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Qigong
A woman performs a Qigong routine outdoors
Traditional Chinese氣功
Simplified Chinese气功
Hanyu Pinyinqìgōng
Literal meaningQi cultivation

Qigong (or ch'i kung) is an internal Chinese meditative practice which uses slow graceful movements (and sometimes breathing techniques) to promote the circulation of qi within the human body, and enhance a practitioner's overall health. Although qigong is often confused with martial arts or tai chi, qigong is usually much slower and focuses on the "qi" aspect to a much greater degree. With more than 10,000 styles of qigong and 200 million people practicing there are a variety of methods. There are three main reasons why people do qigong: 1) To gain strength, improve health or reverse a disease 2) To gain skill working with qi so as to become a healer 3) To become more connected with the "Tao, God, True Source, Great Spirit" for a more meaningful connection with nature and the universe.

The Chinese character for qi in qigong means air in Chinese. Jeff Primack suggests it is possible ancient masters (Yellow Emperor, Lao Tzu etc.) saw the direct link between breathing techniques and the "electrical force" that moved through their nervous system. Gong means discipline or skill, so qigong is therefore breath or energy skill. The term was not widely known until the 1980's during a period some call the "Qigong Wave" where groups of 10,000-40,000 people regularly gathered inside Chinese stadiums to practice qigong together. Many in the Chinese government became concerned that qigong could turn into a political weapon and in 1999 banned all large qigong gatherings. Many practitioners wanted to see qigong studied scientifically and not be affiliated with a political agenda or any superstition, but these efforts have largely failed in China as they still do not allow classes to be offered publicly to the citizens. Currently there is a movement underway in the United States, Europe and other western cultures to preserve the valuable aspects of these traditional Chinese practices.

Attitudes toward the scientific basis for qigong vary markedly. Most Western medical practitioners and many practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, as well as the Chinese government, view qigong as a set of breathing and movement exercises, with possible benefits to health through stress reduction and exercise. Other practitioners view qigong in more metaphysical terms, claiming that qi can be felt as a vibration or electrical current and physically circulated through channels called meridians. Many testify a reduction or elimination of pain through the use of qigong.

History

Although the roots of qigong can be traced back millennia, Montréal scholar David Ownby understands qigong as a development of post-Mao China, contending that with the end of the Cultural Revolution came an implicit admission in China that Marxist ideology was useless, and that the 'totalitarian state' wherein the party leader was 'god' was all but defunct. A spiritual crisis thus ensued. Because the 'big religions' were desecrated and banned during the Cultural Revolution, to many Chinese they no longer held the attraction they once did.[1] Qigong is said to have evolved within this historical context, as a “spiritual, slightly mystical branch of Chinese medicine.” Ownby gives a similar account of the history of qigong in China. Qigong was promoted in post-Mao China for both practical and ideological reasons, and in this period it took on "unprecedented importance."[2] On a practical level, it was hoped that qigong would improve the general health of the populace and thus curtail government healthcare expenditure. Ideologically, Ownby contends that many within the Communist government were 'quite taken' with the idea of qigong being a specifically 'Chinese science', a part of the PRC's "new nationalism, a frequently chauvinistic claim to cultural greatness and superpower status."[2] Qigong was not considered religious either by the authorities or by qigong practitioners, which immensely helped its growth. Eventually the state-administered China Qigong Scientific Research Association was formed, supposed to register qigong groups and conduct scientific research.[1] By the time the association was established, there were already 2000 qigong organizations and between 60 and 200 million practitioners across China.[2]

Qigong quickly became a social phenomenon of 'considerable importance'; the topic was also explored by novelists and journalists, and qigong newspapers and magazines appeared in abundance to cater for the public's interest in the subject. The original small-group, master-disciple pattern was transformed into a mass experience, with qigong 'masters' organising 'mass rallies' to demonstrate to paying customers a range of qigong specific phenomena such as trance, possession, and a variety of otherworldly states.[2] Qigong was practised widely in public parks and on university campuses. Demographics included both the 'old and suffering' as well as the 'young and curious'.[2] Ownby suggests that the profile of qigong practitioners during this period fit that of the Chinese population in general, “men and women, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, powerful and powerless, urban and rural, Party and non-Party.”[2]

Johnson writes that the early 1990s saw a 'qigong craze', with qigong being a widely accepted part of society.[1] Qigong was able to adapt itself to a scientific discourse, which allowed it to survive the suspicions of the atheist state. It was heralded as a form of physical therapy, to be supervised by doctors. Experiments were conducted which purported to show that qigong could cure chronic health problems. Claims that qigong could have some role in developing latent 'supernatural powers' also emerged, such as the ability to levitate, heal illness, telekinesis through emissions of qi, the ability to 'read via the ear', and a “host of other remarkable talents, many of which would fall under our category of extrasensory perception.”[2]

Johnson opines that the Party was to some degree still distrustful of qigong. Qigong remained a private exercise, as opposed to formal religions which center on temples, churches and mosques. These can be run by government officials and are ensured to remain loyal to the state. Johnson's analysis here coincides with that of Chan. While qigong is focused inwardly, outside the state's control, it is performed publicly in groups: “To a government that is used to controlling all aspects of public life, this is perplexing: qigong practitioners are in public and doing something en masse, so by rights they should be formed in an organisation and this organisation should in some way be run by the government. But what they are doing together is meditating, an inner discipline that the party can't monitor.”[1] Ownby suspects that qigong's ostensible autonomy from the state is in fact partly what contributed to its great popularity.[2] Johnson writes that the 1990s saw an 'uneasy standoff'; the 'Three Nos' policy was adopted: No Promoting, No Criticizing, No Debating.

Ownby comments that the emergence of qigong coincided at a historic moment where technology and means of communication—such as books, tapes, television and Internet—were greatly advanced, allowing such groups to become aware of their size and geographical reach. Ownby suggests that this is a paradoxical situation of a deeply rooted Chinese tradition now adapting to a modern setting.

Uses

Today millions of people in China and around the world regularly practice qigong as a health maintenance exercise.[citation needed] Qigong and related disciplines are still associated with the martial arts and meditation routines practiced by Taoist and Buddhist monks, professional martial artists, and their students. Once more closely guarded, in the modern era such practices have become widely available to the general public both in China and around the world.

Medical qigong treatment has been officially recognized as a standard medical technique in Chinese hospitals since 1989.[citation needed] It has been included in the curriculum of major universities in China. After years of debate, the Chinese government decided to officially manage qigong through government regulation in 1996 and has also listed qigong as part of their National Health Plan.

Qigong can help practitioners to learn diaphragmatic breathing, which can be helpful in combatting stress.[citation needed] In contrast, Taoist qigong employs the inverse breath of inhaling to the back of the thoracic cavity rather than diaphragmatic breathing. Improper use of diaphragmatic breathing can lead to reproductive pathologies for women. ^ (Nan Huai-Chin, 南懷瑾(1918年——), Meditation and the cultivation of immortality, Gu lu press, Tawain 1991 p.59)

Yan Xin (嚴新), a doctor of both Western and Chinese medicine as well as founder of the relatively popular Yan Xin Qigong school, suggests that in order for qigong to be accepted by the modern world it must pass the test of scientific study. Without such studies, Yan maintains, qigong will be dismissed as "superstition" (see "Criticism of Qigong" chapter below). In the mid-1980s he and others began systematic study of qigong in some research institutions in China and the United States, more than 20 papers have been published.[3]

While uncertainty persists regarding the spiritual aspects of qigong, Qigong may also be seen as a socially conducive warm-up to the day. Many practitioners choose the early morning to practice qigong and find it an easy way to stretch and warm up the metabolism.

Beliefs

Qigong practitioners in Brazil

Qigong, and its intimate relation to the Chinese martial arts and traditional Chinese medicine, are often associated with spirituality. This link is much stronger than with other techniques in traditional Chinese medicine. Qigong was historically practiced in Taoist and Buddhist monasteries as an aid to concentration as well as martial arts training, and the health benefits of martial qigong practice have recently been confirmed in western medical studies. In addition, the traditional teaching methods of most qigong schools (at least in Asia) descend from the strict teacher-disciple relationship conventions inherited in Chinese culture from Confucianism.

In some styles of qigong, it is taught that humanity and nature are inseparable, and any belief otherwise is held to be an artificial discrimination based on a limited, two-dimensional view of human life. According to this philosophy, access to higher energy states and the subsequent health benefits said to be provided by these higher states is possible through the principle of cultivating virtue (de or te 德, see Tao Te Ching, chapters 16, 19, 28, 32, 37, and 57). Cultivating virtue could be described as a process by which one comes to realize that one was never separated from the primal, undifferentiated state of being free of artificial discrimination that is the true nature of the universe. Progress toward this goal can be made with the aid of deep relaxation (meditation), and deep relaxation is facilitated by the practice of qigong.

The debate between what can be called "naturalist" and "supernaturalist" schools of qigong theory has produced a considerable literature.[citation needed] Scholar Xu Jian analysed the intellectual debate, which involved both scientific research on qigong and the prevailing revival of nationalistic traditional beliefs and values.

Taking 'discourse' in its contemporary sense as referring to forms of representation that generate specific cultural and historical fields of meaning, we can describe one such discourse as rational and scientific and the other as psychosomatic and metaphysical. Each strives to establish its own order of power and knowledge, its own 'truth' about the 'reality' of qigong, although they differ drastically in their explanation of many of its phenomena.[4]

At the center of the debate is whether and how qigong can bring forth “supernormal abilities” (teyi gongneng 特異功能).

The psychosomatic discourse emphasizes the inexplicable power of qigong and relishes its occult workings, whereas the rational discourse strives to demystify many of its phenomena and to situate it strictly in the knowledge of modern science."[4]

The Chinese government has generally tried to encourage qigong as a science and discourage religious or supernatural elements. Chinese and Western science are not fully equivalent; for example, traditional Chinese medicine is only considered scientific by the former.[citation needed]

David Aikman wrote that unlike in America, where many may believe that qigong is a socially neutral, subjective, New Age-style concept incapable of scientific proof, much of China's scientific establishment believes in the existence of Qi.[5] Controlled experiments[citation needed] by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the late 1970s and early 1980s concluded that qi, when emitted by a qigong expert, "actually constitutes measurable infrared electromagnetic waves and causes chemical changes in static water through mental concentration". Other emission studies have reported measurable influence on the ultraviolet absorption of nucleic acids, liposome phase behaviour and radioactive decay rates.[6]

The Hindu culture refers to qi as Prana, the Japanese culture uses the character ki, and the Hawaiian culture calls it mana.

Theories about the cultivation of elixir (dan), "placement of the mysterious pass" (xuanguan shewei), among others, are also found in ancient Chinese texts such as The Book of Elixir (Dan Jing), the Daoist Canon (Tao Zang) and Guide to Nature and Longevity (Xingming Guizhi).

Many[who?] proponents of qigong claim they can directly detect and manipulate qi, Robert Bruce being a western example. Others, including some traditional Chinese practitioners,[who?] believe that qi can be viewed as a metaphor for certain biological processes, and the effectiveness of qigong can also be explained in terms of concepts more familiar to Western medicine such as stress management or neurology.

Criticisms

Much of the criticism of qigong involves its claimed method of operation. Both traditional Chinese and Western medicine practitioners have little argument with the notion that qigong can improve and in many cases maintain health by encouraging movement, increasing range of motion, and improving joint flexibility and resilience, and have mental benefits through the calm exercise. When it is asserted that qigong derives its benefits from qi acting as a kind of "biological plasma" that cannot be detected by current scientific instruments, some practitioners[who?] react skeptically and declare qi as a pseudoscientific and vitalism concept,[citation needed] though others consider it as a philosophy rather than a physical force.[citation needed]

Association of qigong with practices involving spirit possession have added to establishment criticism. Some experts in China[who?] have warned against practices involving the claimed evocation of demons, and practices involving the worship of gods during qigong practice.[citation needed]

Controversies

In the 1980s and 1990s, the increasing popularity of qigong and related practices led to the establishment of many groups and methods in China and elsewhere that have been viewed in a critical light by more traditional qigong practitioners as well as by skeptical outside observers. In their view, a large number of people started studying qigong under inadequate supervision, indeed, perhaps the majority of people today who study qigong work from books or video tapes and DVDs without supervision by a teacher. This laxness can lead to several problems, according to those who view themselves as representative of orthodox schools. Most traditional training takes many years of practice under the supervision of someone who has also learned over years, someone who can guide and prevent the student from taking an unbalanced approach to qigong practice. The orthodox practitioners warn that improperly supervised practice can cause unbalanced circulation of inner energies that can eventually lead to unbalanced effects on the various systems of the body, both mental and physical.

Stories of unguided practitioners or inexpertly guided students developing chronic mental and physical health problems as a result of such training are not uncommon.[7] The term "Qi Gong-Induced Psychosis" was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, of the American Psychiatric Association in the late 1990s,[8] and is described as a culturally bound disorder with painful psychosomatic symptoms.[9] Dr. Arthur Kleinman and Dr. Sing Lee from Harvard Medical School, researchers on various psychiatric topics in China, suggest that in international psychiatry this illness would be recognized as “…a specific type of brief reactive psychosis or as the precipitation of an underlying mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or posttraumatic stress disorder.”[10]

Lee and Kleinman both claim to have had experience with patients suffering from the condition.[citation needed] "Many kinds of qigong share certain similarities, such as the attainment of a trance state, patterned bodily posture or movement…, the practice of which could induce mental illnesses in some of its practitioners."

In 2009, a randomized clinical trial of medical qigong on quality of life of cancer patients concluded that medical qigong with usual health care can improve overall QOL, fatigue, positive mood status and reduce the side effects of nausea, sleep disturbance and inflammation of cancer patients[11]

In 2006, A randomised controlled cross-over trial of aerobic training versus Qigong in advanced Parkinson's disease resulted in conclusion that though aerobic training had certain effect, no significant changes were observed during Qigong[12]

The People's Republic of China

Some historians have suggested that in the early days of rule by the People's Republic of China there was a drive to promote the Traditional Chinese Medicine aspects of qigong to a quasi-religious status (and therefore deviate from standard communist government policy on religion).[13] In 1988 the Chinese government issued regulations on medical qigong, then in the mid 1990s began to review the many burgeoning styles of qigong in order to promote groups that were scientifically documented as effective and to prevent the spread of false medical claims. In 1996 and 2000, the Chinese government issued legislation on fitness qigong, including it in the national health and fitness plans and banning certain organizations. The PRC has most recently attempted to reposition the definition of qigong to a traditional Chinese sport involving "deep breathing exercises" rather than anything to do with qi as energy.[14] Xinhua News Agency articles have also attempted to explain the healing 'qi emissions' of qigong masters as a type of hypnotherapy or placebo effect.[14] However in cultural contexts, PRC sources do refer to qigong's roots in daoyin and qi circulation in ancient times as a method to regulate one's qi for the benefit of longevity.[15]

Health Qigong

In 2001 the Chinese government showed great interest in regulating the Qigong movement. The State Sport General Administration of China founded the Chinese Health Qigong Association, as a mass-organization to popularize, spread and research Health Qigong in cooperation with the Peking Sport University. In 2003 the organization presented the newly developed four Health Qigong Exercises on the base of excellent traditional Qigong, including

to fit the people's needs of promoting their health and body, and to develop traditional Chinese national culture further. The Chinese Health Qigong Association is a member of the All-China Sports Federation.

During the process of developing the exercises, strictly scientific research methods have been followed. Primary experiments took place under supervision of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Modern Medicine, Psychology, Athletic Science and other related subjects. The Four Health Qigong Exercises can be seen as the essences from the related Qigong in various schools, inherited and developed traditional Chinese national culture.

The new Health Qigong represented by the Chinese Health QiGong Association is breaking with the old tradition of family-styles and close teacher-student relation. It is hoped that the new standardisation is supporting the international spread of Qigong in the western hemisphere.

Starting in September 2004 the "Health Qigong Magazine" became the association magazine of the CHQA. It is the only national health qigong publication in China; edtited through China Sports Press.

After the successful 1st International Health Qigong Demonstration and Exchange in 2005 the CHQA organized in August 2007 the 2nd International Health Qigong Demonstration and Exchange in Peking including an international competition and the first Duan examination on Health Qigong. At the same time, the 2007 International Symposium on Health Qigong Science was organized where important scientific studies were made public.

In October 2008 the first European Health Qigong Congress has been organized in Munich, Germany and presented the new forms to a wider public as there was no international exchange organized in China for the Olympic Games in Beijing.

The 3rd International Health Qigong Tournament and Exchange will be held in Shanghai during August 2009. At this occasion there will be founded the International Health Qigong Federation which will shelter the worldwide organisation of Health Qigong.

Qigong Authors

Further reading

Footnotes

  1. ^ a b c d Johnson, Ian (2004), Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China, Pantheon Books, ISBN 9780375421860 Cite error: The named reference "wildgrass" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h p 233 Cite error: The named reference "Ownbyming" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  3. ^ (see
  4. ^ a b Xu Jian, "Body, Discourse and the Cultural Politics of Contemporary Chinese Qigong", The Journal of Asian Studies 58 (4 November 1999
  5. ^ David Aikman, American Spectator, March 2000, Vol. 33, Issue 2
  6. ^ Research papers by Dr. Yan Xin
  7. ^ Windoe, R. K., Martins, R. K. & McNeil, D. W. (2006). Anxiety disorders in ethnic minorities. In Y. Jackson (Ed.), Encyclopedia of multicultural psychology (pp. 45-51). Thousand Oaks: Sage.
  8. ^ DSM-IV General Information: Appendix I, Outline for Cultural Formulation and Glossary of Culture-Bound Syndromes)
  9. ^ Anthony Spaeth, Master Li's Brave New Age, TIME ASIA, May 10, 1999, Vol. 153 No. 18
  10. ^ Sing Lee, MB, BS, and Arthur Kleinman, MD, “Psychiatry in its Political and Professional Contexts: A Response to Robin Munro”, J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, 30:120–5, 2002, p 122
  11. ^ "RTC of MQ on quality of life, ... and inflammation of cancer patients.", American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) http://www.asco.org/ASCOv2/Meetings/Abstracts?&vmview=abst_detail_view&confID=65&abstractID=30347, retrieved 2009-08-05 ((citation)): Missing or empty |title= (help).
  12. ^ Burini D, Farabollini B, Iacucci S, Rimatori C, Riccardi G, Capecci M, Provinciali L, Ceravolo MG (2006), "A randomised controlled cross-over trial of aerobic training versus Qigong in advanced Parkinson's disease.", Europa medicophysica, 42 (3): 231–8((citation)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link).
  13. ^ Columbia University information
  14. ^ a b Xinhua News Agency article Cite error: The named reference "xinhua" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  15. ^ Daoyin -An Ancient Way of Preserving Life. http://en.olympic.cn/china_oly/ancient_sports/2003-11-16/11199.html

See also

References