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Stress Reduction Through Qigong Practice

The Health Benefits of Practicing Qigong

By Federico G. Anguiano SEP CQI –  Federico is a qigong and meditation instructor who studied qigong in China, New Zealand and California.

Federico G.-Anguiano trauma therapist image

The practice of Qigong has been amply and widely demonstrated to accrue many health benefits over time for the practitioner.  I use the term qigong here as referring to the following: Qigong is characterized and defined by its essential method: the practice of interiorizing consciousness.

Thus, the practice of qigong involves a special use of consciousness that involves focus, concentration and intention. Qigong is yishou yinian jizhong zhuanyi: focus the mind on one thing through the activation of conscious intention.

This method embraces the following two ideas:

1) Our daily activities are usually oriented toward external objects (things, activities, perceptions) that are not essential for our life process. A qigong practitioner interiorizes daily activities in order to merge and be united with their life process. An example of this is: focusing the mind on the body at all times.

2) We commonly focus our daily activities outward, moving from one thing to another; from the one to the many. A qigong practitioner centralizes their activities of consciousness a single object of focus, returning from multiplicity to oneness. An example of this is: becoming more and more specific in our thinking, making it active only volitionally, not allowing our associations to ‘ramble’ uncontrollably.

Now, how is this related to health?

 

“One of the prime benefits of Qigong is stress reduction. Up to 90% of the doctor visits in our country may be triggered by a stress-related illness.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
USA Today, March 2005

 

Federico with Ma Yin

Federico with Teacher Ma Yin at Crouching Tiger Monastery on Mount Emei, Sichuan Province

I started practicing Qigong more than six years ago, after becoming almost fatally ill. I was misdiagnosed many times, diagnoses ranging from terminal brain cancer (from lesions found in my brain) to ALS, Crohn’s disease (leaky gut), MS – Lyme (chronic fatigue, heat and light sensitivity etc.), and a host of other unpalatable and equally intractable conditions.

I believe that the greatest damage to my health once my symptoms manifested came from poor diagnoses and my stressful reactions to them.  The practice of Qigong, along with insightful interventions by heart-centered doctors has helped eliminate or greatly reduce most of my symptoms. When I started my practice and teacher training in China, I could barely see out of the right eye due to a condition called dyplopia. I wore an eye patch, like a pirate. I had almost no ability to balance when standing and walked as though I were drunk. I could not sleep at night, yet was fatigued and sleepless during the day. I had a frozen shoulder and could not feel the left side of my body most of the time. I was numb, heavy like a rock, depressed and suicidal. I was at random moments overcome by a host of horrible visualizations of death and other images of grizzly violence towards myself. I could not assimilate food and had to take Ivs for nutrition. My memory was gone (though that turned out to be a blessing).

Today, all of these symptoms are in the past. During the first 3 years I visited the ER many times, but took medications such as steroids only when I started to have seizures. I can plainly say that qigong and its effects on my life (in terms of attracting better and better circumstances) have healed me beyond what I thought would be possible. I am sincerely and joyfully grateful every day to my teachers, their teachers and the lineage of wisdom that has made this possible for myself and countless other thousands of people around the world (still mostly in China, however).

The practice of qigong has guided me to live radically differently. I take natural supplements and herbs when needed to clear qi reactions, or healing crises but avoid medications.  As I have become more sensitive to my own body, I’ve changed my diet quite naturally and avoid most processed foods. I feel like this new way of life has also regulated my organism to clear or begin to clear the core issues that resulted in my original illness, likely the result of chronic and developmental stress.

I have (joyfully) verified for myself that the practice of Qigong works (!!!), and that there are natural laws that guarantee its effectiveness. These laws have arcane and mystical descriptions in ancient traditional texts, but can only be truly discovered and experienced through consistent practice. I am confident however, that at least a few of them can be summarized in common sense terms:

Whatever I resist, persists.

In a sense, fighting my illness made “it” stronger and myself weaker. It took me years of struggle to learn this – and I still find myself discovering other patterns of resistance to life in the here and now. This relates directly to one of the other laws I discovered:

Where my mind goes, my energy and spirit follows.

We all have many patterned habits – through observation I continue to find out which ones are helpful and which ones are not. Most of our energy goes into useless or even destructive patterns of thought, feeling and action. These invariably result in physical tension, constriction and pain. Finding out what these patterns are as soon as possible could add years of enjoyment to our life. In terms of physiology, think of what your immune system could do with all of the energy you might devote daily to “gnawing your teeth” or “tensing your abdominal muscles”. That is real energy doing work which is not needed (though at some level it seems that it is needed for our survival).

I do everything I can for myself, then let go of expectations and leave the rest to life.

I had to learn to rely on others and to trust in the goodness of life. My teacher said it simply: Trust in Life. This may sound ludicrous (it did to me) especially in the middle of a health crisis. I find that this trust has been key to my on-going recovery.

There are many useful tips arising out of these few “laws” in themselves. One that summarizes them fairly well is the tradtional Chinese belief in the inner and outer smile.

The Smile

This very ancient tradition of the smile turns out to have positive physiological consequences. The muscles of the face are regulated by the same nerve that modulates emotions, the heart, viscera and our breath. The vagus nerve has been recently found to be key in human well-being. Chinese traditions discovered ages ago that smiling is not only pleasant, it helps the body feel safe and relaxed, triggering several healing mechanisms. So, smiling intently (yet sincerely) is also a qigong practice. It was (and sometimes still is) the most difficult practice for me because of all that it means.

Smiling is associated with happiness. In Chinese the pictograms for the word happy 开心 (kai xin) literally mean ‘open heart’. Remember the vagus nerve? It helps regulate the degree of vasoconstriction in the heart muscle itself. When we smile, the brain stem receives signals from the face and then sends a signal to the vagus nerve which in turn communicates with other structures to send the relaxation signal to the heart. Smiling sincerely can be difficult in the face of challenges such as chronic illness and its underlying traumatic causes. In my work as a trauma therapist I combine qigong with sensorimotor regulation as a way that allows us to feel safe again and smile as we re-discover our innate resiliency and the goodness of life.

The Science of Qigong

There are now thousands of scientifically vetted articles on the many positive effects of Qigong. Here I give a few examples of these benefits from some of the available published knowledge while focusing on the catalyst of action: Yishi 意识 or focused, conscious will. I also offer a simple explanation of the activation of will through the methods of Zhineng Qigong (also trademarked as Wisdom Healing, Chineng and Chilel Qigong)

The primary action in qigong practice is consciously initiated or consciously focused intention (Yishi) that uses the mind to guide Qi (life energy). Even though Qi itself has not been measured (bio field energies are different), multiple types of measurements demonstrate the effects of Qi on the body. For example, simultaneous measurements of the interaction between a Qigong practitioner emitting Qi (Fa Qi) and a subject receiving the Qi demonstrated physical changes through mental induction. These changes included respiration, EEG, vibrations, blood pressure, skin conductivity, and heart rate variability.

There are many physiological measurements effective in measuring the effects of Qigong on the brain and emotions. These include high-resolution EEG, functional MRI (fMRI), neurological measurements, and others. People are studying brain function, emotions and their disorders using many new neuroimaging methods. Researchers found differences in the effects on the brain during Qigong practice and Zen meditation.

‘According to Kawano and Wang, these differences in brain function suggest that Qigong is a semiconscious process that involves some awareness and activity, whereas Zen meditation is a neutral process that releases the meditator from all concerns. Perhaps because of this difference, Qigong is considered a healing art, whereas Zen is generally not.’

Sancier- Medical Applications of Qigong

The effects of emitted Qi (fa qi) extend to cell cultures, growth of plants, seed germination, and reduction of tumor size in animals. This was an outgrowth of the Qi Field (zichang) technique developed by Dr. Ming Pang, originator of Zhineng Qigong.

Erica Hamilton uses Qigong in her healing regimen for Crohn’s disease. You can read her blog by clicking on the picture.

Spiritual Healing

Spiritual healing, which involves the mind, has been the subject of two volumes by researchers, Spiritual Healing: Scientific Validation of A Healing Revolution (Healing Research) and Spiritual Healing: Professional Supplement (Healing Research). Subject discussions include scientific studies describing the beneficial effects of prayer and other practices based on mindful attention relating to subjects’ health.

Will or Yishi is simple in its definition and simple to access either instinctively or intuitively. Harnessing its power consciously, intentionally, and at will is the task for which Zhineng Qigong was ultimately developed. Dr. Ming Pang has said that Qigong is simply a ‘way’ or method to engage Yishi consciously for the benefit of oneself and others in discovering and harnessing the laws of nature and the universe.

In qigong, we emphasize the conscious somatic experience as a key point of entry into the influence of Yishi. In the exercise of sensation used by many schools, we use our attention (which in its finest state is called ‘Big Mind’) to direct the results of our mental function into the body. This initiates the process of integrating the three aspects of the brain,  and thus of the body.

The neocortex or new brain (the world of our ordinary associative mind with its loose connections to instinct and emotion) makes contact with the somatic sensation of the body residing in the brain stem (sometimes called the reptilian brain). The mid-brain or limbic system mediates this process, out of which feeling may arise. This feeling is not emotion (which arises instinctively from the brain stem) but an inexplicable holistic sensing of what is that results from the union of intellect, emotion and instinct.

We can see that the simple exercise of intending to sense a specific part of the body can bring our attention into the here-and-now; the realm in which the body itself actually lives. This sense of harmony with itself and the environment is the spring-board from which we proceed with our qigong practice. Sensing one’s body is Yishi in action – the action of self-knowing that is literally healing because it gathers all our functions to itself (makes whole).

Through the systematic and repeated application of their will (focused conscious intention), well-trained qigong practitioners have succeeded in coaxing the brain to direct electrical activity away from areas associated with the biochemistry of stress, tension and disturbing emotional or physical states. This results in an increased activity in the area associated with the biochemistry of healthful emotional and physical states (i.e., the left prefrontal cortex). They have also observed that the state of activated will on compassion engages a state of relaxation and well-being that surpasses even that achieved during a state of rest.

The work of Richard Davidson and Paul Ekman, researchers of the Mind and Life Institute may go a long way to illustrate the role of intention (Yishi) on the brain and body. In current studies at University of California at San Francisco Medical School and University of Wisconsin, they observed the electrical mechanisms in the brains of highly trained practitioners during various states of focused intention. Using fMRI, high-resolution EEG and state-of-the art monitoring, their results illustrate that practitioners are able to direct electrical activity and blood flow in the brain by focusing their conscious intention. This is the closest description of the reflexive quality of Yishi, where a conscious intention of the focused attention results in physiological changes.

The early results of this research suggest that parts of the brain we thought previously fixed in function, such as the stress reflexes of the reptilian brain, may in fact be plastic in nature, able to be changed, shaped and developed through the ongoing practice of Qigong with consciously focused intention – will from the heart.

 

REFERENCES

Buddhist and Psychological Perspectives on Emotions and Well Being by Paul Ekman, Richard J. Davidson, Mathieu Ricard, and B. Alan Wallace.

Benor DJ. Spiritual Healing: Scientific Validation of A Healing Revolution (Healing Research)
Visions Publications, Southfield, MI 48034, 2001.

Benor DJ. Spiritual Healing: Professional Supplement (Healing Research) Vision Publications, Southfield, MI 48034, 2002.

Davidson JD, Abercrombie H, Nitschke JB, Putnam K. Regional brain function, emotion anddisorders of emotion. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 1999; 9:228-34.

Faber, pascal L. et al, EEG source imaging during two Qigong meditations, Cogn ProcessDOI 19 April, 2012

Kawano Kimiko 1, Kushita Kouhei N 2. The Function of the Brain using EEGs during Induced
Meditation.
J Intl Soc Life Info Science 1996; 14(1):91-3.

Lama Dalai, Goleman Daniel. Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama
New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2003.

Reuther I, Aldridge D. Treatment of bronchial asthma with qigong Yangsheng–A pilot study. J
Altern Complement Med 1998; 4(2):173-83.

Sancier KM. The effect of qigong on therapeutic balancing measured by electroacupuncture
according to Voll (EAV): A preliminary study.
Acupunct Electrother Res 1994; 19(2/3):119-27.

Sancier KM. Anti-Aging Benefits of Qigong. J Intl Soc Life Info Science 1996a; 14(1):12-21.

Sancier KM . Medical applications of qigong. Altern Ther Health Med 1996b; 1(4).

 

Comments

  1. Federico G. Anguiano says:

    Yes, it works well. Of course the goal of this is to lead to the ultimate qigong practice, which is simply to use the mind in a creative way. The brain appears to be wired such that the sensorimotor pathways are connected to the areas where we visualize things (which is different from imagination.)

  2. Interesting to hear you can just imagine doing the movements of Qigong. There is a lot of evidence now that athletes can improve by watching videos of people performing the actions they want to improve on. Somehow the brain is able to use that as actual practice.

  3. Hello Stephanie,

    Thanks for reading the post and for your questions.

    As Susan mentioned in an earlier comment, there are adaptations and modifications that would allow one to practice while sitting. In the case of Zhineng Qigong (the system I teach and practice) one can even practice while laying down.
    When I began my practice I was not able to stand because I did not have the strength, clear sight or the equilibrium to do so. I had to begin practicing while sitting down. After 2 months of intense practice I was able to continue while standing (recovering my sense of balance even after brain damage was pretty miraculous to me).
    The system I practice was developed to treat any condition. At the original medicine-less hospital in China (closed down by the Chinese government in 2001) people with all sorts of conditions and health challenges went through a 28 day training program. There were many quadriplegics among them, who were simply instructed to try and visualize or imagine the movements. Many were able to begin to move at the end of the 28 days. Granted, the qifield (energy field) generated by 5000+ people with a clear focus was greatly responsible for the amazing stories of recovery there.
    I was not able to practice with that many people but I persevered in my daily practice with many different methods, most of which involve simple movements or mind activities that can be practiced while seated.
    An advantage of the Zhineng Qigong system is that it is the result of a synthesis of all of the known qigongs in China at the time it was developed (1975-present). Its creator, Dr. Ming Pang is a physiologist as well as a doctor of Chinese medicine.
    He conducted scientific experiments to determine how qigong works, which methods are most effective for the greatest number of people and in the least amount of time. He sought to simplify qigong practice by systematically applying ancient knowledge about the laws of nature and making sense of them in terms of current western scientific thought.
    The result of all this is that you can practice qigong while seated, making use of your mind as the active agent, while you make small movements with your hands (called la qi). In this way you are able to regulate and adjust any part of your body by using a novel creation of qigong called the qifield. Working with the qifield is like harnessing the energy of nature for your benefit. In my years of practice and teaching, I credit this as the true catalyst in my healing.
    I hope this answers your questions. Having been very ill (almost fatally) myself, I can personally attest to the effectiveness of consistent, daily qigong practice. By following these simple practices I have found that one little step day after day can go a very long distance. Please let me know if you have any other questions!

  4. Stephanie Falcone says:

    Thank you very much, Susan. I had heard very good things about Qigong, but after trying some classes and practicing on my own with a DVD, I had come to the conclusion that if you are well enough to do Qigong, you do not need to do Qigong!

  5. Hi Stephanie,

    I am sending a reminder out to Federico to get his input on this. I wonder if some of the Qigong can be done while sitting? It seems that most things can be adapted to a greater or lesser degree. I will be interested to see what he says, as this is an issue for many of our patients.

  6. Stephanie Falcone says:

    I have M.E./Cfids with very limited stamina and bouts of orthostatic hypotension. I tried Qi Gong and could not stand up long enough to do the exercises (could not stand up a fraction of the time indicated, actually). How can Qi Gong be employed by those of us who can only stand up (especially if not walking) for VERY brief periods of time?