Preliminary Investigations into the Physiological Basis of the Therapeutic Value of the Standing Exercise.
The question which strikes one most immediately in the study of Qigong is, what is qi or chi? One can see it simply as a concept adopted by physicians in ancient China to make sense of their observations after the clinical application of their methods of treatment, and also by Taoists to rationalize their methods of cultivation and the phenomena they experienced during practice. Likewise, one can rationalize it as an expression of the body’s natural defense and self-healing capabilities. Chinese traditional theories vary in their explanations of it and its make up, and though schools of thought differ in their emphasis on it as a material or immaterial, physical or metaphysical phenomena, it is most commonly talked of as a definite physical energy it is easy to dismiss all such theories as mediaeval concepts not grounded in objective reality resulting from the misinterpretation of observed and subjective phenomena in the absence of scientific methods, and thus to dismiss qi as pure imagination. Nevertheless, this theory of the qi flowing through channels in the body has persisted for more than two thousand years, and the sheer volume of medical, Taoist and qigong literature recording the subjective awareness of it and its movement within the body forces us to give it serious attention, and to recognize that there must be an objective basis to the concept involving the relationship between mind and body. In essence, it’s the same concept as “prana” flowing through the body during the practice of Yoga, which also has a long history of health benefits.
In Nature Magazine published on l0th March 1978, an article appeared by Gu Hansen of the Shanghai Nuclear Research Institute. In it she presented the experimental evidence demonstrating that the wei-qi (external energy) purportedly emitted by qigong masters from a point on the body was, in fact a low frequency infrared signal. This gave rise to a great deal of discussion, and a variety of theories couched in scientific terminology have been proposed to explain qi and its workings within the body.
Unfortunately, despite investigations, no further evidence can be brought forward to shed any light on the existence, workings or composition of qi in the body, or of the existence of channels through which it might flow. Discussion of these various theories is fruitless, since they all lack solid experimental evidence and also prove incompatible with the traditional theories of the workings of qi to which they are being applied. Even worse, many writers on the subject endeavor to explain the problem by freely mixing modern and traditional theories, to absurd effect. Thus, the mystery of qi remains unsolved. It may he that concentration on a spot on the body excites nerves to the benefit of health or that some electromagnetic phenomena is involved. It may also rum out that several different phenomena are behind the various manifestations of qi. What is clear is that if the mystery is to be explained, there must be far more sound investigation of the physiological and psychological factors involved and a rational assessment of the evidence, rather than jumping to conclusions with half-baked theories or simply chasing after the discovery of some mysterious energy. There is a burgeoning literature in China on the results of the clinical application of qigong and the recovery from illness through its practice, demonstrating its undeniable value in the treatment of a wide range of illnesses and for the preservation and development of health. However, there has been a surprising unwillingness to discriminate what is really essential and of genuine value in practice. All manner of styles are practiced, some complicated, including various combinations of breathing exercises, meditations, movements of qi with the mind, postures and movements, others very simple. Many different methods of meditation and concentration are advocated. Yet, a broad range of styles and methods have proved to be effective for a surprisingly similar range of ailments and with roughly the same range of success. There is no clear clinical evidence to suggest that one method is radically more effective than any other, for instance, that concentrating on the “Dan Tian” (2nd chakra) and circulating the qi is more effective than other methods of meditation. So long as the posture and meditation method are appropriate, allowing the practitioner to relax and concentrate while combining a degree of exercise, good results can be obtained. There is thus a great tendency to put the cart before the horse, emphasizing a specific technique as vital, when it is the overall state of relaxation coupled with exercise which is of value. Much more discriminating investigation is required if such methods as the “self-treatment” styles of qigong are to be definitely demonstrated as especially effective in treatment.
Another problem is that there has been insufficient elucidation of possible differences between mental states achieved by different meditation methods and if these affect the body in different ways. Indeed, the whole relationship between mind and body, how far and in what ways mind affects body and vice versa and other questions raised by qi-, gong phenomena, such as the part played by self-suggestion and self-hypnosis, have all to be investigated in detail.
Finally, there is a great tendency to stick to traditional techniques, despite the fact that some can lead to bad side effects. This is especially true in the case of over concentrationon a point on the body or the “self-motion exercises”, which can lead to nervous disorders. Clarification of what is really essential in the practice of Qigong should enable such methods to be avoided. Yet, despite the claims of traditional theories and the mysteries which remain, scientific investigations have demonstrated the basic physiological factors which underlie the therapeutic value and effectiveness of Qigong exercises. Though the following brief account covers the major therapeutic factors behind Qigong practice in general, it is written with special reference to the standing form of the Standing Pole Exercise. This is because the standing forms have proved most effective in the treatment of a wide variety of ailments, including chronic tracheitis, gastroenteritis, hepatitis, cardiac disease, high blood pressure, neurasthenia, chronic rheumatism, rheumatic arthritis, lymphoma, thyroid enlargement and others, as well as especially suitable to the development of a strong and healthy physique.