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A Discourse on Qigong and Medicine

Since ancient times, Qigong has been used by the Chinese people as an exercise to preserve health and prevent diseases. It also has a long history of being used as a therapeutical treatment, but Qigong still appears "mysterious" to us. As a traditional Chinese medical doctor, the author has dealt with Qi for more than a decade and has finally distilled a few clear points from his understanding of the vague theory found in the vast resources of the Qigong classics and medical references, as well as from the practice of Qigong exercises and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) treatments. The author feels strongly that now is the time to bring Qigong theory and Qigong research into the arena of modern rational knowledge. His purpose is to correct the distorted ideas which surround the understanding of Qigong and to disconnect them from superstition and mystery (even though we have not yet fully understood them).

What is Qi or Qigong?

Before lifting the mysterious veil of Qi, let us talk about our brain. Human beings have an extremely clever brain equipped with a highly developed nervous system which governs almost all of our sense organs--sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. The brain has a sensitive consciousness and thinking ability which controls our actions and behaviors.

Thanks to the clever brain, man has created today's highly developed civilization--highly precise instruments, highly sensitive telecommunications, extremely marvelous computer systems, etc. All of these high-tech developments do bring practical benefits to our daily life, but they cannot solve all the problems for us. Despite all of our advanced medical techniques, death still occurs daily. Diseases are far from under control, and we are continuously facing the challenges of new diseases.

We try to generalize everything by means of abstraction and conceptualization through our logical thinking. However, epistemology between the binary aspects of the subjective world and the objective world do not always match well. It just works like a big net, catching a lot of prey while letting some seemingly insignificant aspects escape.

Let us now turn our sight to the internal body. In spite of the fact that the highly developed nervous system reaches almost every corner of our body, there remain places where little control exists. For instance, sometimes we have difficulty controlling our emotions. When we are overly stimulated with excitement, it is not easy to regain our composure. We feel our heart racing, but there is no way to slow it down. When bacteria invade our body, some systems may react against and reject the invasion, but the brain seems unaware. These facts reveal the brain to be only a part of our body. There are still some bodily functions which we are not conscious of. That is to say, there is some sort of mysterious thing which acts as a regulator between the brain and the other parts of the body which makes man a more complete being.

What is this regulator?

This is the vital energy, Qi, that we are talking about. Qi exists in every living body. Qi distinguishes the difference between life and death. To live is to have Qi throughout your body. To die is to be a body without Qi. But why are we not conscious of the Qi? Because its role is that of automatic regulation. When we are gradually aware of it, we may begin to feel and then grasp it. The Qi may display some exceptional functions. Practice shows that one may reach this goal through special training, called Qigong.

Let us look and see what Qi actually is. Qi symbolizes man's will and represents his vital energy. It is consciousness energy--a complex combination of both man's will and his vital energy.

Regulating internal Qi may bring real benefit to the whole body--develop wisdom, optimize intelligence and spirit, preserve health, repel diseases, and increase life span.

Emitting external Qi to a patient for therapeutical treatment may also give the patient binary benefit by way of the objective sensation of therapeutical energy and the subjective change of consciousness. As for the objective sensation of therapeutical energy, one may feel the light, heat, cold, or numbness at the body part which receives the treatment.

Does consciousness really have "a power beyond ordinary level?"

When you do a job that you like very much, you successfully concentrate your attention on the job and do not feel fatigued. Rather, you feel full of limitless energy. When you do a job that you do not like, you will feel tired much sooner. This phenomenon reveals that energy and consciousness are closely related. Through Qigong practice, the training of consciousness through exercises, the latent energy within the body is stimulated. This exercise method is called "self-cultivation", or "dynamic Qigong". As for the subjective change in consciousness on the other hand, this consciousness carrying energy surmounts any common subjective consciousness. The subjective change in consciousness is not logical thinking, nor is it a force of judgment. Rather, it may open your gate of wisdom through sound, language, or symbols. It may correct emotional imbalances and shift surrender to a disease to an active combat against the disease.

The fact that consciousness can indeed be turned into positive energy has been verified by psychologists. A woman in an emergency could lift a car that has fallen on her child, or a man may rescue a heavy lady from a blazing fire. This also suggests that man may obtain enormous energy through exercises of consciousness in terms of images. The method of exercises in terms of consciousness is called "mind-cultivation" ,or "Static Qigong". Therefore, when we talk about the effects of Qigong, both substantial sensation and change in consciousness should not be neglected. We must deal with both the material characteristics and the emotional thinking in our medical applications and research in Qigong therapy. That is to say, let the former meet natural sciences, and the latter meet psychology.

Qigong Therapy and its Characteristics

Through the analysis of the features of Qi, we have already explained that everybody may excite his or her latent energy through Qigong training over time. This latent energy of consciousness, as we called Qi, not only benefits one with wisdom and intellectual improvement, it also preserves health and prevents disease. At the same time, when Qi is emitted for medical treatment, it may also benefit the patient through effective diagnosis, thus enhancing medical efficacy. This Qigong treatment was called "daoyin inducement" in ancient times. Compared with other medical treatments, it has some special features.

The organic conception of the human body as a whole

It should be clear to a Qigong practitioner that a disease is caused by an imbalance in the body's internal and external environments. Even though there is a difference in internal (or subjective) and external (or natural) pathogenic factors, all of these factors are closely interrelated and interact upon each other, while none of them exists in isolation. That is to say, the meaning of diseases is not simply limited to a subjective or an objective aspect. It is a reaction as a whole in the human body.

Diagnosis with Qigong is not only to ascertain the status of a pathological change, but also to focus attention on the internal substantial change inherent in the disease process and its relationship with the human body as a whole. As for the therapeutical treatment with Qigong, what the Qigong practitioner emits is a flow of energy with consciousness. That is, it is not merely energy, but carries a psychological component. He or she may choose a treatment by way of intellect or power, with the final goal being to regulate the body as a whole, both physiologically and psychologically.

Understanding this point of view, one may make full use of the power of Qigong and healthily develop one's Qigong therapy. Being contrary to this principle, merely emphasizing the form, or one-sidedly emphasizing the effects of consciousness in order to boast of the mysterious efficacy and the miracles of Qigong therapy, one may only lead Qigong astray.

Applying therapeutic treatment according to the patients condition

Due to the distorted understanding of Qigong in this society, quite a few people go astray during the process of learning and practicing Qigong. Some have lost emotional stability through intense fear due to blind superstition; others suffer from harmful reactions such as palpitations, stuffy chests, abdominal distension, chest pains, cold limbs, headaches, insomnia, etc. I think it is of primary importance in our work to correct the situation we are faced with in the Qigong therapeutic practice. We must strengthen the public's education on Qigong to correct the patient's emotional attitude toward Qigong practice through language, written expression, and mass media. This is a major goal of this paper.

Looking back to our clinical Qigong practice, it should not be neglected that, due to the prejudice against the essence of Qigong treatment, patients who come to ask for help through Qigong therapy sometimes take a skeptical or curious attitude. As Qigong practitioners, we must carefully identify their attitude and give each of them psychological guidance at the right moment so as to dispel their misgivings and make them totally relax in a natural way to bring their subjective mental activity into play. Meanwhile, we also have to pay close attention to pathological changes, noting the patient's constitutional weaknesses, as well as the possibility of utilizing Qigong emission in order to avoid accidents.

Learning and practice in the same course

The final goal of the Qigong practice is the self-understanding of life. It is a long-term process of self-cultivation and continuous exploration. From this point of view, Qi, the vital energy that we obtained through self-cultivation, is merely a portion of the latent energy of life. When you use Qigong to help another, you cannot reach the acme of perfection due to the attitude of the other, as well as the changing factors of the disease itself.

It is well known that every patient's expectation for treatment is different. The physician's job is not simply technical, but the work of an artist. Therefore, we should not take Qigong therapy as merely a therapeutical method in order to seek fame and gain through blindly lavish praise. From the physician's professional point of view, contemporary medical science and the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine are all very practical knowledge. One must make full use of these well-developed medical achievements to serve our medical practice. What we should do is combine the consciousness and energy of Qigong with the medical cause we are pursuing. Let us learn and practice Qigong in the same course so as to achieve mastery through a comprehensive study of the subject and utilize the knowledge to better serve our medical practice.

Life lies in one's self. Regardless of whether one practices or cultivates Qigong, one should do one's best to explore life individually, using the brain with the vital energy (which has an integrated dynamic consciousness obtained through self-cultivation) to guide our Qigong exercises, teaching, and medical practice. Only when we cultivate ourselves in both body and mind can we achieve the satisfactory merits and virtues ascribed to Qigong.

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Written for "Qigong in China" by Zhang Xiaowen in Hangzhou, PRC.
Edited by Karen S. Kramer, translated by Feipeng Zhang.

©Qi Journal.


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