB 20028, NYC, 10014
A large western Qigong organization with focus on healing.
Largest Qigong & neigong training program in west –
up to 36 week long events or training trips to China.
750 instructors worldwide, over 100 in USA,
qigong retreats with academic credits, how-to books/videos.
National Qigong (Chi Kung) Association ? USA
POB 20218, Boulder, CO 80308 Fax: (415) 389-9465
(888) 218-7788 www.nqa.org
Annual National Qigong Conference, maintains National Qigong Directory of teachers,
healers, organizations and practitioners, setting national standards.
561 Berkeley Ave, Menlo Park, CA 94025
Maintains Computerized Qigong Database with over 1300 studies,
supports & monitors qigong research.
World Academic Society of Medical Qigong
No. 11, Bei San Huan Dong Lu, Beijing, 100029, China.
Fax: 0086 10 6421 1591.
Qigong training courses, international conferences.
The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing.
Kenneth S. Cohen. Ballantine Books, NY. 1997.
Scholarly, yet readable book on Qigong.
Great overview of the subject and introduces basic theories,
meditations, and exercises.
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