Qigong Disease - What It Is & What to Do about It

By Bob Flaws, Dipl. Ac. & C.H., FNAAOM


Although the term qigong is a relatively new one, as the Ma Wang Dui manuscripts prove, qigong exercises have been a part of Chinese medicine since at least 500 BCE. Qigong has likewise been a part of Chinese martial arts since Bodhidharma and the founding of the Shaolin monastery. During the Cultural Revolution in China, people were put in jail for teaching and practicing qigong. However, since the end of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, qigong has experienced a huge surge in popularity in Mainland China. Similarly, here in the U.S., the word qigong is now as well known as yoga and taiji. What many Westerners do not understand is that qigong is not necessarily a panacea. When l was an intern at the Lung Hua Hospital in Shanghai in 1982, l saw a small but steady stream of patients who were diagnosed with "qigong disease" or "taiji disease." Therefore, people need to be a little careful when practicing qigong.

Types of Qigong

The word qigong as it is used in China today is a catch all term which covers everything from Zen meditation to stretching and calisthenics to self-massage to the coordination of movement with breath and possibly visualization. Therefore, there are many kinds o f qigong, and not all kinds of qigong have the same effects on the human body or on all human bodies.

There is moving qigong and still qigong, hard qigong and soft qigong, slow qigong and fast qigong, patterned qigong and spontaneous qigong. Qigong can be practiced for personal health and longevity, the ability to heal manually, the attainment of supranormal strengths and powers, or for spiritual growth and evolution. Not all kinds of qigong address these four areas o f concern equally, and some kinds of qigong can have long-term negative health consequences if practiced excessively, erroneously, or by the wrong person.

Therefore, it is very important for the practitioner to
A) choose the right kind of qigong to achieve their own personal goals,
B) choose the right type of qigong for their age, health, and body type, and
C) to receive competent guidance in their practice.

Qigong Disease

In Chinese medicine, the qi, the mind, and the breath are all closely related. In a sense, these are not three separate things but are aspects of a single reality. Numerous Chinese medical classics, such as the Nei Jing (Inner Classic) and Nan Jing (Classic of Difficulties), describe how the qi moves through the body in co-ordination with the breath. It is the lungs' respiration, which diffuses and scatters the ancestral or chest qi to spread and extend to the rest of the body. In addition, consciousness in Chinese medicine is referred to as the spirit brilliance, and the spirit is nothing other than the accumulation of qi in the heart. According to many Asian schools of meditation, the thoughts in the mind come and go with the movement of the breath. Therefore, alterations in respiration correspond to alterations in thinking and vice versa. Further, it is qi, which moves the body in space. Hence, there is likewise a relationship between the movement of the mind, the circulation of qi, and the movement of the body.

Most qigong is a combination of either specific is static posture or physical movement coordinated with specific respiration and specific concentration or visualization.
Therefore, we can say that qigong affects the flow of qi in the body, and specific mental-emotional states are evoked by and correspond to specific directions of qi flow. Thus it is easy to see that erroneous qigong can cause abnormal flows o f qi in the body which then causes an uncomfortable, even pathological mental-emotional state.

In addition, if one disturbs the free flow o f the qi mechanism, for instance, by absorbing more qi than the body can freely diffuse and circulate or by accumulating and concentrating the qi in a certain area of the body, this may easily lead to qi stagnation. If this qi stagnation endures, depression may transform fire, and fire flaming upward may harass the heart spirit. Depressive heat may also damage and consume yin fluids, thus giving rise to ascendant hyperactivity of yang, vacuity heat, and/or internal stirring of wind.

On another level, if one is too physically active, activity which is yang may also damage and consume yin fluids leading to yang hyperactivity and evil heat. While too much sitting and inactivity, as in Zen meditation, which is yin, may aggravate liver depression and even cause or aggravate both phlegm dampness and blood stasis. This is even more likely if such still sitting meditation is accompanied by unfulfilled desires, such as wanting to become a Buddha or an Immortal, or if there are excessive worries and anxieties. Especially if one leads the qi in the body upward or concentrates their mind on a point in the upper body, one can lead ministerial fire to counterflow upward. When this disease mechanism causes symptoms of heat harassing upward, it is sometimes referred to as "fire burning the Shaolin monastery." (The Shaolin monastery is the traditional home of Chan or Zen Buddhism, while shao lin literally means "little forest.)

The Symptoms of Qigong Disease

The Chinese medical literature describes three main patterns of qigong disease. These are:

1. Qi stagnation & blood stasis pattern

The main symptoms o f this pattern, of qigong disease are emotional instability, crying and laughing without constancy, paranoia, tension, visual hallucinations, delusional thoughts, chest and ribside fullness and oppression, headache, generalized body pain, a dark, stagnant facial complexion, a dark red tongue or possible static spots or macuIes on the tongue, dark purple, engorged sublingual veins, and a bowstring, choppy pulse.

Emotional impetuosity, difficulty staying still, emotional instability, crying and laughing without constancy, etc. are all symptoms indicating that the qi mechanism is disturbed and chaotic and has lost its control. The qi is commander of the blood, while the blood is the q mother of the qi. When the qi moves, the blood moves. Likewise, if the qi becomes chaotic, the blood becomes disquieted. Hence qi and blood lose their regulation and are unable to control themselves (i.e., one is unable to control oneself).

Qi and blood depression and stagnation may obstruct the heart orifices, resulting in harassment of the heart spirit. Therefore, one may see emotional instability, crying and laughing without constancy, paranoia, tension, visual hallucinations, and delusional thoughts. Static blood obstructing and stagnating may cause qi stagnation of chest yang. In that case, one may see chest and rib-side fullness and oppression. Qi stagnation and blood stasis result in the channels and network vessels not being freeflowing. Hence there is headache, generalized body pain, a dark, stagnant facial complexion, a dark red tongue with possible static spots or macuIes, and a bowstring, choppy pulse.

2. Phlegm fire harassing above pattern

The main symptoms of this pattern of qigong disease are emotional tension and agitation, impulsive movement, breaking things, mania, difficulty controlling oneself, profuse phlegm, chest oppression, a bitter taste in the mouth and bad breath, headache, red eyes, reddish urine, bound stools, a red tongue with thick/ slimy, yellow fur, and a bowstring, slippery, rapid pulse.

If there is habitual bodily yang exuberance (as there often is in young males) or addiction to alcohol and/or tobacco, or excessive eating of fatty, greasy, thick-flavored foods, phlegm dampness may congest and become exuberant. In that case, when one tries to practice qigong, one cannot obtain stillness but the qi mechanism becomes disturbed and chaotic instead. Then phlegm and fire become mixed and internally harass the heart spirit. This then causes emotional tension and agitation, impulsive movement, breaking and damaging things, and manic, chaotic behavior.

lf the qi does not gather in the channels, it is difficult for it to control itself. This then leads to spontaneous sensations of qi discharging chaotically around the body and inability to control oneself. Phlegm turbidity internally obstructing with devitalization of chest yang results in
profuse phlegm and chest oppression, while phlegm fire ascending to harass the clear orifices results in the bitter taste in the mouth, bad breath, headache, and red eyes. The reddish urine, bound stools, red tongue with thick, slimy, yellow fur, and the bowstring, slippery, rapid pulse are all signs of phlegm fire and congested heat.

3.Yin vacuity-fire of effulgence pattern

The main symptoms of this pattern of qigong disease are emotional depression, difficulty thinking, poor memory, mumbling and speaking to oneself, fright palpitations, generalized fear and dread, auditory and visual hallucinations, vexatious heat in the five hearts (meaning the heart and the centers of the hands and feet), a dry mouth and throat, insomnia, night sweats, a red tongue with scanty fur, and a fine, rapid or surging rapid pulse.

If one is already habitually kidney yin depleted and vacuous (as are many thin people, women, and the elderly), doing too much or erroneous qigong may cause excessive psycho-emotional tension. In addition, compulsively chasing ones thoughts or a desire to emit qi or possess other such supranormal qigong abilities may cause one to exhaust oneself in one's practice. This exhausts and consumes the essence and blood.

If the essence and blood become insufficient, then the sea of marrow will lack nourishment. This then leads to difficulty thinking, dull-wittedness, and decreased memory power. Essence and blood depletion and vacuity leads to heart spirit lack of nourishment. Hence there is emotional depression, mumbling and speaking to oneself, fright palpita-tions, fear and dread. Yin vacuity
leads to vacuity fire flaming upward. Therefore, one sees vexatious heat in the five hearts, a dry mouth and throat, insomnia, and night sweats. The red tongue with scanty fur and the fine, rapid, surging rapid pulse are signs of yin vacuity with internal heat.

What to do About Qigong Disease

At the very first sign o f qigong disease, the practitioner should stop doing qigong or their practice should be immediately monitored, assessed, and modified by a competent teacher. If symptoms persist, both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be used to treat any of the above three patterns. Therefore, practitioners with qigong-induced symptoms which do not spontaneously go away when they stop practicing may want to see their local acupuncturist or professional practitioner of Chinese medicine. However, one of the foundations of Chinese medicine is to treat disease before it arises, and the best way to prevent qigong disease is to insure that the type of qigong you are practicing is right for you and that you are doing it correctly. When the right person practices the right kind of qigong in the right manner, then qigong can be a wonderful practice. When practiced wrongly, it can cause mental-emotional disease, hypertension, and heart disease and may lead to stroke. It's good to remember that, in Chinese medicine, health is seen as a matter of balance, and too much qi is just as unhealthy as too little.

BOB FLAWS is the single most prolific writer on Chinese medicine in English. Author, translator, and editor of over 100 books and scores of articles in both professional journals and general magazines, Bob regularly teaches around the country and around the world. Some of his other credits include being a founder, past president, and life-time Fellow of the Acupuncture Association of Colorado, a Fellow and past Governor of the National Academy of Acupuncture & Oriental medicine, past editor of the National Academy's journal, a Fellow of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (UK), a founder of the Council of Oriental Medical Publishers, and the founder, publisher, and editor in chief of Blue Poppy Press, Inc. Bob has been in private practice in Boulder, CO since 1979 where he specializes in gynecology, pediatrics, and complex internal diseases.

Article published with permission from Bob Flaws, May 10, 2002, who has the copyright. The article is also published in 80 KUNGFU - 2000 November
For more information on Blue Poppy Press publications visit their website at www.bluepoppy.com.


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