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Qigong Q & A


What training is required to be a practitioner of medical qigong?

A skillful medical qigong practitioner needs to be at least as well trained as an acupuncturist or an herbalist. Ideally she or he should have completed a four-year graduate program in Oriental medicine and then spent some additional years of direct training by an experienced medical qigong practitioner. An individual who wants to practice medical qigong should be dedicated to a highly disciplined lifestyle and to the cultivation of a very focused mind. As humans, we all have an innate capacity to perceive subtle energies. There is no magic or unique gift involved. Think of the Olympic runner. If we have normally functioning legs, we can all run. If we put some time and effort into training, we can run longer and longer distances, even complete in marathons. If we are truly dedicated and have the right genetic combination of runner’s traits, we may even become an Olympic medalist. But even with the medalist, the dedication and commitment of time and extreme effort must be present. So it is with the perception and manipulation of subtle energies. In beginning self-care classes in medical qigong, the first bit of learning which will take place for most is the realization that they can indeed “run,” i.e., learn how to feel and sense the movement of their own body’s energies. How far one goes after that is a matter of commitment and dedication.


Who can practice medical qigong?

The practice of medical qigong is not regulated in the US. It is important to know the background, training, and experience of your practitioner. A license to practice acupuncture tells you that the practitioner has had 3 or 4 years of study of Chinese medical theory, but this does not insure that they can practice medical qigong skillfully. There are a growing number of programs and routes whereby one can become a “certified medical qigong practitioner,” ranging from a few days of training to a few years. Fortunately, the world of medical qigong is now heading in the direction of high-level qualifications, with a number of excellent in-depth programs, often associated with accredited Chinese medical colleges.


What training and experience does Cheryl have in medical qigong?

Cheryl’s first direct experience with Chinese medicine entailed 6 years in Changchun, China, as a clinical apprentice to a traditional doctor who specialized in medical qigong. Cheryl experienced a serious health crisis when she arrived in China in 1990, and Dr. Wu was brought to help her. Cheryl recovered amazingly quickly, and when the doctor observed that she already had some ability in the perception of subtle energies, she asked her to be her apprentice. So for the next 6 years, Cheryl studied Chinese medicine and was trained in medical qigong by Dr. Wu. The first 3 years were a period of extremely intense personal training in subtle energy awareness and manipulation and working toward a mastery of her own energetic system. Those 6 years, as a part of a small community of qigong doctors deeply dedicated to service and the alleviation of suffering, became the foundation for her continued practice of qigong. After her return to the US, Cheryl completed study in a college of Chinese medicine in order to qualify for taking the national medical board exams (in Chinese medicine), prerequisite to becoming a licensed acupuncturist. This is the license required by most states for the practice of Chinese medicine.

Cheryl returned from China briefly in the summer of 1993 to spend time with her father during the last 10 days of his life. He had been struggling with colon cancer for many months. Knowing of her work with Dr. Wu, he asked Cheryl if she would find ways in Chinese medicine to help people like him with cancer so they would not have to suffer so much. She promised him that she would. She began to discover and study the ways in which medical qigong is used to help cancer patients.  This accounts for her deep interest in oncology qigong over many years.


Are there different types of medical qigong?

There are two aspects of medical qigong which are frequently brought together for optimum treatment of a given individual. The first is self-help or “internal” qigong. This involves specific kinds of exercises which a person does in order to harmonize and bring balance to all the various aspects of their being. The second is practitioner-administered or “external” qigong, in which the practitioner directly manipulates the qi of the client for positive therapeutic outcome. In a medical qigong hospital in China, both aspects will be used together. A patient will be given a set of exercises to do daily, and also will receive regular treatments from a qigong practitioner.


How does medical qigong work?

Medical qigong cultivates, harmonizes, and balances the qi of an individual. The basic principles for assessment and treatment are the same as those for acupuncture or herbal formulas. Medical qigong is one of the ways that our energies can be directly increased and built up. The other major ways this can be done in Chinese medicine are through diet, herbal formulas, and moxibustion. Acupuncture, by contrast, moves our qi around for better balance and to open blockages that create pain, but it cannot directly increase the quantity of qi. We can feel energized after an acupuncture treatment if that treatment allowed us to access energy reserves which were previously blocked from use.

The daily practice of qigong re-educates the body and assists it to return to its deep memories of balance and harmony. In this way qigong helps to change old habits of disharmony and then to restructure healthy energy patterns.


Who can benefit from medical qigong?

Everyone! Medical qigong is especially beneficial for highly sensitive people, those who are more compromised, and children, but there are few limitations on who or what conditions can be treated. During practitioner-administered medical qigong, the client can be standing, sitting, or lying down. Even self-help medical qigong can be adapted for clients in all positions. Because of the pioneering work of several doctors of medical qigong in the US, medical qigong is now a recognized adjunct in cancer care programs around the country. Medical qigong has a growing reputation of offering the possibility for increasing success of treatment for conditions which are difficult, complex, and life-threatening.


Why is it important to take a class when I could watch a DVD?

Sometimes people ask why they need to attend a class when there are so many DVDs available illustrating forms of qigong. The simplest answer is that qigong is a form of energy medicine and you need to learn how to perceive and manipulate your own energies in order for the self-help exercises to be effective. Simply mimicking the motions of the individual on the DVD is not sufficient. When you are in a class with a qualified instructor and other students, an energy field is created which helps everyone to learn more quickly. A goal in our classes is for you to learn sufficiently to support your own daily practice. That being said, DVDs can be very helpful for some people who are visually inclined and like the support of an image in front of them. But this works best only after they have had enough classtime with a qualified instructor and are building their own daily practice. I own many of the easily available qigong DVDs, and am happy to recommend specific ones to individuals who have a solid beginning in qigong practice.


If I am in good health, how can I benefit from Medical qigong practice?

Medical qigong self-help exercises have been at the heart of longevity and health preservation practices for centuries, if not millennia. In fact, there is a large component of medical qigong with specific practices and exercises to promote longevity, vigor, and even reproductive health.


Is medical qigong a religion?

No. To understand this better, it is important to remember that any medical system shares basic premises and presuppositions about the nature of reality with the culture in which it developed and continues to develop. Chinese medicine, including medical qigong, is based on certain philosophical principles intrinsic to most traditional Asian cultures, just as Western allopathic medicine is based on principles foundational to the development of Western philosophy.  In Chinese medicine, the underlying premise is that of holism. In practical terms, this means that when we are initially assessing a client, we are looking first at the presenting complaints, but then our process of questioning brings in more and more of the total being of that client – physical, mental and emotional – until we can begin to see the underlying patterns of connectivity and thereby discover the root of the presenting complaints. In Western allopathic medicine, the basic premise is reductionistic, in that the goal is to refine a complaint into ever smaller components, until one can arrive at a single or limited number of factors which can be changed, thereby resolving the complaint. This way of thinking is especially evident in the use of pharmaceuticals, whose mechanisms of action often target single cell types or single molecule types. According to holistic medical thinking, however, if we change one tiny part of the whole, it has implications for the balance and harmony of the entirety. Another difference at the level of basic premises is that holistic medicine has always said that we cannot treat the physical without impacting the mental/emotional and vice versa.  A major event in Western philosophy separated mind and body into two parts, such that medicine became materialistic, focusing on ever smaller parts of the physical. Both of these medical paradigms have developed great strengths, and an increasing number of practitioners from both perspectives are now seeing the need to develop true integration in furtherance of our common goal of alleviating suffering. So what does all that history have to do with religion? Simply this: earliest Chinese medicine arose in a context dominated by early Daoist philosophers, and earliest Western medicine arose in ancient Greece. This does not mean that practicing Chinese medicine requires that one practice Daoism any more than practicing western medicine requires that one practice some early Greek religions. In my experience, practitioners of both Eastern and Western medical systems fall into just about every known major religious group, or no group at all.


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