It is a challenge for the Western mind to understand the function of Qi in the context of bodily functions as defined by science. According to Chinese medicine and Qigong theory, Qi has an infinite number of functions in the body.
The foundation of Qigong and TCM theory dictates that intention (Yi) directs the movement of Qi, which in turn directs the flow of blood in the body. Increased or decreased electrical activity in specific areas of the body determines blood flow and fluid balance, accumulation and dispersal of substances. The practice of Qigong is the act of bringing awareness and skill to direct the function and movement of Qi. The correct movement of Qi is a force that engages the body’s natural tendency toward homeostasis. Continued practice provides reinforcement of the body’s inclination toward homeostasis and therefore toward optimal use of all its functions and potential. What are called ‘special abilities’ or ‘psychic powers’ that sometimes develop in Qigong practice are simply the product of our natural capacity in the refined human state.
For health maintenance, the Qigong practitioners do not have to be an expert. Almost anyone can learn to practice Qigong to maintain and improve his or her own health. The objective of the exercises is to strengthen the Qi in the body and remove obstructions to Qi flow that may have developed due to injury, emotional states, diet, disease or other factors. Conversely, obstruction of Qi flow can also produce disease,2
Of all the energy medical practices, Qigong has the most developed theoretical basis and has been subjected to the most extensive research. In China, the collected knowledge about the therapeutic benefits of Qigong was developed over thousands of years. Medical Qigong is now practiced in clinics and some hospitals that integrate traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and conventional Western medicine. In Western hospitals Qigong is among several complementary practices used including Therapeutic Touch, Mindful Meditation and Reiki.
Clinical Research Demonstrates the Multifaceted Effects Qigong
In the early 1980’s Chinese scientists initiated research on the health and healing claims of Qigong. Of the hundreds of research studies that were performed, few were published because suitable journals were unavailable. However, about 1400 reports were published as abstracts in the proceedings of conferences. English abstracts of these reports as well as those from scientific journals are collected in the Qigong Database™ that presently contains more than 2000 records of Qigong studies and is available from the Qigong Institute.(Sancier KM 2000) One of the authors has discussed the medical benefits of Qigong.(Sancier KM 1994; Sancier KM 1996a; Sancier KM 1996b; Sancier KM 1999; Sancier KM Weintraub 2000)
Wang and Xu, two western-trained doctors in China explored some of the multiple health benefits of self-practice Qigong as summarized in the table.(Wang CX 1991; Wang CX 1993; Wang CX 1995)3
|Activities of two messenger cyclic nucleotides
Blood flow to the brain for subjects with cerebral arteriosclerosis
Cerebral functions impaired by senility
Endocrine gland functions
Erythrocyte deformation index
Factor VIII-related antigen
Longevity, 50% greater; after Qigong 30 min/twice daily, 20 years
Plasminogen activator inhibitor
Serum estradiol levels in hypertensive men and women
Serum lipid levels
Strokes, 50% fewer after Qigong 30 min/twice daily, 20 years
One of the prime benefits of Qigong is stress reduction, and a main ingredient of practice is intention (i.e., Yi) that uses the mind to guide the Qi. While Qi itself has not been measured, multiple types of measurements demonstrate the effects of Qi on the body. For example, simultaneous measurements of the interaction between a Qigong master and receiver included respiration, EEG, vibrations, blood4 pressure, skin conductivity, and heart rate variability.(Yamamoto M 1997) Different physiological measurements have sought information about the effects of Qigong on the brain and emotions. These include measurements by high-resolution electroencephalography (EEG), functional MRI (fMRI), neurometer measurements, and applied kinesiology. Neuroimaging methods were used to study regional brain functions, emotions and disorders of emotions. Differences were found on the effects on the brain during meditation by Qigong and by Zen meditation.(Kawano K 1996) The effects of emitted Qi (waiqi) has also been extended to cell cultures, growth of plants, seed germination, and reduction of tumor size in animals.(Sancier KM 1991) Spiritual healing, which involves the mind, has been the subject of two volumes by Benor.(Benor DJ 2001; Benor DJ 2002) His discussions also include scientific studies describing the beneficial effects of prayer on subjects’ health.
The work of Richard Davidson and Paul Ekman, researchers of the Mind and Life Institute, may go a long way to illustrate the role of intention alone on the brain and body.(Davidson JD 1999) In current studies underway at University of California at San Francisco Medical School and University of Wisconsin, they are observing the electrical mechanisms in the brains of highly trained Buddhist lamas during various states of focused intention. Using functional, fMRI, high-resolution EEG and state-of-theart reflex monitoring, their early results illustrate that electrical activity and blood flow in the brain can be directed by conscious intention. Through systematic and repeated practice of intention, well-practiced lamas have succeeded in training the brain to direct electrical activity away from areas associated with the biochemistry of stress, tension and disturbing emotional or physical states (i.e., the amygdala and right prefrontal cortex) and increase activity in the area associated with the biochemistry of healthful emotional and physical states (i.e., the left prefrontal cortex). Moreover, they have observed that the state of conscious intention on compassion engages a state of relaxation and well being which surpasses even that achieved during a state of rest. The early results of this research suggests that parts of the brain thought previously to be fixed in function, such as the stress reflexes of the reptilian brain, may in fact be5 plastic in nature, able to be changed, shaped and developed through ongoing practice of conscious intention.(Lama Dalai 2003)
Cost containment of healthcare is a subject of vital contemporary interest. For example, in the treatment of asthma self-applied Qigong led to significant cost decreases, such as reduction in days unfit for work, hospitalization days, emergency consultation, respiratory tract infections, and number of drugs and drug costs.(Reuther I 1998)
The vast research of medical benefits of Qigong offers a rich source of information for benefiting mankind. Medical cost containment is an attractive benefit of Qigong practice and should be further explored to provide healing potential without side effects. The science and art of Qigong may open a window into new thinking about health, medicine, psychology and spirituality. It is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that continuously supports our natural tendency toward homeostasis. If that tendency is supported with regularity, allowing one to hover more closely to that point of balance, then the entire being can experience a tremendous evolutionary advantage. Innate abilities have an opportunity to develop; the senses more keen, organ function more consistent and strong, the sympathetic nervous system relaxed, parasympathetic nervous system efficient, the mind relaxed, alert, clear, freely channeling messages in a multitude of new and diverse directions.
From a scientific point of view, the promise of Qigong practices provides new avenues for understanding some of the subtle aspects of human life and its natural inclination to strive for balance. For clinicians it shifts our focus from a battle with disease to a cultivation of health. For practitioners of6 Qigong, it gives us an experiential understanding of greater balance within ourselves and of the cultivation our individual physical, mental and spiritual potential.
Kenneth M. Sancier, Ph.D.
Devatara Holman MS, MA, LAc
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