Yuqiu Guo, Dr. Ac.
Qigong is Chinese medical meditation, and Dr. Yan Xin is
the leader of its most popular form. Of the estimated
160,000,000 people worldwide now doing qigong, perhaps a third
are following Dr. Yan's basic nine-step method. Yan Xin qigong
is one of the least physically active and most mentally active
of the some 150 approaches that exist. For a basic primer on
qigong, see my article in Tone Magazine (July/August 1995).
As qigong diffuses from China to the West, we are
witnessing a now familiar turn of events. In the 1970s the
Chinese began to 'export' acupuncture to North America in a
big way. At first, Western scientists claimed that acupuncture
did not work, that stories of people undergoing surgery with
only acupuncture anaesthesia were impossible and false. Before
long they began to admit that acupuncture did work, but they
labelled it a 'placebo effect.' Gradually, some came to
understand that, instead, acupuncture does have scientifically
observable effects. For example, it enhances production of
naturally occurring morphine-like substances called endorphins
and enkephalins that moderate pain. Now qigong is invading the
West in a big way, and the cycle is repeating itself.
Looked at from a purely Western perspective, qigong is a
form of positive thinking. It combines meditation, breath
control and gymnastics (Porkert w/Ullmann 1982: 106). There
are breathing exercises, muscular exercises involving both
tension and relaxation, and meditation. Qigong induces a
whole-body relaxation response (see Benson w/Proctor 1984:
100-01). One clinical research fellow at the Harvard Medical
School has written: "A one-hour session of Qi Gong combines
aerobic, isometric, and isotonic exercise with the relaxation
response, meditation, guided imagery, and probably several
unrecognized behavioral techniques. It evokes simultaneously
almost every behavioral intervention known to Western
medicine" (Eisenberg w/Wright 1985: 227-8).
The Qigong Tradition
The practice dates back beyond the earliest recorded
history. We still have pictorial writing on artifacts
referring to qigong from seven thousand years ago (Wozniak, Wu
& Wang 1991: ii). There is archaeological evidence suggesting
that qigong may date back as far as a million years. Qigong
predates the martial arts, and all of what we now know as
religion as well. It blossomed fully during the period of the
Warring states. The very early Yellow Emperor's Classic of
Internal Medicine (1972) treats it at length. Chinese Taoists
were early advocates of qigong, but Indian Buddhists have
influenced its later practice.
Secular qigong is firmly in the Chinese tradition.
Probably all of China's most important ancient scholars,
philosophers and religious leaders practiced qigong, including
Confucius, Lao Ze and Mencius (Eisenberg w/Wright 1985:
208-11). Despite claims in Tone Magazine (Leung 1995: 6), the
qigong approach now sweeping the West, Yan Xin qigong, is not
primarily a "Buddhist path." One may of course pursue qigong
as a Buddhist path, as the Ottawa [Canada] Qigong Association
is doing with excellent results. The International Yan Xin
Qigong Association, however, is intentionally secular, as are
most of its local chapters. Dr. Yan Xin often tells audiences
that practicing qigong should be a regular part of everyday
secular life, "just like brushing your teeth."
In addition to being a health-promoting practice, qigong
is an ancient philosophical system. According to Dr. Yan, its
basic purpose is to promote the harmonious integration of
human beings with the universe (Wozniak, Wu & Wang 1991: i).
The medical premise is that people's lives and bodies can come
to be at odds with the cosmic forces that surround us, and of
which we are apart. In doing qigong, we therefore align
ourselves with the earth's magnetic field (and we should sleep
in beds so aligned as well).
Qigong helps restore the harmony of ourselves, of our
beings, in nature and with nature. This cures an enormous
range of the illnesses and diseases that plague our species.
One student finds his arthritis suddenly disappear, another
notices that her visual acuity has improved, a third finds a
chronic pain has vanished. A fourth is surprised to find himself
driving more curteously (UAQA). all sense what it means to be
happier, more alive, more at home on the planet. We all have
latent potential abilities that qigong can help us realize.
Qigong is a consciousness-raising activity par excellence.
Doing Yan Xin Qigong
A person practicing Yan Xin qigong may appear to be
sitting quietly and perhaps thinking of nothing. This is both
true and untrue. The person is listening but not really
listening, thinking but not thinking in the normal sense,
imagining but not imagining, aware of the surroundings but not
too aware. Such is the qigong meditative state. Smiling and
good wishes are important qigong techniques. Although sitting
quietly, a beginner is trying to breathe deeply, slowly and
regularly -- and counting each breath. At first it takes a lot
of effort to exert harmonious control over the diaphragm,
chest walls, throat, tongue and nasal passages. The beginner
is also pushing virtually to the breaking point the human
capacity to imagine.
At first the imagination is not up to this task. One must
simultaneously imagine a flow of energy, information, light,
colors, sounds and even fragrances entering the body through
the top of the head. This infusion of qi, one imagines, all
rushes out and down from the forehead. It passes through the
nose down to one's open palms opposite the navel. It then
passes in to the seat of qi, a point deep within the pelvis
some two inches below the navel. Students gradually learn to
focus upon this vital center or 'dan tian' point, and to sense
the qi as localized warmth or heat. It takes much longer,
months or years in fact, to learn to activate the channels and
move qi around the body through will power alone.
In step one, the novice qigong meditator has a lot to
imagine. Try to visualize a fire or bright light in the dan
tian area, above which is water, on top of which is a
blossoming red lotus flower. The flower opens and closes with
one's breathing. As one inhales, the pores of the skin also
open to take in energy/information from the universe. This all
travels to the flower. Gradually the internal light
intensifies and lights up the internal organs, especially the
heart. The heart contracts as one inhales and relaxes as one
exhales. The meditator eventually changes hand positions to
hold a large imaginary fruit that glows and spins and changes
size as one breathes.
How Qigong Works
A basic purpose of these activities is to impose a disciplined
and rhythmic pattern on one's body. We impose willed control
over breathing, normally an involuntary function of the
parasympathetic nervous system. Doing so helps bring the body
into phase with the larger rhythms of daily life, the cycles
of the days and the seasons. Most diseases are irregularities
and dysfunctions. Put the body into phase and flow with the
universe, and the qi will flow more freely. Freely flowing qi
can eliminate irregularities and dysfunctions. Qigong permits
a person to gain some control over autonomic functions. The
exercises produce 'autonomic learning' that modulates and
rectifies the flow of the life force (Porkert w/Ullmann 1982:
106- 7). This form of biofeedback does not require machines.
We have lost the ancient way of living in quiescence and
tranquillity. Qigong helps to bring this back. Beyond the
basic imagination exercises, when we have a fever we think of
the sea, bamboo leaves, or the cool forest floor. If we are
restless we think of the blue sky, cool and serene moonlight,
etc. (Yan 1994b: 6) Being in phase with the cosmic environment
greatly strengthens the body, and it strongly helps to produce
an optimistic and happy attitude toward life. Central to the
philosophy of qigong is the understanding that we must
cultivate moral and physical strength together to prolong
life, develop human potential and help others. A cardinal rule
of Yan Xin qigong is to treat others with compassion. When one
family member practices qigong, the others benefit.
The regulation of thoughts, breathing and posture all
help to reduce the mind/body's neural activity. Qigong
practice strengthens the body's electrical and biochemical
signals, and the structure and sensitivity of the receptor
cells. This quieting of the body permits physiological and
biochemical functions to regain their healthy flows. This
cures specific ailments, but it also strengthens one's overall
biological field or bioenergy, drastically cuts down the
number of free radicals and minimizes their damage at the
cellular level. That prolongs life.
Qigong meditation works best by far in the company of a
group. While one must regularly practice alone at home, this
is not enough. When people come together to practice qigong,
they put their biological fields in proximity. These fields
begin to resonate with one another, and so to multiply the
benefits of practice for each person. For this to happen
requires two things. First, ill people must truly want to get
rid of their diseases. Second, they must cultivate the
positive, open and optimistic attitude necessary for
resonating in harmony with the field.
Sceptical Westerners sometimes mistake this openness to
change for a 'placebo effect.' In a placebo-effect situation,
the subject is fooled into thinking a therapeutic treatment is
happening when it is not. The open optimism necessary for
success in qigong is much different. In the case of the
placebo effect, belief produces a consequence, a
self-fulfilling prophecy or at least the mistaken perception
of improvement. When people doing qigong agree to resonate in
harmony, this is a prerequisite to success. Good, real and
lasting effects follow. Dr. Yan Xin calls this necessary
precondition for success "synchronous resonance" (Wozniak, Wu
& Wang 1991: 81).
It does help to play a trick with one's mind when doing
qigong to treat some specific problem. So long as one's mind
is focused on a specific problem of ill health it is not
possible to enter fully into the deep qigong state in which
lasting healing can occur. One must therefore learn to forget
about the problem and look only for general benefits. If the
cosmic forces of the universe are to do their healing task, we
must be fully open to receive them.
Advancing More Deeply into the Process
As one advances more deeply into qigong practice, and
into the qigong state, significant physiological changes
occur. Consumption of oxygen decreases. The lung's capacity to
absorb oxygen greatly increases. So does the lung tissue's
oxygen storage capacity. The white blood cell count goes up
dramatically. Dr. Yan Xin writes that doing qigong "improves
micro-circulation of the cerebrum and this cannot be obtained
through any other kind of practice. The brain's deeply layered
cerebral cells are enriched with sufficient blood by doing
qigong" (Wozniak, Wu & Wang 1991: 43). This oxygen enrichment
of the brain is an important key to many qigong effects.
After practicing for several months, one who does qigong
faithfully will begin to experience spontaneous physical
movements. As the Chinese doctors like to say, "life has to
move." Paradoxically, only when the mind becomes calm and
serene does one's bioenergy becomes strong enough to produce
spontaneous movements. The first appearance of spontaneous
movements represents significant progress along the qigong
learning curve. One cannot seek them out. They must come along
spontaneously, in their own good time.
Advancement in qigong follows a natural course. One
should strive to stay relaxed, calm and in good spirits. It is
especially important to be and remain on good terms with
family members. Some bad feelings, pains or excessive
spontaneous movements are likely to occur. These may represent
mental discord, pessimism or a lack of family support.
Everyone will at times feel uncomfortable, upset, angry or
depressed. Everyone will experience sorrow, unfair treatment
or a guilty conscience. When these happen, try to overcome
them with good works, internal resolve and a positive attitude
(Wozniak, Wu & Wang 1991: 86).
Strong spontaneous movements may at first feel
frightening, but those who have strong movements without
internal discord have a great advantage. They will be able to
achieve a stronger state of qi after guidance and instruction.
Dr. Yan says: "... after one reaches a certain level in
qigong, one depends heavily on virtue and good deeds to get
more Qi and energy" (ibid.:79).
After a lot of practice, one will begin to sense the
activation of a small qi channel. This channel runs from the
top of the head down the front of one's chest, between the
legs, up the spine back to the top of the head. Activating
one's qi will make a person feel "sore, numb, hurt, cold,
cool, warm, hot, floating, sinking, big, small, dizzy, etc.
(Wozniak, Wu & Wang 1991: 39). This is another major advance
along the qigong learning curve. With sufficient practice, one
may eventually become able to move one's qi at will anywhere
inside the body. A person's own willpower can then effect
miraculous cures. Once the flow of qi can reach the site of
disease or illness, the cure can be astonishingly rapid.
Western science leaves off its study of life's energy at
the inanimate level of chemicals. But life has another entire
level of organization above that of the cells, tissues and
organs. What is it that controls cell replacement, tissue
regeneration and metabolic energy? The Chinese call it qi. We
can train this vital life force itself to keep regenerating
our good health for many, many years (Dong & Esser 1990:18).
Every great ethical system upholds virtue for highly practical
reasons. What goes around comes around.
Wrongdoing against others may result in some immediate
gain, but our minds will indelibly record our guilt, while our
bodies will record such behavior by becoming twisted. If we
harm others, this act will block the free flow of qi within
our own bodies. It is very dangerous to continue immoral
activities once one has begun to practice qigong. Dr. Yan says
that crimes, sins and simple wrongdoing record themselves as
signals in the body. These signals interfere with qigong
progress (Yan 1994a: 8). Yan Xin writes: "Within the higher
realm of qigong there is a rule: do not try to harm others or
you will harm yourself. Virtue is very important. Without it,
one's qi will decrease or be totally lost" (Wozniak, Wu & Wang
If one wants to advance one's qigong practice, it will
become necessary to admit the wrongs we have done against
others and to take action to correct these wrongs. Ultimately,
good health requires peace of mind. Let me repeat that Yan Xin
qigong does not require any particular religious commitment.
Whatever religion you practice or do not practice, qigong can
work to improve the length, well being and quality of your
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Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine. 1972. 2nd ed.
Berkeley: University of California Press.
Yuqiu Guo, a Chinese medical
doctor and herbal pharmacist, practices acupuncture and medical massage. Her
Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Centre is at 883 Somerset St. West, Ottawa,
Ontario, Canada (613) 233-1098 or 723-2098.