In the same week, my 7-year-old daughter showed me a yoga pose, while my 5-year-old son assumed the lotus, complete with closed eyes and thumb-index finger circles. I have no idea where this interest in eastern mysticism is coming from, but decided it could come in handy while preparing this post on qigong. I could have my children practice the techniques and test the results.
Qigong is a system that incorporates posture, movement, and breathing in order to benefit mental health, spirituality, or martial arts. Its use can be valid or vacuous, depending on what the practitioner hopes to achieve.
This can be true with other religious practices as well. Some Hindus use yoga to help them achieve kaivalya, which they consider a state of liberation, unification, and contentment. Secular practitioners of the art, meanwhile, are satisfied with a more supple spine and are not seeking life on an elevated plane.
Likewise, wine aficionados may enjoy a merlot for its aroma, taste, and mouthfeel. But for Catholics partaking in communion, this same drink enables them to become momentary vampires, as they believe transubstantiation allows them to literally drink the blood of Christ. This could be tested easily enough, although a result deemed unsatisfactory by the Vatican would presumably be explained away as the blood turning back into wine when it was spat out for chemical analysis.
The meditation, flowing movements, and deep rhythmic breathing of qigong can have a calming effect and can be a means of improving one’s martial arts ability. These attributes can be seen on brainwave scans and in growing karate trophy collections. Claims that go beyond these abilities that are the focus of this post. We are mainly concerned with the assertion that qigong facilitates the flow of qi, which is vaguely explained as life energy. According to Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian notions, qigong allows access to higher realms of awareness and helps awaken one’s true nature. This is because it unblocks the flow of qi along twelve meridians, all of which correspond to major organs. This idea incorporates an alternative anatomy and physiology, and has no basis in biology.
While tranquility and flexibility are benefits one can gain from the practice, the idea that qigong has preventive or curative properties is unfounded and backed by no science or double blind studies. Testimonials and self-validating statements are offered in place of controlled experiments. Claimed benefits include the elimination of hypertension, carotid arteries, peptic ulcers, chronic liver disease, diabetes, obesity, menopause, chronic fatigue syndrome, insomnia, cancer, myopia, and leg pain. Besides being backed by no research or peer review, this is a typical strategy of alternative medicine, where a curative net is cast so wide that almost any improvement can be credited to it. Any seeming successes, however, are owed to natural fluctuations of illnesses or the patient concurrently taking legitimate medication.
Some go beyond garden variety alt-med verbiage and make even bolder claims. For instance, some qigong instructors say they can distance heal and strengthen the immune system. Neither of these claims are true, which is a good thing with regard to the latter. Except in extreme cases like late stage cancer or AIDS, strengthening the immune system is undesirable. An overstimulated immune system means autoimmune disorders such as arthritis, lupus, and fibromyalgia.
Some martial artists give demonstrations in which they claim to use qi to knock people over without touching them. This only works as long as the person being knocked down believes it will, indicating either the power of suggestion or the victim going along with the ploy. It never works on skeptics, as demonstrated in these videos: http://tiny.cc/g29fay, http://tiny.cc/c39fay.
The man in these videos, George Dillman, is a black belt, leaving in unclear why he would need to harness invisible knockout powers. At any rate, he explains the failure by saying the skeptic’s negative energy was impacting the power, which doesn’t say much for the power. Another explication is that the “guy has his tongue in the wrong position.” I’m unsure if Dillman is referring to the pretend puncher or his intended victim, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter.
I had my children do some qigong iterations, hoping to use it help my daughter wake up more easily in the morning. This was about the only ability I hadn’t seen attributed to qigong, so this left me feeling innovative and cutting edge. And since my son loves wrestling and roughhousing, I decided if qigong practice would help him tap into the knockout power. I would be the test subject to see if he could bowl me over without touching me.
I can’t say qigong did anything to help my daughter rise with less protestation and flailing, but a scratch on her arm disappeared. By conflating correlating and causation, and using this anecdote in lieu of evidence, I can declare this to be a qigong success. As to my son, he seems to have misunderstood that his punch was supposed to stop short of my mouth.