QI GONG – THERAPEUTIC OR MEDICAL
I recently had a conversation with someone who was seeking qi gong advice. She was four years into a serious and degenerative condition and was looking for ‘alternative’ therapies that might help her manage her symptoms and perhaps much more. She had come across qi gong on the web and found many testaments to its efficacy. When she contacted me she expressed her confusion over the differences between Therapeutic and Medical qi gong. Both terms had cropped up in online chats so I thought I would put down some notes based upon that conversation for anyone wondering the same.
As an overview, it is fair to say that all qi gong can be considered as Therapeutic. If we take for example a common definitions of Therapeutic we see that qi gong definitely fits. Therapeutic – relating to the healing of disease; having a good effect on the body or mind; contributing to a sense of wellbeing; a branch of medicine concerned with the treatment of disease and the action of remedial agents etc. Based upon these common definitions it is obvious that all qi gong as we understand it today is Therapeutic since all qi gong seeks to bring about mental and physical health in the practitioner.
As you will probably know, qi gong works by integrating the ‘Three Elements’ of body, breath and mind with the primary aim of optimising physiological and psychological functioning. Different practices often place the emphasis on either one or more of these three according to the desired outcome (martial, spiritual, health or healing etc) Even within the developement of a qi gong ‘set’ of movements or practices there may be a progressive adjustement of emphasis – typically starting with body movement first then progressing to breath and movement integration and then progressing to mind/breath integration and then perhaps mentally directing ‘intention’. Seen as a process or as an evolving practice it is easy to see how complex this gets and how many shades and permutations of practice there can be. Since qi gong is also a process as well as a style of movement, time is a critical factor in developing qi gong skills and the qi gong experience. Time is also a critical factor in realising the various qi gong outcomes.
From the medical perspective in modern China qi gong is used as a preventative health measure and many types of qi gong are practiced daily by millions of Chinese as part of a personal health regime. All are recognised as being efficacious. There are many such qi gong ‘sets’ comprising individual movements which can be practiced as stand alone movements or in a sequence of many different movements. Each movement will have evolved to promote both functional ability, strength, tone and flexibility. Historically, many styles evolved from observed animal movements which were copied to acquire a quality deemed beneficial or useful. These are often found in ‘traditional’ qi gong movements and these methods often typify what we might refer to as ‘dynamic qi gong’. However other forms of qi gong have also evolved that are less obvious in their derivation. These have evolved according to the Chinese traditional medical paradigm which is based upon the theory of Yin and Yang, Five Phase or Elements and the meridian systems. These tend to involves less external or dynamic movement with a greater focus within the internal landscape.
These forms put more emphasis on breath and mental activity than the more dynamic methods and so constitute a more Therapeutic methodology. They can be considered more subtle and ‘internalised’ which links more closely to the theories of Chinese Medicine than the more dynamic methods. Indeed qi gong is considered a module of Traditional Chinese Medicine and so it is precisely here where Therapeutic qi gong becomes Medical.
The aim of Medical qi gong is to heal illness and rectify conditions of ‘stagnation’ and ‘imbalance’; conditions identified as the primary causes of illness. Strategies employed by Medical qi gong are more specific than Therapeutic qi gong. Medical qi gong, ‘targets’ specific pattern of symptoms or underlying condition as diagnosed and recognised in accordance with Chinese Medical Theory. Although these qi gong styles are often derived from the more dynamic sets and can even exhibit similar external characteristics, they are crucially undertaken in a different way with a different emphasis and consequently a different outcome; a Medical outcome. Whilst Therapeutic qi gong might be a more sophisticated strategy and contain more subtle methodology than the dynamic methods, Medical qi gong is even more specific in that it is a treatment protocol for specific patterns of stagnation or imbalance.
There are several characteristics of ‘medical’ Qi Gong.
One is that a qi gong program may be tailored to patient specific needs regarding presenting symptoms, their age, mobility etc. A qi gong program may also be adjusted in accordance with the changing conditions of the patient. Another characteristic of Medical qi gong is the greatly reduced demand on the musculo skeletal system evidenced by greatly reduced dependance on movement as the primary therapeutic strategy and an increase in the value of respiratory and especially mental targeting. Another major characteristic is the amount of qi gong that needs to be done to impact on recovery if you are suffering from or in remission from a serious medical condition. Medical qi gong may recommend far more and persistent repetitive practice than Therapeutic qi gong.
Qi gong as a medical or ‘healing’ as well as a preventative practice can be dated back to ancient China. In ancient texts uncovered in graves there is evidence of qi gong as a ‘healing’ practice with illustrations of named posture and a ‘condition’ for which it could be efficacious. Most if not all of the revered doctors of ancient China recommended certain practices we would now call qi gong that could be used to maintain and enhance health.
Although qi gong can be considered as Therapeutic, not all qi gong has Medical application. Only certain styles and methods of qi gong can be applied to illness and it is this that characterises it as Medical qi gong.