It’s 2016, the year of the Fire Monkey, and I have taken on the task of teaching a university course to the next generation of Oriental Medicine practitioners. The course is on the subject of Qigong; a highly researched, highly practiced, and highly misunderstood art in today’s society.
Qigong, (also known as Qi Gong, Chi Kung, and Chi Gung) is a distinguished art form aging into youthfulness leaving no material trace within its immaterial footsteps. Defined as "any training or study dealing with Qi which takes a long time and a lot of effort" (Yang, 1997), Qigong is one of the oldest healing art forms ever written about dating as far back as the discovery of written word in China. (Tang, 2013) It has drawn from the well of wisdom filled by some of the world's most respected scholars, Lao Zi and Confucius; it has spawned the healing practices of Oriental Medicine that has now become a trustworthy and competitive form of healthcare; it has survived acts of discrimination, countless wars, and even the Cultural Revolution in China; and now, it is prescribed by medical practitioners who decades ago never dared to sit in the shadows of the Oriental Medicine healing tree. Throughout this journey, Qigong has humbly proven time and time again to be a rich and promising daily practice that can yield results you can actually feel, even if you don't understand why.
So what is holding Qigong back? Well, a few possible answers might be the following:
- (Human) Qi can be felt but not seen.
- Scientific researchers know Qigong works but are not sure how.
- There is a severe lack of training and understanding by those prescribing Qigong.
Being a licensed Oriental Medicine practitioner myself, this last point really hits the mark. Surprisingly, in the majority of Oriental Medicine schools today, students are only required to complete one course during their three to four years of study. In total, that is roughly 30 hours in a program comprised of over 3,000 hours of intense training and study. Does this sound like a program designed to bring well-rounded healers into mainstream medicine? Well, if you did the math, you will see that this is less than 1 percent devoted to an entire branch of Oriental Medicine. (Pulse Holistic Health, 2012) One that was traditionally prescribed to patients before acupuncture and herbal medicine were even considered. Furthermore, Qigong, as well as Tai Chi (more accurately know as Tai Ji), are typically taught as physical education-type courses in these medical programs with little to no focus on theory and application. On a similar note, think of how much Qigong training western medicine physicians receive during their own education; probably none, or close to it. In my opinion, this is a huge, gaping hole in the medical field which has been filled with nothing more than lost potential; especially for patients. An even bigger problem is that this is unfortunately happening across the country and, perhaps, across the globe.
Qigong is a distinguished art form aging into youthfulness leaving no material trace within its immaterial footsteps.
It appears the research-driven approach has become the guiding principle for the creation and acceptance of acupuncture and herbal medicine programs in today's society. The intense focus on these two branches of medicine has unfortunately starved the remaining branches of this supposedly wholistic medicine tree leaving them to become bare, brittle, and malnourished.
Is it not hypocritical that we call our medicine wholistic in nature when we are in fact devoting such a large amount of time towards studying such a small part of its whole? The unfortunate truth in this dilemma is that we, wholistic medicine practitioners as we often consider ourselves, have dissected our own medicine in the same judgmental way that many wholistic practitioners discriminate against western medicine practitioners as supposedly dissecting the human body in a disgraceful manner by refusing to treat it as one whole living organism.
How is it that we have traveled so far down this rabbit hole? Are we truly following in the footsteps of our ancestors by nourishing the roots of this ancestral healing tree in this ignorant manner? Are we instead cutting down the entire forest and planting only the seeds we believe will be the most fruitful? Coincidentally, the latter seems to be the theme for Qigong as we tread through modern times.
On a more positive note, Qigong and Tai Chi have both been saviors in keeping Oriental Medicine alive. Don't believe me? Search the internet for a research study on one of these two art forms and you are guaranteed to find something. In fact, frequent studies have shown positive results comparable to that of or far-reaching general exercise benefits (Rendant, 2011). Still not convinced? Check your local hospitals and compare how many Qigong and Tai Chi instructors regularly provide services versus Acupuncturists and Herbalists. Even the First Lady was caught practicing (and plugging) Tai Chi in China during one of her visits. (Bloomberg Business, 2014) The art forms of Qigong and Tai Chi are large pieces of the foundation, as well as the history, of Oriental Medicine which many practitioners have never fully acknowledged.
Now, do not assume I am persuading you to think that Qigong is the missing piece that we all need to focus on and study more. I am not pretending to be a salesman. Rather, I am directing you to examine the fullness of yourself as either a healer or a patient, and I urge you to never stop questioning the quality of care you provide, as well as receive, and the training it took to get you there. And above all, never assume that what you are doing is the ultimate answer to all of your questions, or worse yet, all of your "problems".
There is stillmuch to be learned about the art of Qigong, including its purpose in today's society. First steps first though, we must teach it in a way that draws upon its past and builds upon its future. There are very few scholars and teachers in the field of Qigong (and Tai Chi) that are way ahead of the crowd in this regard. So, as was done for many centuries, we must seek them out and absorb their wisdom with our roots for the branches of Oriental Medicine depend on it.
Study and live well,
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Justin is a licensed and board-certified Acupuncturist, a professor of Oriental Medicine, including Tai Chi and Qigong, as well as the owner of My Metro Medicine. He has been working in the healthcare industry for nearly 20 years. He has two beautiful children and a lovely wife to which he is forever grateful. For more information about Justin, click here.
Bloomberg Business. "First Lady Michelle Obama Learns Tai Chi". Bloomberg video, 2:37. March 25, 2014. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/b/841afa55-b758-44ef-944e-a598d868c2f6.
"Eight Branches of TCM", Pulse Holistic Health, last modified in 2012, http://www.pulseholistichealth.com/resources/eightbranchesoftcm/.
Rendant D, Pach D, Lüdtke R, Reisshauer A, Mietzner A, Willich SN, Witt CM. "Qigong versus exercise versus no therapy for patients with chronic neck pain: a randomized controlled trial." Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2011 Mar 15;36(6):419-27. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e3181d51fca. PubMed PMID: 21178832.
Tang, Didi, "China Discovers Some Of The World's Oldest Writing," Associate Press, July 10, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/10/china-oldest-writing_n_3574624.html.
Yang, Jwing-Ming, The Root of Chinese Qigong (Wolfeboro, NH: YMAA Publication Center, 1997), 7.
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