Qigong, Tai-chi chuan and encounters
of the fourth kind
If your body and mind become one, will you be able to avoid death?
Dao De Jing, sec. X
(Own interpretation according to the He Shang Gong version)
"Nothing!" said Lina Rask ( Denmark ) when asked what she felt while or after practicing Qigong an hour once a week for 2 month in the YMCA, "only warmer than before, but that's normal when doing exercises." She was one of the 5 students of the Normal University's Mandarin Training Center, who took that course, either because they considered Qigong as interesting, since part of Chinese Culture and good chance to learn something about it as Laura Burian, an American student noted or for being part of martial arts or just because it seemed to be a relaxing way of exercise, without of muscle strains or harming tendons.
Preston Lee, an Overseas Chinese from England who also studies martial arts says: The West doesn't have something like that. It needs good people to teach it and a lot of practice. A person with no experience will have problems when coming to Taiwan an trying to find a good teacher, since it is too popular. Almost in every park there are people practicing "Wu Tan Qi-Kong."
Laura L., an American student found its effects calming and providing the means to better concentration and a more centered feeling, but thinks also that one hours a week was not enough. Missing landmarks to observe on oneself and maybe some difficulties caused by the different language (the class was taught in Chinese) made it also difficult.
As for effects: all felt warmer, two - who trained sometimes at home - felt something else, maybe Qi, maybe it was only imagination, who knows? But they all agreed that it would be good to make it more known in the West, as alternative to yoga, a health exercise for older people or just to let people know more about it, since it is sometimes simply a fad of the nineties.
Breathing away cancer?
Whilst the western students take their first, uncertain steps on this wondrous market of Qi trade, in the mainland Qigong is already an institution. There are Qigong groups in almost every little hamlet, not to speak of big research studies provided by the government like in the Beijing Qigong research institute.
Recently the Hong Kong magazine Windows published an article about the Guo Lin Qigong system which so far has succeeded to cure (sic!) several patients from cancer.
This system combining still meditation with motion claims its effects on cancer cells by the surplus of oxygen provided to the body coming with the breathing, since it is known that a sour (pH < 7) environment (with a higher carbon dioxide level) is an ideal milieu for the growth of cancer cells, whereas an alkalic (pH > 7) environment (with a higher oxygen level) is harmful to cancer cells.
If this formula can be transferred to the simple motto: more breath = less cancer, remains to be proofed by science yet. Until then, such news remains merely propaganda. To gain more insight into the mysteries of Qi, a step closer to "enlightenment" surly will be a chat with people who had some of those "close encounters."
I could feel it!
John Chuang, is a tea-merchant from Taiwan and old friend to the author. He was slightly but chronically ill for years and got all the time worse. He went to many hospitals and saw Western and Chinese doctors, whose prescriptions sometimes helped and sometimes worsened the disease. In western diagnosis no clear evidence was found, why the patient felt unwell.
Things went bad when Mr. Chuang after an infectious gastritis could not take any medicine neither herbal nor pharmaceutical, since his stomach revolted. He saw an acupuncturist for a few months who improved is condition slightly, but finally it went so bad, that he was even to weak for acupuncture, since he seriously lacked of normal nutrition. "No medicine can help me anymore, I am going to die" he told me. "If you help yourself, heaven will help you, too" (or something like that) the Chinese proverb says. Since I suspected a strong psychosomatic influence, I recommended to find someone to teach him meditation or Qigong both of which couldn't hurt.
He did both and when I met him (a few month later ) again, he felt great, ate everything and was a fan of Qi-gong practice and meditation which he really had done one hour daily. I was impressed. Was it a placebo-effect, that worked since he believed it? Or would it work on a skeptical Westerner, too?
I asked Jefferson Applegate, an American scholar, who learned Tai-Chi Chuan in Taiwan and was recommended to do Qigong as well. He first tried it a little here and there, just like my approach. But then he was told that any of those things should be done regularly for at least 100 days if one wants to feel an effect at all. So he practiced daily for 30-40 minutes YIN-palm Shaolin style Qi-gong and really, after about 90 days he felt a strange kind of heat on his palms and soles, which he after a few days more could even control and move it into other directions.
"If you are looking for Qi-effects you must be very patient," he said "it's like in the old Zen-Story where the eager student asks his master how long it will take, until he will be a superior martial artist. <Three years, maybe.> < But what if I practice day and night, spare no effort, pledge myself with all willpower to the exercises and make the perfection my only goal in life? > the impatient disciple inquires. <How long then?> <Six years, maybe> the Master responds..."
Kourosh.D. Hamedani, a friend and businessman from Holland who gave up his business in order to study deeper a level in China was looking for such a real master. He had studied Tai Chi Chuan for many years and took pride in being able to "feel the Qi". When he after a long struggle finally succeeded to be accepted by one of those old, experienced Tai Chi Masters, who are not in it for the money, and hence don't accept more students than the few they have, he was asked if he could focus his Qi in the Tan Tien (a point 1,5 Chinese inches below the navel) he proudly responded "sure!"
"Let's see!" smiled the old man and tipped him slightly on the shoulder, which after the surprised Tai Chi disciple began uncontrollably to bounce up an down like a ball. "Your Qi is not sunk into the center (Tan Tien) at all, otherwise you would remain unmoved. Instead it made your body jump. You've been cheating yourself all those years. What you believed to feel was only your own imagination." said the Master to the new student "Now, I still ask him to test me from time to time. I'm still bouncing, but I improve." says Kourosh. Now that I really felt an effect of my own Qi, I just wonder how many other disciples of the Chinese arts in the West merely imagine to feel their Qi..."
Drawn from the conclusion that there actually are some people who have experienced Qi, the next, most difficult step has to be finding those who work with it.
Marveling at the masters or mastering the marvelous?
"It is not longer than 10 maybe 15 years ago, that Qigong in Taiwan was still known under its old name Tao-Yin (Guiding the Tao) and just practiced by a few insiders, who sometimes were considered rather spleeny back then." remembers a Chinese friend. "Then suddenly the Qigong craze swept over from the mainland of China and nowadays Qigong "masters" and their studios can be found almost on every street corner. How to separate the chaff from the wheat ? For an outsider, it is absolutely impossible."
An outsider, with a few connections, though, the author took a Qigong class in the YMCA, called a few addresses recommended by friends and paid calls to the people of the various ads in Chinese newspapers. Finding a needle in a haystack became my favored pastime for a while.
Did I get any convincing results in my quest for the Qi ? Mind you, I felt a little like the eager disciple in the Zen-Story. But at least I was lucky, or was it the often quoted Chinese "Yuan-fen" (destiny) that helped me on my way ?
The first interesting master I met was Michael Chung, born in Hong Kong, learning Qigong and Chinese Medicine first handed down by his family tradition, than from various masters in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Here he has a studio, which is always full with eager students. Among them also many Western students who come for health and to learn Martial Arts, Qigong or Feng Shui (Geomancy) and other exotic treasures of the East.
He has some Hi-Tech equipment to measure the Acupuncture meridians and an impressive album with photographs of former patients cured by him. His approach to Qi is rather leaning towards the spiritual side. He is a very quiet, relaxed person and has recently been to Switzerland and Germany, where he, on invitation of the National Science Council and Physicist Dr.Imke also demonstrated effects of Qi in the University of Heidelberg.
He explains Qi as an energy and is sure that it can be confirmed scientifically and combined both, with Western clinical and traditional Chinese Medicine. "In Qigong body and mind work together to establish good health by stabilizing all body systems and a stable mood, relaxation and higher awareness of body and mind." he says.
In the more than two hour interview he gave me, he answered among others also the following questions:
Q: At present there many in Taiwan teaching Qigong. How can an outsider distinguish a good teacher from a bad one ?
A: First, if the master uses his power instead of teaching the student how to mobilize his own, there is nothing a student can learn from him. Second, Qi is slowly and gradually achieved; if a master makes promises to student that he will be able to benefit very fast, he also should not be trusted. Actually, if the stronger methods of the higher levels are thought too early, they can even harm the student, causing psychic problems. A good and healthy body is the fundament to achieve a higher self-control.
Some teachers put religious aspects in the foreground or take an absolutely esoteric or purely scientific approach, but they can teach their students only a part of the whole, since Qi has many more aspects.
Q: There are some shows in China in which people use Qigong to break stones, penetrate solid obstacles and show other "supernatural" powers, to demonstrate Qi. What do you think about these ?
A: I've seen a few of those shows. Real Qi is not so obvious to be able impressing crowds of people, which is what those shows are made for. I for example have been able to move objects only a few inches in some experiments. So even those outstanding talents in the P.R.C. are often using tricks to exaggerate. Those who used real Qi at all, looked very exhausted afterwards. The ancient Taoists recomended to use Qi on the outside only if absolutely necessary, but instead to use it inside the body for preserving health and a long life. Whereas those people in the shows will harm themselves if they waste their Qi.
Q: You have learned Qigong, Chinese Medicine, including acupuncture, furthermore Tai Chi Chuan and Feng Shui, as well as some other arts belonging to the spiritual area.
From my own experience I know how long it takes only to master one of them. So how did you manage to master so many difficult tasks?
A: Since they all are based on the same principle it is not so difficult, once you understand this principle.
Q: Which is ?
A: Qi !
Not much later, I heard an unbelievable rumor from an acquaintance studying physics in the NTU, Taiwan's best reputed University. "They are doing research on Qi, sponsored by the government. And among the bunch of Taoists, Buddhist monks, Tai Chi and Qigong masters participating, there is one among them who recently succeeded to kill infectious micro-organisms in petri-dishes from a distance of one meter, just by using his Qi."
His name: Lee Feng Shan, his profession since 20 years: Teaching Qigong.
I met the modest, but outgoing master for an interview and was impressed by his down-to-earth modern view, his openness and humorous personality. "Yes," he said, "he is often sought to participate in scientific experiments concerning with Qi, sometimes by the Yang Ming or the Veterans General hospital, sometimes by different universities and sometimes even by Taiwan's highest scientific institution the Acadmica Sinica."
What - according to him - is Qigong? Simple: adding work (gong) to the Qi, or working with Qi. The latter one can be divided in inherited Qi, found in the human body and acquired Qi, found in nature and absorbed with the breath.
He came to study Qigong after his late childhood, when was obsessed to study the "hard" martial arts. One day, showing off with his skills by inviting all kids around to beat and kick him, while he suffered no injuries, an old man walked by and told him that he seemed to have developed the "outer" or "hard" martial arts to a considerably good level, and that if he would continue this way, he would certainly surpass Bruce Lee. "I thought he was praising me," Lee Feng Shan said laughingly "but then he added: <Since you will die even younger than he did, if you learn only the "outer" practice without of strengthening your health by "inner" practice.> I realized that he was a master and immediately asked him to teach me "inner" practice. He became my teacher."
Here also some excerpts from the interview:
Q: Which benefits will a person experience, when practicing Qigong?
A: He will be able to battle most diseases, prolong his life span, get a stronger body and a clearer mind with keener senses.
Q: How long will it take until one feels the effects of Qi in ones own body?
A: Differing individually and according to the length of daily practice a person will definitely feel the effects the earliest after three days and at most after three month.
Q: In some Qigong demonstrations by so-called masters, some people will be trembling or shaking after being touched or other "miraculous" healing effects will be seen. What is your opinion about those events?
A: Very often cheating is involved. A serious master would never show-off with his skills to attract more students or make more money. Qigong, like other popular sports or techniques is also liable to cheats.
Q:What are the shortcomings of continuous practice of Qigong or are there none?
A: There are. Although a person will certainly succeed in achieving some extraordinary skills, if he practices for years, the danger is, if he has the wrong attitude, he is likely to abuse these skills and harm other people for selfish reasons. There are some surprising effects in the practice of Qi of which I don't want to speak about, since you certainly would not believe me. If you want to find out more about it, there is only one way: practice it yourself!
So what on earth is Qi ?
Pneuma, Bioenergy, Breath, Constellating Energy, Vital Influence and a dozen other translations were applied to the mysterious term Qi (pinyin) or Ch'i (Wade-Giles). Finally, after realizing that these concepts were only determining a part of the meaning, the translators surrendered. Nowadays the sound of the word Qi is merely transliterated and the meaning explained somewhere else, usually in a long, long footnote like this:
"Qi - No satisfactory definition of Qi to be found in any Chinese text. While classical texts take the existence for granted, modern literature from mainland China explains it as being a "substance." It appears in terms as: the "six Qi" (environmental influences); "correct Qi," original Qi," "ancestral Qi," (...) "damp Qi," " pestilential Qi," "water Qi," (...) "turbid Qi" and the "four Qi." Qi denotes a vast variety of phenomena. (...) Qi, ultimately, can be defined as neither matter nor energy; it is their dynamic, seen in substantive (but not necessarily substantial) form. (...) (...) (...)
Nigel Wiseman, Andrew Ellis, Li Cheng Yu, Paul Zmiewski: Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine (underlined by the author)
This, a very good and well researched definition gives the average western reader at least an idea about what Qi is not and what concept is behind it. But could we thence say: "Qi" is just an idea ?
Historically the term "Qi " appeared for the first time in medical texts about two or three centuries B.C., meaning outer influences, existing for example in terms like xie-qi (evil influences) as a reason for diseases, opposed to xie-gui (evil demons) which was a relict of the older demonological therapy. Since then the meaning of Qi has been undergone many changes, resulting from different concepts and theories in medicine, philosophy and science.
But finally, a little more than 15 years ago Chinese scientists on both sides of the Taiwan straits, as well as in Hong Kong began to apply western methods, trying to solve the mystery: How far did they get ?
Dr. James Ma, teaching Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (N.M.R.) in the Institute of Science and Technology in The Chinese University of Hong Kong researched Qi after he found out by accident that the feeling caused by practicing Qigong, Acupuncture or Tai-Chi Chuan can be felt only seconds after practicing when people stand in front of a super-conducting magnet, operated at -270º C with a magnetic strength of 58000 gauss ( Hundred thousand times stronger than the magnetic field of the earth ).
He also once observed that elephants ( the most long-living animal of the tropical zones ) while idle are swinging their trunks in a frequency of 0,5 cycles per second (= Hz), which is the same speed with which mothers swing a crying baby's bed to calm it. He began to analyze the frequency of certain movements and found that gifted people with outstanding achievements in music, art, religion etc. have all one thing in common: The habit of rhythmical movements by swimming, dancing or sports within a range of 0.5 - 1 Hz (cycles per second).
Then he watched people in China doing Tai-Chi Chuan and Qigong and it was all in the range of 0.1 - 0.7 Hz.
Now knowing from his profession that Magnetic Resonance is the sudden change of atom's magnetic orientation and thus by absorption of energy raising to a high energy level can only occur when the frequency ( Here: of the body) is the same as the frequency of the metallic atoms swinging, he measured the magnetic field strength of metallic elements in the body and found a very weak magnetic field of 0.00005 gauss which requires exactly a low frequency of 0.3 Hz to achieve biomagnetic resonance. Was that the missing clue ? Maybe.
But as a true scientist he draws no early conclusions, since he knows that the feeling of Qi a subjective personal experience, not measurable in any double-blind tests. Nevertheless applying the theory of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance would explain many phenomena connected with Qi.
A different approach is found in various experiments of Professor Li Si-Chen of the Department of Electrical Engineering in the National Taiwan University. He continuously applies different Tests on Qi. Among his testees are also Master Lee Feng Shan and Master Michael G.C. Chung (see above).
The first of the tests we want to quote here is based on measuring a -brain waves (Mann-Whitney Test) and the pressure wave of 8-11 Hz occurring when a Qigong Master practices Qi.
He applied different methods causing this oscillation via sense organs (flashing lights, rhythmic sounds, vibrations) and fast thinking waves (fast neuron firing). He found that all methods increase the "feeling of Qi" after only 3 minutes on persons who learned any Qi-practice before, whereas for untrained persons the latter method was more effective. 50% of those tested could sense a concentration of Qi in the point called "Tan Tien" or Qi-Hai", 1,5 Cun (physiologic inches) below the navel called "Tan Tien" or Qi-Hai", 1,5 Cun (physiologic inches) below the navel.
Those persons practicing different Qi-connected methods (Zen and other meditations, Qigong, Tai Chi Chuan etc.) were found to reduce the peak power of their a -brain waves significantly ( p < 0.05 ) during a meditative suppression state and enhanced ( p < 0.001 ) when practicing Qigong, then also causing a resonance between body tissue near the aforementioned Tan Tien point and the oscillating current of the brain. He named the different states Ruh-Ding (suppression) and Gong-zheng (resonance) state.
However the feeling of Qi remains a subjective experience, like headache: most real to the patient, but not measurable by medical instruments. So Professor Li tried to figure out the effect of Qi on living cells and organisms in vitro:
In another experiment they found that the infrared spectra of external Qi, generated by a Qigong master from his palm, measured with a III-V compound semiconductor LnSb detector could be also divided in two kinds of Qi: Facilitating and inhibiting Qi causing a heating or cooling of the air in front of the palms. This may be explained as increased or decreased blood flow by dilating or constricting blood vessels in the hand through sympathetic or parasympathetic nerves, controlled by the Qigong master.
The biochemical effects on those waves on human fibroblast cells FS-4 and boar sperms were investigated.
These results proof that there are effects of Qi on living cells. They may be harmful as described in the martial arts or healthy as in the Qigong exercises. Professor Li proposes a kind of yet undetectable forms of bioenergy being responsible for those effects. Which energy and how it works remains to be researched, so far.
He continues to look for possible connections between the phenomenon Qi and ESP (extra-sensorial perception), or its ability to kill microbes or other ways to lay hands on this difficult research field.
The third Chinese scientist, on the way to discover what is behind the meaning of "Qi" is Dr. Zhu Zong-Xiang from the Acupuncture and Meridian Research Institute Peking.
Approaching as an orthodox western scientist he began more than 20 years ago, he completely doubted the existence of the "Channels of Qi" (meridians) as referred to in the classical scripts of Chinese Medicine. Knowing nothing about Chinese Medicine he was skeptic about all its mysterious statements and he began instead measuring flows of low electric resistance in the body, high oscillation sounds and high skin sensitivity.
After years of research he found a network of channels running through the body. When he told his findings to a TCM (Trad.Chin.Med.) Doctor, and the physician took out a so-called "Copper Man," the little model on which meridians traditionally are mapped to compare the lines. They matched 100% the electro-sonic network Dr. Zhu had found on the human body!
The existence of acupuncture points, measured by electric resistance was already evident, now the meridians were proofed existing, too. Dr. Zhu turned from Saulus to Paulus and became convinced that the theories of the old classics were right. His next step, his says, is to analyze the "thing" that flows in those channels- Qi!
He expects a result within a few years, a result that would force medical scientists of the whole world to accept another system in the human body:
"After the discovery of the blood system, the gland system and the nerve system there might be one day in the near future another one to be found in the books of physiology - the Qi-system."
Meanwhile those few western scientists who are not too arrogant to participate in the scientific quest of the Qi will also continue in their research, usually not taken seriously and hence with a budget close to zero. For this reason it is more than likely that a Chinese scientist earlier or later will have the honor of discovering the functions and physiology of Qi. And why not ? Eventually Qi has been a domain for Chinese research for more than 4000 years...
East-West Medical Newsletter (Dong Xi Yi Shun) No.1, Aug. 30 1989
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