By Yuqiu Guo, Dr. Ac.
(pronounced chee goong) is a system of Chinese health care that combines
physical training, preventive and therapeutic medicine, with Eastern
philosophy. The word “qi” (or chi) means air, breath of life, or vital
essence. “Gong” means work, self-discipline, achievement, or mastery.
Qigong is said to be “the cultivation and deliberate control of a higher
form of vital energy,” (Dong & Esser1990:xi), as well as “ an ancient
philosophical system of harmonious integration of the human body with
the universe,” (Yan Xin (1991:i). Qigong challenges the foundations of
Western biomedical thought by rejecting the idea that the human species
is unaffected by nature. More specifically, this art combines the
physical benefits of isometrics, isotonics, and aerobic conditioning,
with the healing elements of meditation and relaxation. Qigong is a
discipline that focuses on gaining awareness and control over the life
force or “qi” present in our bodies. There are more than 3,000 varieties
of Qigong, which can be divided into five major categories: Medical,
Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian, and the Martial Arts. Qigong is one of the
soft forms of a sub-set of disciplines that includes Taiji (Tai Chi Quan),
and the hard form of Kung Fu. In this article, we will discuss Medical
For many centuries, Qigong has been a mainstay in Chinese medical
practices. Ancient turtle-shell artifacts conclusively show the art was
important at least 7,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence suggests the
practice may date back one million years. About 2,000 years ago The
Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine was the first literature
to systematically describe the tradition. However, during the Chinese
Cultural Revolution (1965-76) the Communist Party and Red Guards
suppressed the discipline. Around 1978, renewed interest in the medical
art began to arise in China. This trend continued into the 1980s. In
1988, the Chinese held the first World Conference for exchanging Qigong
medical research in Beijing (MacRitchie 1993: 4). Subsequent World
Conferences took place in Tokyo and Berkeley. Another was held in the
summer of 1996 in New York City.
North American psychological, physiological and medical researchers are
also studying Qigong with great interest. University students throughout
North America have formed Qigong groups. Even such institutions as the
film industry, (with the creation of Kung fu movies) and the New Age
Movement have significantly increased the study’s proliferation. Qigong
homepages are blossoming on the Internet World Wide Web as well.
Today, more than 70 million Chinese practice Qigong daily (McGee w/Chow
1994:xiii). Some view the method as a curative step for existing
afflictions, while others use the method as a preventative measure.
Qigong can be an integral component in the fight against virtually any
disease. As many as 50% of all diseases dismissed by orthodox doctors as
untreatable or 'psychosomatic' may be impressively impacted by the
method; some of which being eradicated completely.
Chinese doctors have applied Qigong in hospitals and clinics to treat
individuals suffering from a variety of maladies. The following is a
list of some of the common ailments frequently treated with Qigong:
Circulatory & Nervous Systems
Respiratory, Ocular & Auditory Systems
Other Chronic Diseases
Cancer; reduce side effects of chemo-therapy
Cerebral Palsy & Multiple Sclerosis
Peripheral Vascular disease
Paralysis, due to external injury
Hypertension & High Blood Pressure
Aphasia; temporary loss of speech
Since it is best used for staving off
disease and treating chronic conditions or disabilities, Qigong may not
be the most suitable treatment for acute illness or medical emergencies.
It can be used as a compliment and supplement to conventional medical
practices. If one decides to try Qigong during the course of treatment
of an existing illness, it is advisable that do so under the guidance of
a licensed Chinese medical doctor. Professional supervision is strongly
suggested for beginners.
In addition to its curative potential, by preventing the onset of
disease, Qigong can significantly reduce the amount of suffering and
financial burden experienced by many patients due to long- term health
care. Qigong increases physical strength, heightens resistance to
infectious diseases and premature senility, and helps ensure a long
life. Practicing this method can greatly reduce the likelihood of
stroke. It can improve blood sugar levels for diabetics. Because it
normalizes the level of sex hormones, it helps ward off sexual impotence
and frigidity. In fact, Qigong’s stress relieving attributes may improve
one's overall sex life -both quantity and quality. Practicing this
discipline can hasten recovery from surgery, as well as from sports and
other injuries by up to 50% (McGee w/Chow 1994:17-9). Qigong offers
individuals a way to achieve a relaxed, harmonious state of dynamic
equilibrium. It typically improves overall health, allowing them to
maintain a pain-free life full of vigour and grace.
How does Qigong Work?
Breathing and meditation are an important part of Medical Qigong. In a
Qigong meditative state, one is fully relaxed, yet not in a trance. One
can increase qi and direct it to any area of distress.
self-doubt are replaced with peace of mind and increased confidence.
Gradually, all distractions, worries, and hints of depression begin to
dissipate. Meditation fosters feelings of happiness, which, in turn,
stimulate circulation of blood and qi. This therapy contributes to the
healing of those who are already ill, as well as increasing the
of healthy individuals. People of all ages can develop and maintain
internal vigour and good health through Qigong.
Practicing Qigong lowers blood pressure, pulse rates, metabolic rates,
lactate production, and oxygen demand. It raises the endocrine system's
capabilities. It also has a regulating effect on the substances cyclic
adenosine monophosphate and cyclic guanosine monophosphate, which play
important roles in proper respiratory function and the delivery of
oxygen to the body's cells. The sense of serenity the exercise produces
is the result of slightly elevated body temperature and an increased
rate of oxygen absorption. Qigong activates qi, improves blood
circulation, and balances yin and yang. It bolsters the immune system,
and stimulates the conductivity of the meridians and channels through
which qi flows (Dong & Esser 1994:94-6).
In Chinese medical theory, many diseases come from adverse environmental
conditions such as:
Heat, cold, wind, dryness and humidity; wrong diet; spoiled food;
worms and microbes; poisoning and pollution; trauma and accidents.
Internal conditions can arise from excess or deficient emotions of
anger, joy, sympathy, grief or fear [and] inappropriate mental attitudes
and beliefs. There are also maladies of the spirit that [sic] can cause
serious problems. These factors can cause one's chi (qi) to become
excessive, deficient, stuck, blocked, congested or stagnant, and thereby
cause all manner of problems. -MacRitchie, 1993:64
The goal of Qigong is to encourage the
circulation of qi throughout the body. This helps the body resist or
overcome imbalances or blockages, and the resulting disharmonies. It
shares similar objectives with some other disciplines such as
acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. As illustrated by Dong and
Chinese herbology, acupuncture, and chi gong are three parts of a
single entity, as closely related as water, steam, and ice. They can be
and often are used separately, and may be used together. With dietetics
and massage they are considered to be the indispensable components of
traditional Chinese health care…. While acupuncture and herbal medicine
typically focus on curing sickness, chi gong usually focuses on
maintaining good health (as do massage and balanced – for yin and yang –
-Dong and Esser 1994:66
A primary aim of Qigong is to maintain or restore balance and harmony of
mind and body, while becoming aware of the human body's place within
nature's oneness. As a Qigong practitioner becomes more conscious of the
state of his or her body, he or she gains a greater resistance to the
imbalances and blockages affecting qi. This sensitivity aids in the
balance of the yin and yang, the two opposing forces of Universal Order.
In the seventeenth century, Descartes’ postulate, (which most Westerners
still accept today) stated that the mind and body are separate entities.
The Qigong student will contend that such a notion is a fallacy. It is
in this context that we are able to understand the philosophy of Qigong,
where qi is the force that integrates the relationship between body
(matter, structure) and mind (process, function). Scholars of this art
gain more than improved health. They learn another way of viewing and
experiencing the dynamic unity of life, an attitude far removed from the
feelings of disenchantment and alienation common in Western
civilization. Students of qigong learn to achieve their potential as
highly successful members of our species.
How Does One Practice Qigong?
One need not become a Qigong master to experience many of its healing
effects. For health purposes, one needs to learn only a few exercises.
One must achieve a state of tranquillity, find release from tension,
take on a positive attitude, and develop strong will power. Benefits can
be further achieved in one of three ways. First, one can go to a master
for treatment by that master's external qi. Although some masters exist
in some Western metropolitan areas such as Chicago, New York, Los
Angeles, San Francisco, or Vancouver, the most experienced masters
reside in China. Second, one can seek education from a master and
practice exercise and meditation. Third, in a supervised group, one can
learn to treat oneself. The latter is the most realistic option for most
In order to fully benefit from Qigong training, one must apply time,
patience, commitment, determination and persistence. This art involves
more than simple physical training. It requires retraining one's
breathing and thought processes. Learning the basics can take from three
months to a year (Dong & Esser 1990:52). As with any other human
endeavour, some people will prove more adept at the art than others, and
so will progress more quickly. However, anyone with enough motivation
can learn adequate skills to make a positive impact upon one's quality
of life. While there are no shortcuts, there are also no limits to how
far one may progress.
Although Qigong has numerous invaluable benefits, there are a few
pointers for the novice that will make every experience a positive one.
Because Qigong thins the blood and increases circulation, pregnant and
menstruating women, persons with internal bleeding, persons suffering
from acute infectious diseases, and those recovering from oral surgery
or trauma should avoid the practice until the condition disappears.
Avoid exercising if you are prone to dizziness. Qigong is not for
severely disturbed mental patients. Because of the elevation of energy
levels, people may find the temptation to slight one’s nutritional needs
while utilizing this program. Fasting (bigu) does have a place in the
discipline; however, a genuine fast should only be performed under the
strict supervision of a Chinese medical doctor well versed in Qigong.
People with anorexia should exercise caution. Do not eat or drink,
especially alcohol, within an hour and a half before a session. Avoid
sexual intercourse for at least one hour before and after a session as
well. When exercising, face either North or South, in line with the
earth's magnetic field. Exercise at the same time of day and the same
days through the week.
For neophytes, it is exhilarating to take in energy from the universe.
People often prematurely try to emit external qi like a Qigong master
through the eyes, fingertips or palms. Doing this can dangerously
deplete one’s own
Vitality. One should not attempt to do so until after
many years of practice, and only then under close supervision of a
Qigong master or Chinese medical doctor.
studied advanced Western medicine at Japan's Osaka University. She was
formerly Chief Doctor at China's famous Harbin Medical University
Hospital. She follows the approach of Dr. Yan Xin, perhaps China's most
eminent contemporary Qigong master (Dong & Esser 1994: 123-4; McGee
w/Chow 1994: 190-6; Wozniak, Wu and Wang 1991). Her clinic and herbal
pharmacy, the Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Centre, are located at
883 Somerset Street West, Ottawa, and Ontario, Canada. (613) 233-1098 or
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Health. (New York: Paragon House.1990).
Eisenberg, David with Thomas Lee Wright. Encounters with Qi:
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McGee, Charles T. with Effie Poy Yew Chow. Miracle Healing from
China: Qigong. (Coeur d'Alene, ID: MediPress: 1994), 17-19.
Wozniak, Jo Ann, et. al.. Yan Xin, Qigong, and the Contemporary
Sciences, Preliminary Edition. (Champlain IL: International Yan Xin
Qigong Association. 1991)
Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine. 2nd ed. Berkeley:
(University of California Press). 1972.