It’s funny how today’s health and medical knowledge becomes outdated and therefore irrelevant if it is more than about 10 years old. It is really the arrogance of the modern medical system that we have to blame.
You see, before medicine was based in and proven by science, everyone in different parts of the world knew what worked and what didn’t to make each person feel better. Medicine was considered to be common knowledge. Sure, you’d seek a shaman or healer for the serious, deeper problems, but people knew when to sleep, how to eat, how to be active, how to treat a cold and what was a “liver condition.” Not everything was or needed to be labeled a disease. And not every disease had to have a single specific protocol. After all, disease manifests differently in different people. One headache is in the temples and another is on top of the head. One pain throbs and the other feel like pressure. Some headaches are caused by allergies, others by stress, illness, dehydration, toxins in the blood and so forth.
When someone began to feel dis-ease, he would return to a common (now called “traditional”) method to return to ease. Meditation, breathing exercises, physical exercise, abstinence from certain foods or fasting was used to create a period of cleansing. Health was restored. Your health was important, vital to your very existence and was not to be trifled with. People did what they needed to do, even if it meant doing without for a while, or seeking spiritual help. Cooking with herbs, adding them to stews and soups, was a simple and common method of healing in many cultures. Raw herbs, plants and vegetables were boiled into drinkable concoctions. Personal energy was balanced with needles, rocks, hands-on energy transfer, prayer, exercise and other means.
There were no one-size-fits-all pills. No such thing as cookbook solutions that dictated “if you have this take that.”
Why? Because humans knew that any illness, ailment or pain they were feeling was either linked directly to a traumatic event (like a wound) or was a sign of dis-ease (lack of ease) and a dis-order (lack of order) in their bodies. They then strove to regain ease, to re-order the mind, body and spirits to find balance again, thus finding a cure for the cause of their sickness.
When science entered the picture, there arose a need to reduce every cough, every fever down to its smallest part. And then try through the scientific method, with evidence to prove the method, to correct the problem. That is, to fix the leaking tire by plugging the hole, the smallest part that can prove a correlation to the problem.
Sounds reasonable, until you think in larger terms. For instance, why not repave the rocky road so the tire does not keep getting holes and deflating?
Ancient knowledge of the body, of the spirit, of a person’s place in society and relation to disease was founded in an innate understanding of the human condition, the family and spiritual network: the whole of an issue. Nothing was seen as occurring on its own, in a vacuum removed from all other things.
One of the most common forms of body regulation in traditional medical systems, and still in practice today around the world, consists of exercises that focus on the breath. These include meditation, tai chi, qigong and the induction of trance states.
I am always curious about the scientific evidence for the efficacy of such practices, so I did a search for studies that analyzed traditional methods rather than modern ones. I found several interesting pieces on qigong that I would like to share in summary.
Study 1: “Databases were searched up to August 2006. All randomized clinical trials (RCTs) testing qigong in patients with hypertension of any origin and assessing clinically relevant outcomes were considered… A total of 121 potentially relevant articles were identified and 12 RCTs were included… There is some encouraging evidence of qigong for lowering SBP (systolic blood pressure), but the conclusiveness of these findings is limited. Rigorously designed trials are warranted to confirm these results.”
Study 2: “This review concluded that physical activity interventions that involving t’ai chi or qigong may improve outcomes that include physical function, blood pressure, risk of falls and depression and anxiety in older people… Initiation and maintenance of physical activity (PA) in older adults is of increasing concern as the benefits of PA have been shown to improve physical functioning, mood, weight, and cardiovascular risk factors… Significant improvement in clusters of similar outcomes indicated interventions utilizing TC & QG may help older adults improve physical function and reduce blood pressure, fall risk, and depression and anxiety.”
Study 3: “The authors examined the efficacy of a qigong intervention on QOL [quality of life] in women with breast cancer during and after [radiotherapy] treatment… QOL outcomes (i.e., depressive symptoms, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and overall QOL) and cortisol slopes were assessed at baseline, during treatment, at the end of treatment, 1 month later, and 3 months later…. Multilevel analyses revealed that women in the qigong group reported less depressive symptoms over time than women in the control group). Women who had elevated depressive symptoms at the start of radiotherapy reported less fatigue and better overall QOL in the qigong group compared with the control group, and these findings were clinically significant.”
In all of these studies, the use of qigong as a method of treatment correlated with an effective outcome on various levels. This is good because it “proves” to science-minded medical professionals (and insurance companies) that holistic and non-toxic treatments can be powerful tools by themselves or along with modern medical tools and practices. However, the use of the qigong practice in many studies was referred to as “breathing exercises.” Qigong may translate as “breath work” but the practices and methods are actually founded on the principle of “uniting mind, movement and breath.” That is, qigong is not the same as deep breathing or meditation.
It is a practice where the mind (intention) leads the qi (energy) in concert with and at the same cadence as the movement of the body (form). When you move your hand from up to down, for example, your inhalation begins with the arm movement and stops when the arm stops moving. While this is happening, the mind/intention is only on the feeling in the body and the energy in the arm as it is moving. You focus only on the sensations of the body as your breath and body move together.
However, true to Western scientific form, the so-called qigong practice in many medical settings has been relegated to mere breathing exercises. And without the connection of breath-mind-body working together, the results are lackluster.
This frustrates me because scientific medicine has given us some truly amazing medical breakthroughs, cures of many diseases and remedies for ailments of every kind. But the mind/body/spirit connection, the natural approach and the very pieces that make a person human and need to be treated as human, are missing. So while we take our modern pills and elect for state-of-the art surgeries that are indeed saving lives (when they are at their best), let us also return to a natural and human way of approaching our health.
Let us realize the interconnectedness of every illness, and stop thinking a headache or high blood pressure just happens and is not the result of how we live our lives and the effects of others around us. Let us embrace the traditional ways of seeing, feeling and treating our bodies to restore ease and balance. Otherwise we labor on the treadmill of life, always moving forward in a way that makes us feel like we need to use what should be unnecessary medicines and procedures to keep trekking in a single-minded direction.
Study 1: Lee MS, Pittler MH, Guo R, Ernst E. Qigong for hypertension: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Journal of Hypertension 2007; 25(8): 1525-1532.
Study 2: Rogers CE, Larkey LK, Keller C. A review of clinical trials of tai chi and qigong in older adults. Western Journal of Nursing Research 2009; 31(2): 245-279.
Study 3: Chen Z, Meng Z, Milbury K, Bei W, Zhang Y, Thornton B, Liao Z, Wei Q, Chen J, Guo X, Liu L, McQuade J, Kirschbaum C, Cohen L. Qigong improves quality of life in women undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Cancer 2013 May 1;119(9): 1690-8.