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Qigong is an ancient Chinese discipline that is still used today by millions of people. Chinese people have used qigong for approximately five thousand years as an alternative treatment for most any disease; however, qigong is also used as a preventative factor against disease. Although thousands of forms of qigong exist, each serves as an exercise in the formation of energy. This energy is described by the Chinese as “qi”, and can be most nearly translated into English as “bioenergy”. The energy produced can then be used to power the mind, body, and spirit. Qigong can be as simple as a breathing exercise or meditation used to balance the body’s amount of “qi” because it is believed that illness is a result of an unbalanced body (http://www.eastwestqi.com/html/what_is_qigong.htm). “Qi” is the mystical part of qigong. It is the essence of life which when combined with “gong” meaning work or discipline, defines qigong as the art of “the cultivation and deliberate control of a higher form of vital energy” (http://www.accupuncture.com/QiKung/QiGong.htm).
Qigong, one of the four parts of traditional Chinese medicine, can be most easily practiced on an individual basis. Most popular reasons for practicing qigong include the relief of stress as well as healing purposes. The Chinese believe that a body whose “qi” is well balanced fights disease and sustains strength through the practice of achieving a peaceful state of mind (http://my.webmd.com/content/article/3187.10231). Another source defines the exercise as; “a kind of self training method by which the person uses the initiative to train the body and mind, providing holistic training for self reliance, self adjustment, curing diseases, strengthening the constitution and prolonging life” ).
Qigong can be practiced by anyone. The exercises can be altered to accommodate disabilities as well as personal preferences. Each exercise is made to raise or lower the heart rate of the practitioner and adjust the frequency of his brain waves. The exercises can be executed sitting, standing, or lying, and can also involve simple to complex movements all depending on the abilities of the practitioner. Special types of qigong also exist to heal certain bodily ailments. Spinal qigong is a type of qigong that helps to rehabilitate the spinal column (http://home2.pacific.net.sg/~newage/). Qigong is a lifelong exercise, which is painless to practice on an individual basis, and provides a diminution in stress and anxiety (http://my.webmd.com/content/article/3187.10231).
Qigong not only seeks to maintain health as well as cure diseases, but also to create a feeling of inner harmony as well as harmony with the universe. All exercises are made to stimulate the four primary components of qigong: the mind, movement, eyes, and breath. Eichelberger describes them saying; “the mind is the presence of intention, the eyes are the focus of intention, the movement is the action of intention, the breath is the flow of intention” (http://www.acupuncture.com/QiKung/ChiPri.htm). The intention of which he speaks is the formulation of energy and “qi” (http://www.acupuncture.com/QiKung/ChiPri.htm). The goals of qigong can be achieved only through determination, as well as consistent and diligent practice. "Qigong movement is the process of generating energy solely to purify the obstructions of the
physical body, the emotions and the spirit" (http://users.erols.com/dantao/wudongqigong.htm).
The Chinese believe that the body’s ability to function is based upon the balance of two fundamental characteristics of Chinese culture, Yin and Yang. Yin is described as the matter, and Yang is identified as the function. These two characteristics form a “unity of opposites” which allows the body to function correctly. If the Yin and Yang do not remain in equilibrium, then the naturally occurring “qi” is lost, thus causing bodily malfunction. The relationship between Yin and Yang is primarily disturbed by pathogens. Pathogens, such as such as internal, external, or miscellaneous pathogens, are the primary cause of disease. The Chinese believe that qigong strengthens the body’s defense system preventing the invasion of pathogens and the decreasing the occurrence of disease (http://www.alterhealth.net/).
Internal “qi” is produced through deep concentration stimulating mental activity in the cerebrum. It is believed that increased mental activity in the cerebrum sends bioelectric signals to other organs stimulating them and slowly forming “qi”. Other qigong activities “which include breath practice, postures, motion, self massage, relaxation, concentration, visualization and meditation” fuel the production of such bioelectricity and energy (http://www.healthy.net/asp/templates/article.asp?PageType=Article&ID=388). When the body is in a state of maximum relaxation, it can mend injuries acquired from disease, as well as balance itself as it relates to the mind. The Chinese believe in “balancing the human with the sky”, or achieving equilibrium with nature through controlled breathing exercises and mediation (http://www.eastwestqi.com/html/what_is_qigong.htm).
The more one practices the techniques of qigong, the larger the area of bioelectricity flow. Greater practice time also strengthens of mind and its ability to focus, as well as improving the amount of “qi” formed (http://www.alterhealth.net/). “Qi” can also be formed through physical movements incorporating the mind and body. Individuals use their mind to formulate and channel the “qi” throughout the body by learning its sensations (http://www.healthy.net/qigonginstitute/). Once the body has reached a state of full relaxation, reservations melt away leaving optimistic feelings, confidence, and courage. Over time the amount of “qi” will circulate in such quantities that it will override negative feelings leaving one generally happier, and thus in good health. Nevertheless, if an imbalance should occur, the practitioner can direct the flow of “qi” to the blockage, and restore harmony (http://www.accupuncture.com/QiKung/QiGong.htm).
While internal qigong can be practiced individually, a master must perform external qigong, an almost rare form in the United States, on someone. Qigong masters are persons who are very skilled in the art of qigong. They are able to control the flow of “qi”, and have individually achieved a state of supreme harmony and discipline. Qigong masters guide the “qi” energy to their patients through their eyes or hands. The Chinese report “miraculous” recoveries from illnesses using the method of external qigong; however, some masters may have a better effect on the illness than others, so it is best to try more than one qigong master (http://www.acupuncture.com/QiKung/ChiPri.htm).
Qigong exercises always begin with simple movements and then move forward into more advanced movements. The exercises must be repeated six times each in the beginning then as the practitioner becomes more experienced the number of repetitions will increase. One should move slowly through the exercises, which can be performed in any order. The simple movements in the beginning, however, are used to bring the body into a “qigong state” therefore should always be performed first. Many different qigong exercises exist; nevertheless, some are more common then others, such as “child worships the Buddha”, exercises to guide “qi” to the internal organs, breathing exercises to enhance the production of “qi”, and “spontaneous movement” which supposedly generates “qi” instantly. Whatever exercise is chosen, one should allow approximately thirty minutes for completion, and it should be practiced as often as time allows (http://my.webmd.com/content/article/3187.10231). “Qigong movements cultivate the important connection of mind and body with the abundant energy of the environment. Its movements, mental focus, and breath control stimulate this internal qi flow” (http://users.erols.com/dantao/wudongqigong.htm).
Proponents of qigong have claimed that it will cure almost any disease or bodily malfunction. Qigong can almost certainly reduce stress and anxiety due to the state of relaxation one achieves. It is also said that qigong can relieve symptoms of various sleeping disorders and improve the function of the bowels. Some even say that qigong can relieve chronic pain, and enhance recovery from injuries. When used with regular medication, proponents claim that qigong augments medications, and reduces their side effects. Those who advocate the use of qigong, claim that it will cure any of the following diseases: gastric and duodenal ulcers, chronic atrophic gastritis, liver disease, myopia, obesity, asthma, allergies, paralysis, aphasia, Parkinson’s disease, and cerebral palsy. Qigong can even decrease blood pressure, balance blood sugar levels, and lower the occurrence of strokes (http://www.eastwestqi.com/html/what_is_qigong.htm).
Qigong is supposedly very effective in the prevention of disease. Millions of Chinese people today still frequently practice qigong to thwart disease. Those who wish to decelerate the process of aging, increase the production of energy, and feel healthier also practice Qigong. Chinese doctors also prescribe the use of qigong when a patient has arthritis, gout, headaches, heart disease, hypertension, spinal discomfort, Meniere’s disease, neurasthenia, retinopathy, rheumatism, sciatic neuralgia, torticollis, peripheral vascular disease, multiple sclerosis, as well as post- stroke syndrome. Proponents of qigong even claim that it can cure cancer, and decrease uncomfortable side effects caused by typical cancer treatments. Since qigong strengthens the immune system and restores the balance of “qi”, it can cure virtually any disease (http://www.accupuncture.com/QiKung/QiGong.htm).
The effects of qigong are not seen immediately; in fact it may take three months to a year to observe the benefits of the exercises. The art of qigong provides more than mere physical training, it also provides mental training. Qigong teaches the mind to read bodily sensations, and detect imbalances in “qi” or blockages (http://www.accupuncture.com/QiKung/QiGong.htm). To its proponents qigong is seen as; “ one of the most powerful self healing traditions ever developed in human history” (http://www.healthy.net/asp/templates/article.asp?PageType=Article&ID=255).
Although qigong has been in use for several thousand years, it has only begun to be scientifically researched. Chinese doctors have researched qigong thoroughly; however, alternative therapies from the west generally undergo much more meticulous research in the United States. Nevertheless, most people agree that qigong can augment fitness and reduce agents that inhibit relaxation. Regrettably, no significant scientific research exists to support the claims that qigong is a cure-all activity (http://my.webmd.com/content/article/3187.10231). Despite all efforts to find an activity that will prevent and cure all diseases, this seems simply not possible. Qigong, therefore, is not necessarily a miracle exercise, and people in China who practice qigong become old, ill, and die like all human beings.
Some scientific data shows that the exercises that make up qigong cause several healing reactions in the body. Qigong enhances the flow of oxygen to bodily tissues, increases the process of waste eradication, and hastens the rate of travel of immune system cells through the lymphatic system. By increasing the speed of immune cell travel, the effectiveness of the immune system is also increased. Qigong also stimulates the flow of blood, therefore, improving circulation (http://my.webmd.com/content/article/3187.10231). Finally, qigong is shown to have affects on the chemistry of the brain and nervous system. These reactions may support claims that qigong does help to prevent or heal disease, as well as improve one’s inner harmony (http://www.healthy.net/asp/templates/article.asp?PageType=Article&ID=255).
One source states that current scientific results support some of the claims made by qigong practitioners. Results show that through the practice of qigong, chaotic cells located in the cerebral cortex can be restored to a normal state of relaxation. These studies also show that breathing practices increase metabolism and produce favorable changes in physical health while using a minimum amount of energy. This source also sites thirty scientific studies that show qigong to aid in diminishing the aging process. Finally, recent studies show that qigong increases the strength of the body’s immune system (http://www.eastwestqi.com/html/what_is_qigong.htm).
Other new studies also support the claims of qigong. In Fujian, China, Huang Zianbiao experimented with patients diagnosed with hypertension and the affects of qigong treatments. Those patients, who practiced qigong twice daily for thirty minutes at each time, grew stronger, faster. They acquired an amplified appetite, which in turn enlarged their overall body weight. Another study designed by the Jiangsu Provincial Research Institute reveals that “qi” can damage tumor cells as well as revive the lymphatic system in laboratory rats. Although these studies only support various claims made by qigong proponents, they definitely provide evidence for the truthfulness in other claims (http://www.healthy.net/qigonginstitute/).
Myeong Soo Lee and others conducted a study entitled “Effect of Qi-training (qigong) on blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate” (2000). Twelve subjects, nine males and three females, volunteered to participate in the study. All twelve healthy subjects between the ages of 19 and 37 years participated in ChunDoSunBup qigong for about 1.3 years. Blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rates were measured before, during, and after the study. Results measured during and after the study were compared to those taken before the subjects began practicing qigong. The subjects practiced qigong for one hour per day for six days per week with a qigong master. The training period was divided into three stages including sound exercise, motion performance, and finally meditation. Sound exercise required the subjects to recite Chunmoon, an eight-lined paragraph of futile words, in one breath for ten minutes. The second portion of the qigong training was motion performance in which subjects performed simple motions while standing for ten minutes. Finally, the subjects sat comfortably on the floor in meditation for forty minutes. The results of this study yielded significant differences in each of the measurements taken. When compared to a normal resting heart rate taken before the practice of qigong, the heart rate, respiration rate, systolic blood pressure, and the rate-pressure product had decreased considerably after the exercise.
The results of this study show the difference between qigong and regular physical exercise. Other physical exercises increase heart and respiratory rates due to increased requirement of oxygen and in turn the release of carbon dioxide as well as stimulating sensors in joints and muscles. Qigong exercises seem to do the opposite, by decreasing heart and respiratory rates in addition to arterial blood pressure. In conclusion, Lee and colleagues found that qigong might have positive physiological effects on the body shown mainly through improvements in the stability of the cardiovascular system (Lee and others, 2000).
A contradictory case study shows the effect of practicing qigong on the blood pressure of one Chinese woman. After practicing qigong one morning, a sixty-five year old woman had a stroke, which produced an intracerebral hemorrhage as well as right sided weakness. Intracerebral hemorrhage, which is much more common in Chinese people than Caucasians, is caused by a rupture of an artery which spills blood into the brain parenchyma. The woman was an avid practitioner of qigong to regulate her blood pressure. She gradually improved in the hospital having stopped practicing qigong, and eventually attained near complete recovery (Leung et al, 2001).
When released from the hospital, she returned to the practice of qigong. Leung and others monitored her blood pressure during one of her qigong exercises. They took readings every three minutes, and were surprised to see it increase significantly. It is thought that maybe due to the type of qigong which she performed, using many isometric elements and elements done while holding ones breath. These two parts of the qigong exercise that she performed may have caused the sudden increase in blood pressure. Evidence for this claim is found in the blood pressure measurements taken while she was performing qigong. In the first three minutes of exercise, her blood pressure increased and remained at an unusually high level for approximately the next thirty-five minutes. The results of this study suggest that those patients diagnosed with hypertension should only practice qigong under the supervision of a physician. They also suggest that patients with hypertension should not practice breath holding while exercising (Leung et al, 2000).
While qigong has been shown to have primarily healing effects, some possible side effects have been known to occur. One case study involved a fifty-seven year old Chinese- American man, who having no previous history of psychiatric illness, began to report strange hallucinations and delusions as well as a loss of the ability to concentrate. The hallucinations and delusions began shortly after he started practicing qigong. He began practicing qigong to treat ailing kidney stones that did not respond well to typical treatment. The man was given an extensive medical evaluation, yet no medical or neurological problems were found to give explanation to his recent psychotic symptoms. Nevertheless, the man was diagnosed with paranoid Schizophrenia. The man was given haloperidol to suppress his psychotic symptoms. In addition, he stopped practicing qigong; however, he still had some problems. Although still experiencing a loss of concentration and other psychotic symptoms, the man gave up his treatment (Lim and Lin, 1996).
Lim and Lin say that, “Chinese psychiatric literature describes a syndrome called “Qigong Induced Psychosis” characterized by the appearance of auditory hallucinations and delusions after the initiation of qigong in a practitioner who has never experienced these symptoms before and in whom these symptoms remit soon after the cessation of qigong practice” (1996, page 373). Patients having this Schizophrenic-like disorder, experience usually only the hallucinations with auditory elements. Some people also experience dizziness, and a lack of concentration, like the man in the case study. The Chinese treat this disorder by stopping the practice of qigong along with the use of anti-psychotic medication. It seems though, that this disorder is only caused by extreme types of qigong, which place the practitioner in a trance and attempt to communicate with other beings (Lim and Lin, 1996).
Other studies also show the effects of qigong on the brain. One study, which tested a male and a female qigong master, documented results using neuromonitoring tools. The results of this study were similar for both the male and the female. Both subjects caused notable differences in brain activity before and during qigong. The studied concluded that qigong objectifies cerebral modulations that go along with its practice (Litscher et al, 2001). The Chinese Medical Journal documents many other reactions to qigong practice not only including mental, but also physical problems. Many sensations may occur as a side effect to the “qigong induced psychosis” syndrome including rising to the sky, falling, itching, chilliness, warmness, floating, or even standing upside down. These symptoms may occur along with the hallucinations and illusions discussed above (Xu, 1994).
Kenneth M. Sancier reviews studies on the topic of the effect of qigong and medication on three different diseases including hypertension, respiratory disease, and cancer. Sancier hypothesizes that qigong may aid the effect of drugs on a patient due to elevated blood circulation which therefore improves the effectiveness of drug delivery to the body. He sites studies which for each disease which separate subjects into an experimental group which practiced qigong and a control group which did not practice qigong; however both groups were given drugs to treat their respective diseases. The qigong groups practice twice a day for thirty minutes at a time. Patients with hypertension of both groups were given the drugs reserpine, dhydrazine, and dihdrochlorothiazide, to control their chronic high blood pressure. The patients in the control group containing patients with hypertension experienced a lower occurrence of mortality and stroke, and many patients required less of the drugs to regulate blood pressure (Sancier, 1999).
Qigong may also aid the effectiveness of drugs in bronchial asthma as well as chronic respiratory disease. Sancier describes a study on bronchial asthma patients who practiced qigong. They did not require as many different medications and had a “decreased variability of peak respiration flow” (1999, page 385) where as the control group patients showed less modification in medicine and symptoms, and “greater variability of peak respiration” (1999, page 385). The results of this reviewed study showed that patients with bronchial asthma who practiced qigong could save a substantial amount of money on medication, and in time require a lower amount of sick days, emergency care, antibiotics, and hospitalization (Sancier, 1999).
Sancier also reviews a study conducted by Li, et al. (1988) in which a group patients with chronic respiratory diseases practiced qigong in addition to taking drugs while another group of similar patients did not practice qigong but took only the drugs. The experimental group of qigong practitioners demonstrated lower heart and respiratory rates than the control group. This study concluded that the practice of qigong in addition to the proper medication provided an overall benefit to patients with chronic respiratory diseases by lessening the symptoms, strengthening the cardiovascular and immune systems, and improving the patient’s total condition (1999).
Sancier also reviews several studies and the effect of qigong and medication on cancer and side effects of cancer treatments. Results show that practicing qigong while using cancer treatments helps to reduce the terrible side effects of these treatments and improve the condition of the patient. Some studies also offer results, which show that qigong and anti-cancer drugs can decrease size and severity of tumors and prolong the amount of time a patient lives without tumors. In a review of studies in which qigong was practiced along with the use of medication, qigong produced positive results in creating a higher quality of life as well as having a positive effect against the disease itself.
Chinese doctors primarily supply the information present in this paper; however, some American doctors have begun to speculate about this exercise as well. The evidence to support the claims made by qigong practitioners is most evident in history. The Chinese people have been practicing this exercise for many thousand years. Even today in parks, the workplace, and schools qigong is practiced daily. While many ancient traditions have been dismissed or improved, qigong has remained the same.
Chinese doctors and scientists have conducted most of the research available on qigong, therefore a very small amount of this research has been translated into English. Nevertheless, the research that has been translated is being heavily scruntinized by Western scientists and doctors. Some Chinese scientists have conducted studies which do not accurately produce the results they claim to produce thus being scientifically flawed. For example, Michael Mayer reviewed and criticized many of the studies which involve qigong in the treatment of hypertension. “Qigong appears to help in the treatment of hypertension, but due to inadequate addressing of methodology issues it is difficult to determine just how effective qigong is, and what other factors may contribute to its positive effects” (Mayer, 1999, page 379). Mayer encourages western scientists to unify with Chinese scientists to further investigate the benefits of practicing this potentially wonderful healing exercise (1999).
The ancient tradition of qigong may or may not cure every disease known to man; however, it is known to relieve stress and give the practitioner inner harmony. The Chinese people are not trying to sell this ancient art form; they would only like to share its excellency with the world. The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine says; “Health and well-being can be achieved only by remaining centered in spirit, guarding against the squandering of energy, promoting the constant flow of qi and blood, maintaining a harmonious balance of mind and body. This is the way to a long and happy life"(http://users.erols.com/dantao/wudongqigong.htm).
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