From Qigong Skeptic to Qigong Practitioner

I stumbled into qigong twenty years ago. As a scientifically trained neuropsychologist I was skeptical about alternative medicine, a field where the claims are many and the evidence is sparse. However, I had been suffering from chronic pain for five years, despite working in a comprehensive medical center and taking advantage of all the resources available to me there through my friends in neurology, medicine and physical therapy. I had exhausted the possibilities offered by allopathic (Western) medicine, so when a friend suggested qigong might be helpful I was open to giving almost anything a try. I went with my friend to an introductory class and saw Master Liu demonstrate the form; I enjoyed the beauty of the flowing movements, and my first session didn’t cause any particular problems, so I practiced daily for two or three weeks.

Almost immediately my chronic pain started to ease. I was interested, though, to find that when I practiced my hands became warm and would remain warm for hours afterwards. This was quite surprising, because I’ve always had cold hands. No matter what I had tried previously -- biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, distance running (including several marathons), and meditation -- my hands had remained cold. I attributed this to low blood pressure and assumed I would have to live with it.

Nothing had been said in class about qigong practice warming your hands, so the next class I asked Master Liu about it. She replied, very matter of factly, “oh, that’s the qi.” She had already told us we didn’t need to believe in qi to do qigong (and I didn’t believe in it, at the time) and in fact we should not try to summon qi sensations. The fact that my hands became warm without any prior suggestion impressed me, especially since they now remained warm most of the time.

I still was skeptical about qi but as I continued to practice qigong I began to feel flows of energy which were quite palpable and which I could not explain on any Western physiological basis. My pain was mostly gone, and I found I stopped having the sinus infections, allergies and flu viruses I usually got every winter, working as I do in a busy medical clinic where I was exposed daily to pathogens.

I began sharing qigong with friends, who reported similar experiences. Qigong was having such good effects with my friends and family, I decided to start a class for patients in my Kaiser medical center. Initially I mostly had patients drawn from my practice in the neurology clinic. Patients with decades of headaches found their headaches disappear; Parkinson’s patients who shuffled in to the classes were able, at the end of a few months, to not only do the qigong movements but to kick their legs high without losing their balance. MS patients reported feeling much better, and one patient who had for the last ten years lost sensation in one arm (consistent with lesions seen on MRI) found she had regained sensation.

Subsequently we expanded the program to include patients with other medical problems: chronic pain, GI difficulties, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia. The classes were very successful and soon spread to other Kaiser Medical Centers in Northern California. It has now been almost ten years since we’ve been offering these classes, and during that time we have had many patients benefit from them while having nearly no negative side effects.

I confess that while I was very happy to see patients benefitting in this way, I still reserved some skepticism. I acknowledged the qigong appeared to result in real changes but I had troubles understanding its mechanism of action and still regarded miracle stories of qigong healing with suspicion.

That was before I had a stroke; hiking in the Himalayas, going too high too fast, I suffered a cerebral venous thrombosis and had to return home. When I got back I no longer could perform many of the neuropsychological tests I was accustomed to give to patients; I was subject to apraxias, had mental slowing, and experienced difficulties with balance and memory. I kept on doing qigiong and slowly improved, but ten months after having the stroke I was only about 85% recovered -- not bad, but hardly my old self.

At this point Master Hui Liu said she wanted to give me a qi treatment. Generally Master Liu does not emphasize qi treatments; instead, she recommends we do qigong preventatively so that we don’t get sick. When she offered me a qi treatment my first thought was “qi gong is all very well and good, but let’s face it, I had a stroke, you can see it on MRI….qi’s not going to do anything to help that.” But I accepted Master Liu’s gracious offer.

On the day of the treatment first Master Liu’s daughter gave me acupuncture. I was lying down with my eyes closed when I felt as if she had turned on a very powerful heat lamp aimed at the top of my head. This puzzled me, since I hadn’t noticed a heat lamp in the room. I opened my eyes, turned around, and saw no heat lamp, but Master Liu with her hand near my head, giving me qi. I lay back down, closed my eyes and thought “wow, that’s a very powerful placebo effect.”

I could feel the qi working its way through my body, but kept telling myself it was all my imagination. After twenty minutes or so Master Liu said, “OK, enough.” Her daughter removed the acupuncture needles. I got up, thanked them, walked about ten yards to the nearest couch, lay down and slept for 20 hours straight.

When I woke up, I felt fully recovered from my stroke. I didn’t tell my friends and colleagues about the treatment, but over the next week they all started saying to me “Bob, what happened? You’re yourself again.”

It’s hard to continue being skeptical in the face of an incident like this. We may not currently have the research methodology to be able to investigate qi and fully understand it. We should keep inquiring, but I’ve come to the conclusion it’s not necessary to fully understand it in order to appreciate and enjoy the benefits of this practice. It’s only necessary to keep an open mind.

Dayan Qigong has helped countless people over the centuries. It is a method which was handed down by a small number of practitioners until Master Yang Mei-jun decided to make it more available to the public. I am grateful to Master Yang for having taught her “American daughter,” Master Hui Liu. I am grateful to Master Liu, who has brought this wonderful practice to us.